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Farm to Table: Eating Fresh in Hawaii

By Franki Hobson

Hawaii’s farm to table movement is whipping up quite a culinary stir, making the Hawaiian Islands a delicious magnet for foodies.

With the abundant fresh produce that the islands’ volcanic soils and surrounding waters produce, you’ll find locally grown and made foods at every turn. From fine-dining restaurants and bistros to trendy cafes, food trucks and take-aways, menus proudly tout ‘farm to table ingredients’.

The farm to table movement and emphasis on sustainable agriculture is not a new concept to the people of Hawaii. ‘Malama aina’, or ‘caring for the land’, is deeply rooted in Hawaii’s culture and intrinsic to the soul and flavour of the land.

Traditionally, land spanning from the mountains to the sea was divided into mini eco-systems, where farmland, fresh water and ocean resources were carefully maintained.

Today, you can follow the farm to table process on Oahu, Maui, Kauai, Island of Hawaii and Lanai and experience it for yourself, exploring plantations, farms and gardens. From Oahu’s North Shore fresh fruits at Kahuku Farms to Waialua Estate’s award-winning chocolate. You can even milk a goat at the Surfing Goat Dairy Farm in Upcountry Maui before sampling the incredible cheeses.

Ono (delicious in Hawaiian) farms offer visitors an exotic tropical fruit tasting tour of some of these weird and wonderful produce. Fancy an ice-cream banana, strawberry papaya or the best avocado you ever tasted? On Maui’s Ono Organic Farm tour, you’ll sample these and more!

Cafes brew up fresh Kona coffee and serve rich Wailua-grown chocolate to hit the sweet spot.

Cool ‘hole-in-the-wall’ eateries, such as Maui’s Da Kitchen cook up delicious Hawaiian soul food (read: good local food, big portions and reasonable prices).

Grab a juicy lamb burger with Swiss cheese, Waipoli lettuce, sweet Kula onions and ripe tomato at the Ulupaka Ranch Store in Upcountry Maui. Or savour the flavours of the slow-roasted Maui Cattle Co. beef brisket with house-made BBQ sauce and olive oil and parsley smashed potatoes!

Award-winning restaurants plate up abalone and locally caught fish alongside succulent steaks (cattle raised on the upland pastures of the Island of Hawaii, known colloquially as the ‘Big Island’). And menu favourites from taro chips to Kahuku sweet corn and poke (seasoned cubes of raw fish) tantalise the tastebuds.

When the afternoon sun hits, holiday-makers bask at beachside bars with freshly husked coconut cocktails in one hand and handmade local cheese in the other.

Of course it wouldn’t be the ‘aloha’ way without experiencing the great taste of Hawaiian cuisine at a traditional luau, with kalua pork cooked in an imu (earth oven), coconut pudding and poi made with locally grown breadfruit or taro starch, while watching the hula and immersing yourself in Polynesian culture.

The foodie experience is not limited to Hawaiian fare, though.

A ‘melting pot’ of cultures call Hawaii home and have had a strong influence on the islands’ cuisine, which is a fusion of Asian, Polynesian and European. The Hawaii Regional Cuisine culinary movement, established by 12 world-renowned Hawaiian chefs in 1991, blends Hawaii’s diverse, ethnic flavours with the cuisine of the world while supporting local agriculture, farmers and fisherman.

The original chefs – Alan Wong, Roy Yamaguchi, Sam Choy, Roger Dikon, Mark Ellman, Amy Ferguson Ota, Beverly Gannon, Jean-Marie Josselin, George Mavrothalassitis, Peter Merriman, Philippe Padovani, Gary Strehl – create mouth-watering entrees and signature desserts across the islands.

Reserve your seat at James Beard award-winning Chef Alan Wong’s Restaurant in Honolulu for Bacon Butter Crusted Salmon with pickled Tokyo Negi and local braised Kualoa kale.

Try Chef Roy Yamaguchi’s mouth watering Yamaguchi Spicy Ahi Sushi (local tuna) with Maui onions, Upcountry baby greens and Kamuela tomato at one of his seven ‘Roy’s’ restaurants. Or you can dine from the brunch, lunch, dinner, dessert, pizza, and burger menu at one of the famed chef Peter Merriman’s eateries across on Hawaii’s Big Island, Maui. Here you will find Hirabara Farm kale, Hamakua mushrooms, Big Island arugula, shaved Waimea sweet onion, burnt pineapple, fresh island fish, kalua pork and more.

Here’s your degustation menu of the finest farm to table fresh picks…


Hawaiian sea salts

Hawaiian salt, or Alaea salt, is an unrefined sea salt that has been mixed with a red alae volcanic clay. Hawaiian salts have been used in native Hawaiian cuisine to season dishes such as kalua pig, poke, pipikaula (Hawaiian jerky), and the popular side dish lomi lomi salmon. Today, you are spoilt for choice with a vast array of Hawaiian sea salts on offer for every palette, from black and red lava salts, to pink, chilli, garlic and more.


Fruits and vegetables grown from rich, volcanic soil in Upcountry Maui

Upcountry Maui is known for its farms and botanical gardens which thrive in the rich, fertile volcanic soil, producing flavoursome fresh vegetables, fruits and exotic produce. You’ll find Maui onion, ‘ulu’ or breadfruit, which is used to make poi, gnocchi and other dishes by locals and restaurants. Pick up some taro sweetbread or Hawaiian style fruit cake for a local spin on the flavours.


Locally caught fish

Seafood lovers are spoilt for choice with an abundance of local tuna including skipjack (aku), yellowfin (ahi) and albacore (tombo). Today, you’ll find tuna on the menu served up traditional poke-style (seasoned raw fish cubes) alongside modern grills and cultural fusions. The local catch doesn’t stop there. There’s pacific blue marlin, broadbill swordfish, grouper, snapper, wahoo and plenty more fish, octopus, abalone in the local seas just waiting to be barbequed, poached, grilled, smoked, broiled or eaten fresh.

 One of the best ways to try Hawaii’s fresh produce is to visit the local farmers market.  
Credit - Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Dana Edmunds
 One of the best ways to try Hawaii’s fresh produce is to visit the local farmers market.  
Credit - Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Dana Edmunds
 You’ll surprised by the abundance of locally grown foods in Hawaii, there are farms throughout the islands. – Credit Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Dana Edmunds
 Hawaii’s freshly caught seafood and locally sourced herbs can be enjoyed at many restaurants across the islands. Credit - John DeMello
 Fresh pineapples for sale at Kapiolani Community College Farmers’ Market on Oahu.
credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Dana Edmunds
 A hot cup of locally grown Kona Coffee is a must for any coffee lover during their stay in Hawaii. 
Credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson
 Cafes incorporate local ingredients into many dishes– including Kona coffee-encrusted ahi tuna, garnished with locally-grown greens and flowers.
 Many Hawaiian farms offer tours, with the opportunity to pick ingredients fresh from the garden. Credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson
 Various plate lunches using fresh local ingredients can be found at the local farmers markets. 
Credit Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Dana Edmunds
 Shave ice is a Hawaii “must-have” with the best places making their own syrups and ice-creams and topped with fresh fruit and a drizzle of condensed milk. Matsumoto’s  in Haleiwa on Oahu’s North Shore is a local institution.
 The fields at Waimea Produce Farm on the Island of Hawaii. 
Credit: Big Island Visitors Bureau (BIVB) / Kirk Lee Aeder
 Hawaii Island is well known for its amazing Kona Coffee, there a several coffee farms which you can visit and take a tour. – Credit Tor Johnson

Cattle raised on the upland pastures of the Island of Hawaii

Summon your inner cowboy or cowgirl and experience cattle and sheep ranching at one of Island of Hawaii’s (known colloquially as the Big Island) mountain farms, where abundant rainfall ensure lush, fertile green slopes to graze. Enjoy a Hawaiian BBQ with farm to table produce while you take in cool breezes and stunning views.


Big Island abalone

You don’t need to dine at high-end restaurants to experience fresh, premium abalone – although you will find it on many a fine-dining menu throughout the state. A tour of the Big Island Abalone company’s 10 acre aquafarm will have you learning about this delicacy, how the locals use it, the thriving export market as well as tasting it fresh.


Kona Brewing

Touting its beers as “liquid aloha”, well-known local Kona Brewing Company  brews such as Longboard Island Lager, Big Wave Golden Ale and Fire Rock Pale Ale are available throughout Hawaii.  If you are on the Island of Hawaii, a visit to the brewery for a tour, a meal and to sample a beer flight – up to 10 are served at the brewery daily – is worthwhile.  You can also buy take aways – which are not your standard six-pack or carton.  Rather, take-homes come in the form of a “growler” – a half-gallon glass jug holding around four 16 ounce pints filled directly from Kona Brewing Company’s taps then sealed air tight.  Beer remains optimally fresh in a refrigerated growler for seven to 10 days, or for one to two days once opened.  A full growler is $22, or a refill $13.50.  And you get to keep the “growler” jug as a souvenir!


Sweet kula strawberries

You haven’t tasted strawberries until you’ve tasted sweet kula strawberries! Available at ample fresh produce markets or, pick them yourself at one of the Kula country farm strawberry fields and gardens.


Waialua-grown chocolate

The distinctive texture and taste of single-origin, award-winning and artisan-made Hawaiian cocoa beans make this little chocolatey delight one of the world’s finest. Visit Waialua Estate on Oahu’s North Shore, where the region has nutrient-rich volcanic soil for the cocoa beans to flourish and taste the purity and quality for yourself.


Kona coffee

You can sip on Kona’s gourmet crop at many a café. Or, you can experience the full flavour with a Kona Historical Society tour on the Island of Hawaii, where you’ll gather your supplies before heading to Kona mauka. Here, you’ll be immersed in the rich aromas of the fresh coffee beans and oranges blended together the way Kona’s original pioneers did in the 1880s.


Handmade cheeses

The Surfing Goat Dairy Farm on Maui produces over 25 cheeses including 11 National Award winners. Book in for a daily tours, stroll through grand orchards, milk a goat, enjoy fresh handmade cheeses and pick up goat milk soaps, citrus relishes, specialty fruits and herbs.


The Hawaiian Islands have long been close to the hearts, minds and dreams of travellers. Hawaii’s six main islands each have their own personality, underpinned by the famous Aloha Spirit. Aloha is much more than just the Hawaiian word for hello and goodbye, it’s a way of life, of genuine welcome and friendship – an essence that those who call Hawaii home practice in their daily lives and share with visitors.

Whether you’re an adventure lover, a nature lover, a foodie, a shopaholic, a lie-on-the-beach-with-a-good-book-and-a-cocktail holiday lover – or all of the above, you’ll find your ideal holiday in Hawaii. To plan and experience your aloha, visit