Malia Yoshioka personally introduced me to KCC Saturday Farmer's Market on Oahu. I was researching a story on farmers markets, and she happily gave me the tour of the place, pulling me in to all her favorite food vendors, introducing me to farmers and making me sample this, that and everything. It was then I realized that this was not my story to write but Malia's. And, so here it is.
Some may not notice the change of the seasons in Hawaii, but I always do.
While it's nice to think we live in our own endless summer, it's good to have a little variety once in a while. I tend to enjoy the subtle shift of the seasons. Fall is bittersweet in Hawaii. Although our leaves stay evergreen, the arrival of Fall means no more lychee and mangoes on the trees, slightly cooler temperatures, rain showers (and rainbows), and the beginning of another season: Honolulu Marathon training season.
Fall also means a shift in produce at my favorite farmer's market.
I'm training for my fifth Honolulu Marathon. It's one of the largest marathons in the country and popular with beginners. We get tens of thousands of runners from all over the world who come to enjoy running through downtown Honolulu, up and over Diamond Head, out to Hawaii Kai and back. All skill levels are welcome—the elite racers up in the front mixed right in with the world record holder for the oldest female marathon finisher.
Me? I'm somewhere in the middle of the pack. Who am I kidding? I'm probably closer to the back of the back than I am to the front, but that's precisely why I love this marathon--the pressure is off and you can just enjoy the race. Even though I'm not the most athletic, I can still say that I ran (or walked, or trudged, or shuffled) through those 26.2 miles just like everyone else, proudly claiming my finisher's shirt at the finish line.
While getting to the end of a marathon seems like enough of an accomplishment in itself, getting through the training runs leading up to it is an entirely different matter. For me, the way through the season is getting into a routine and sticking with it.
My first season I started a Saturday tradition--getting up before the sun rises, parking my car at the Kapiolani Community College (KCC) parking lot and putting in my weekly long run. The proverbial carrot that dangles and gets me through the mileage is the KCC Saturday Farmer's Market. I pick up some veggies, say hello to friends, and nosh on a delicious post-run meal.
Since its humble beginnings about eight years ago, the KCC market has grown to be the busiest in the state. So busy that—to appease the locals who complain that Saturday is overrun with visitors—they’ve started a smaller Tuesday night version, as well. I'll be the first to admit, this market is somewhat chaotic. Long lines, pushy tourists (with different concepts of personal space), and a crazy parking lot. But if you pass it up, you also miss all there is to love about the KCC Market. Come every week, and you'll feel like family.
Case in point: During one marathon season, a friend and I stopped at the Honolulu Gourmet booth every week after our run. We'd chat with the owners while sampling the homemade dressings (Maui onion is my favorite) and spreads (try the edamame hummus).
"How many miles this week," asked the girl behind the booth one week when we'd had a particularly rough training run.
"Sixteen. Just a few more weeks to go," I answered, squinting as the sunscreen I'd slathered on for the run mixed with sweat to drip into my eyes. I'm sure I didn't look exactly farmers market fresh.
"Well after it's over, come back with your finisher’s shirt and you can pick out a free item," she said.
Six weeks later, we did just that.
One time, I’d forgotten my wallet at home and one of the vendors gave me an IOU since he knew I'd be back the following week. My favorite booth for avocados will once in a while throw in a few bananas. I buy my breads from the La Tour Bakery/BaLe booth because they're nice enough to slice them up for me. In fact, I rarely shop at the grocery store anymore, since I can find almost anything I need at the farmers market. Plus, knowing that I'm able to keep my money right here in the community and directly seeing the people who benefit from it, now that is priceless.
Yes, the KCC Farmers Market has its moments of chaos. But it's absolutely worth visiting.
Here are some tips when you go:
- Ask questions and get to know your farmers. I always stop by the Otsuji Farm booth, where you can see Farmer Ed Otsuji with his trademark floppy hat. He comes with suggestions, if you need them, for cooking whatever produce is in season. This week I took home a healthy selection of things I'd never cooked with before—purslane, a beautiful red-striped amaranth, and dinosaur kale.
- Check out some of the best fine dining-quality meals for a fraction of what you'd pay at the restaurant. Andrew Le of the Pig & the Lady was formerly a sous chef at Chef Mavro before opening this pop up stand at the farmers markets. It's a family affair - his mom (the Lady), dad (Papa Le), brother Alex, and sister Allison all work together to bring you some of the best Vietnamese street food you've ever tasted. You'll often see other famous local chefs dining here - Ed Kenney, Mark Noguchi, Paul Zarate, along with many of the other vendors stopping by once the market starts closing up.
- If you're coming for the stuff that's been written up in all the Japanese guidebooks, expect lines unless you come very early or late. Fried Green Tomatoes, grilled abalone, Big Wave Tomato's pizza, Kukui sausage. They're all delicious and worth the wait, but be sure to bring along some extra patience with your cash in hand.
- The best strategy for parking is to stop at the end of a row and wait for a spot to open. People are always leaving and I've never waited longer than a few minutes. I find that if I keep circling, I always end up at the wrong place when a stall opens up just behind me. Or avoid the need to park by catching the bus (the #2 now runs directly to KCC) or ride a bike. Carpool if you must drive.
- Free mats are available for you to sit on the grass and enjoy your take out meal. Look for them on the far end of the market and be sure to return them when you're through.
- BYOB. That's bring your own BAG. Oahu has yet to put a ban on plastic bags like the outer islands, but we should all do our part in trying to reduce the use of plastics whenever possible.
- Check out the Hawaii Farm Bureau website for the weekly tip sheet (http://hfbf.org/markets/markets/kcc/) showing which vendors will be showing each week. Follow @HNLFarmers on twitter for updates and pictures from the market.
Malia Yoshioka is a freelance writer, part-time marathon runner, and full-time foodie currently living in Honolulu. She's pledged to raise $2620 for the Leukemia Society by running this year's Honolulu Marathon. You help by making a donation at http://tinyurl.com/malia-TNT2012 and see her Honolulu restaurant recommendations at http://www.shoyusugar.com.