We just finished a wonderful vacation on the Big Island (Hawaii). We rented a little house with a big kitchen near Hawi (Puakea Ranch), and did our best to eat local. What a treat! A few notes..
Private Chef and Farm Tours: The highlight was having Ashley Lueders with Safari Chefs set up 2 tours at organic farms in Hawi, then come to our house and do a cooking lesson – resulting in a fabulous dinner (Seared Shrimp with Hawaiian Vanilla Beurre Blanc with local greens, Hawaiian Snapper en Papillote, Chocolate Lava Torte with Homemade Ice Cream and Waimea Strawberries). http://www.epitourean.com/Package/166...
The produce from the farms was just amazing – lots of different greens (including my favorite – Kale), sweet potatoes, carrots, fennel, and herbs. Ashley also provided some great tips where to find fish, wine, and farmers markets.
Farmers markets: The farmers market in Hawi is pretty small (under the banyan tree in the middle of this small town), but did get some rambutan and longan fruit (relative of lychee) along with instructions on how to eat. The market is on Saturday morning.
Waimea has two good farmers markets (both are also on Saturday). The “big” one is east of town on Hwy 19 (on the left if going east). It’s at least a couple of miles from the town center, keep driving until you are pretty sure you must have missed it and go a bit further (we found it as we were looking for a place to turn around). There were lots of farmers – fresh greens of every variety, beets, carrots, mushrooms, some tomatoes, onions, potatoes – pretty much everything. Waimea strawberries were in season, so so so good. There was also someone there with goat cheese (we bought the Colby and the plain soft cheese, both were great), as well as some prepared foods, soap, etc. And lots of flowers. The other market is at the Parker School near the center of town, were there were just a few farmers with more greens and such, as well as an artisan baker… We bought a loaf of rye, another of apricot-nut, plus some pizza dough. All were really wonderful.
In addition, there are vegetable and fruit stands open every day. The one in Hawi had some avocado’s which were mutant-large compared to a California avocado (like 4-6 x) and really good, as well as some nice mushrooms, banana’s and other fruit. There is also another stand near Kawaihae that had a little less selection (also – I don’t think the produce at these stands is all local, some is coming from other islands). Both also have lots of orchids.
Fish: in Kawaihae there is a small fish market (Lau’s), a yellow building on Hwy 270 just above the turnoff to the harbor (across the street from the plaza building). They had ono, mahi mahi, ahi, and snapper most days. Closed on Sundays.
Wine / Groceries:
The absolute best wine shop we found was Kamuela Liquor Store in Waimea, on Hwy 19 east of town. They also had a nice selection of imported cheese and salami.
In Hawi, there was a small grocer on the east side of town called Takata with an eclectic mix of basic stables, local produce, plus some things (I am assuming) geared to local traditions, like pig blood. They had some local honey.
There are a couple of “upscale” grocers in the resort areas at Mauna Lani and Waikoloa. They had some nice wines (at tourist prices), OK cheese selections, a bit of local produce, coffee, macadamia nuts, and key chains.
There is a Safeway not far from the airport in Keauhou-Kona, which is pretty much like the Safeway a mile from my house. Convenient to pick up a few things after getting off the plane plus they had reasonably priced mid-range wines, but even better was the other health food store at the other end of the shopping strip, Kona Natural Foods. They had great sandwiches, bulk grains (great to get just the amount of rice or whatever for one or two meals), plus local beef, other organic staples (including my husband’s favorite Barbara’s breakfast food) and Greek yogurt. These are both at the northwest corner of Hwy 19 and Henry Street, one turn up the hill from Walmart. I also heard there was a health food store in Waimea, but never made it there.
Restaurants: Because we kept getting so much fresh produce and fish, we ended up not eating out that much. Our favorite local spot was Short N' Sweet Bakery in Hawi. On Friday nights, they are open late and serve pizza’s (normally they just do breakfast / lunch). We were also addicted to their cookies. Hawi also had a great coffee shop (Coffee Mill) which in addition had good ice cream with lots of local flavors. We planned to get to Sushi Rocks also in Hawi, but ended up just getting some fish (by the pound) on Sunday (the fish was ona, and very nice). Merriman’s in Waimea is a long time favorite, great dinners with lots of local ingredients. It’s worth the trip no matter where you are staying on the Island. At the resorts, Merriman’s has a small café at Waikoloa (Kings shops), we had a nice lunch there (especially considering the options – the food court or Macaroni Grill). We also had lunch at the Mauna Kea beach side restaurant. Just for reference, the “Waimea Waygo beef with Waimea Tomato” hamburger was $20. And although good, it was not cooked to order (medium order was pretty rare) and it was a very skimpy slice of tomato.
I would highly recommend renting someplace with a kitchen on the Big Island, especially considering the availably ability of great produce, local fish and meat and relative lack of good, reasonably priced restaurants. We were especially pleased with our house (www.myhawaiianranch.com), in addition to the kitchen which was well equipped for basic cooking (including a big grill), there was a small herb garden, lime trees, and a few chickens (and eggs) in a very tranquil, green setting (it was right at the transition zone between the wet and dry sides of the island).