New Farmers Market in Kaka'ako
By Stacy Yuen Hernandez
There’s a little gem of a farmer’s market on Ala Moana Boulevard on Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings, but it doesn’t seem like a lot of people know it’s there. So here’s my effort at spreading the word.
The Kaka‘ako Makai Marketplace celebrated its grand opening on July 30 and back then it was located in a parking lot tucked away near Kakaako Waterfront Park. Since then, due to various logistics, it has moved to a more visible location on the strip of green between Cooke and Ohe streets (between Cutter Chevrolet and Cutter Mazda).
The concept is slightly different from other Farmer’s Markets. According to its website, it is “a sustainable and green marketplace, where unsustainable fishing, GMO products, Styrofoam and non-biodegradable plastics are kapu (forbidden).” Customers are asked to bring their own recycled shopping bags.
I checked it out on a late Friday afternoon. Vendors were still setting up at 4 p.m. as pau hana customers slowly trickled in, seeking a healthy dinner or farm-fresh vegetables and organic eggs for their weekend meals.
Sammy Walton, who sells freshly squeezed sugar cane juice was ready to go and it was a shame there were few people there to appreciate his all-natural, refreshing juices and hibiscus mint tea. I tried the sugar cane juice with passion fruit (a good deal at $5 for a 16 oz cup) — my first time trying sugar cane juice — and I was pleasantly surprised. The juice was sweet and refreshing and felt good going down, while the passion fruit infusion didn’t interfere with the natural qualities of the sugar cane.
Walton, a native of Guyana, came to Hawaii via Brooklyn, New York. This guy knows his sugar cane and taught me some things I never knew.
“In Brooklyn, you can find someone selling sugar cane on every block,” he passionately explained. “When I arrived in Hawaii, I drove all over the North Shore looking for sugar cane.”
And he found it. Making friends with growers and obtaining what he needed to squeeze enough juice to peddle his concoctions at Oahu’s farmer’s markets.
“Cleaning the sugar cane is the hard part,” said the Haleiwa resident. “As soon as I squeeze it, I freeze it. Since sugar cane juice contains no acid, fungus and mold can attack it. So I add a little bit of citric acid for shelf life.”
But the juice won’t last long as it is a popular item when he sets up shop. You’ll find him here as well as at the Haleiwa, Hawaii Kai and Ala Moana farmer’s markets. The few customers who did stop by in Kakaako early that afternoon made a beeline for this booth.
My next stop was the Aikane Plantation Coffee Company. Scott Halsted runs the show at Oahu’s farmer’s markets on behalf of his Ka‘u family coffee farm. He explains that Ka‘u coffee is not as sour or bitter as Kona coffee and he’s absolutely right. After trying a sample cup — black — it went down smooth. Ka‘u has only 40 coffee farms while there are 700 in Kona, according to Halsted. But this Ka‘u stuff stands out among coffee connoisseurs and was recently mentioned in a Los Angeles Times article as having gained an international reputation as among the world’s best brews.
Moving on and needing something to eat, I stopped by the Petit Suisse Crepes booth, run by Mehdi and Crystal Mdouari. They whip up two types of crepes — sweet and savory. Of course, I opted for the sweet. Medhi, a native of Switzerland, suggested his popular “Dream Crepe.” It definitely lived up to its name as it contained strawberries, bananas and what I consider one of the major food groups — Nutella. Oh, and it was topped off with whipped cream.
The Mdouaris pride themselves on using only fresh local ingredients, which they pick up from vendors at the Manoa Market Place Farmer’s Market each week.
At this point, I had my beverages and dessert, so I guess it was now time for my main meal. Kiba Café looked like a good choice. Owner Neil Hong was whipping up some five-spice braised shoyu pork. The Kailua native, Kalaheo High School graduate and former collegiate volleyball player, lived in New York City for five years before returning to the islands armed with a culinary degree. But he doesn’t feel comfortable being called a chef.
“I prefer to call myself a food anthropologist,” explained Hong. “I like to focus on creating something ethnic that people haven’t seen before.” He describes Kiba Cafe as offering New York street food and comfort food, eco-friendly and community-based.
Hong’s philosophy fits right in to that of the Kakaako Makai Marketplace, which touts itself as “A Community Cultural Experience.” You get that feeling there. The vendors are friendly and eager to chat and explain their products to you. But the foot traffic could be better, so stop by if you get a chance and visit with the vendors and pick up some fresh food to go. There’s plenty of street parking in the area and a big parking lot on Ilalo and Ahui streets. It’s open on Fridays from 4:30-8 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 to 2 p.m. For more information, go to kakaakomakaimarketplace.com.