Eating Local, Island Style

Hula Grill courtesy Mike George

I just had the best brussels sprouts. On Maui, of all places. And they were local, too. You would think, with its sunshine and year-round growing season, local food would be more of a thing in Hawaii, but, as every tourist knows, who has been and gone bug-eyed over the prices in grocery stores and restaurants, Hawaii imports most of its food. Up to 85%, to be specific. And, with gas at $4.46/gallon in Kahului, well--you do the math.

Even on vacation, the thought of eating local lures this Urban Farm Junkie, so as I lolled on the beach and worked my way through no less than five books, I did some research on local-food possibilities in the Lahaina-Ka'anapali area and am passing my hard-won knowledge to you, all in the Spirit of Aloha and the hopes that you will find yourself on the beach in Maui this winter.

First off, those brussels sprouts. If you can tear yourself away from Front Street in Lahaina, drive your dorky rental car up the hill to Starnoodle, where they do Hawaiian (and the pan-Asian influences that go into Hawaiian) creative, fresh, and local. So instead of the kalua pork and cabbage found at the luau, there were brussels sprouts with bacon bits, served with a puree of kim chee and a swath of spices. Had I stomach enough and time, I would have loved to sample every "sharing plate," but I had to make room for the house-made noodles, in my case the Singapore Noodles with chicken, shrimp, vegetables, and a tasty yellow curry sauce. The kids snacked on the steamed pork buns, and we washed it all down with green tea spiked with orange and pummelo.

More on the beaten (tourist) track, we ate at the Hula Grill (lunch) and Cane and Taro (dinner) in Ka'anapali's Whalers Village. Both featured local beef, fresh-caught fish and island-grown produce. May I just say that I'm a sucker for Maui onions? Every bit as good as our own Walla Walla Sweets. The Molokai-grown sweet potatoes and Maui Gold pineapples float my boat as well. As for fresh coconut...well, I've been longing for years to taste again that Lappert's Haupia Custard Ice Cream I had on Oahu along about 1999--never seen it since, though I always, always look.

We did discover, finally, Ono Gelato in Lahaina, where the luscious flavors are made onsite with local ingredients where possible. I had Coconut, which, while it was no Lappert's Haupia Custard, was quite tasty and chewy, served alongside always-satisfying Dulce de Leche.

I was hoping to visit an actual farmers market on Maui, of which I saw several advertised, but alas--they were nowhere nearby. Or not near enough for me to overcome my lolling-on-the-beach inertia or our reluctance to drive the awful full-size Mercury cruiser we rented, which became the source of many of a ship-themed joke when we had to park it somewhere and still have room enough to get in or out or turn it around. That and the aforementioned $4.46/gallon, baby. The island of Maui, as you may know, is shaped like the head and torso of a well-endowed woman. Our hotel was on her forehead, but the nearest farmers markets were on her neck, clavicle and earlobe. Therefore, I leave that research to you, my intrepid readers!

Speaking of intrepid, our Bellevue Farmers Market continues through the Saturday before Thanksgiving (two more weeks!), and in November, when not in Maui, the Urban Farm Junkie's thoughts turn to her favorite feast. See you at the Market this Saturday from 10-3! Remember that many sides like rolls, green bean casseroles, cranberry sauce, and pies can be made ahead and frozen. I may just have to pick up some brussels sprouts early, though, to see if I can still capture that Maui experience. Clearly we need a kim chee vendor!