8 New Treats to Try at the KCC Farmers Market This Summer
Come for the healthy greens and fruit, then linger over more recent arrivals—ube and taro tarts, macadamia nut soft serve, honey slushies and sausage sushi.
Photo: Leah Friel
Farmers markets have distinct personalities, the lucky ones of their own choosing. Others may have a reputation thrust upon them by fate—hello rail, hello Howard Hughes—or geography. The latter is the case with the KCC Farmers Market, once favored by all for its beautiful location and now avoided for the same reason, thanks to its role as prime tourist stop.
So if you’re one of those who automatically thinks, “KCC? Nah, too crowded,” this story is for you. First, we’ll let you in on a little secret: at KCC the worst thing you can do is arrive early. “The big rush comes at 7 a.m. when they let the people with passes in,” says Souk Hoang, the proprietor of PIT Farms. “Then at 7:30 there’s a second rush when they let everybody in.”
I’ve learned that it’s OK to dawdle and show up after 8. Yeah, I’ve missed my go-to gailan (a type of Chinese broccoli) from PIT on occasion, but it’s worth it. Some lines are never-ending—tourists do love their fried green tomatoes and pesto pizza slices and sausages on a stick—but not for these newbies and many others. So come try.
Because the stall lineup and locations shuffle for newcomers, the following directions are approximate:
Coming down from the upper parking lot, start at the top right row to begin with …
1. Hawaiian Macadamia Nut Soft Serve
Photos: Don Wallace
Like the understated but flavorful nut it’s made from, this “swirl with a curl” soft serve is delicate and nuanced—that toasty nuttiness of a macadamia nut is hard to improve upon. It also has none of the toothachy sweetness of a dessert that is trying too hard to make an impression, in your mouth or on Instagram. I asked server Megan Taguchi to embellish the basic $5 portion with crushed nuts for $1 extra and a $1 squirt of chocolate syrup. The soft serve and stand are a brainchild of perpetual ag innovator Loren Shoop, who has the Ama Ebi barbecue shrimp stand, the ‘Ulu Mana stand (‘ulu hummus and ‘ulu chips) and the Hawaiian Macadamia Nuts one across from the soft serve stand. You can almost make a full meal out of his ventures alone—“from Shoop to nuts.” (Sorry!)
Now, cruise the top row of stalls known as Veggie Isle for …
2. Guava Smoked Meats
Last week this well-known paleo provider—whose brick and mortar location is at 1637 Republican St. in Kalihi—had a temporary spot where North Shore Pūpūkea farmer Ken Milner has for years sold restaurant-worthy romaine and red leaf lettuces, giant Tokyo negi and seasonal liliko‘i, avocado and citrus. But Milner Farms has been missing lately and Guava Smoked made such a winning debut that now, grillmaster Jesman Bautista says, “we will be here the second and fourth Saturday and other days, if spaces open.”
This is good news for lovers of great ’cue. Guava Smoked offers plates and à la carte orders for smoked pork, smoked chicken and smoked hamburger—including a loco moco and a three-egg omelet. There are many variations but the smoked pork plate, spicy or mild, with two scoops rice and a salad of Kahumana greens ($13), is already the favorite of young Nattaphong Phobai, who gets up at 4 a.m. to begin prepping the Thai Farms stand and is ready to grind by 9 a.m. “It’s the best,” he says. Even better, the guava wood used for smoking is from invasive strawberry guava.
And while we miss Milner and his greens, when he made an appearance a couple of weeks ago he assured me all was well. In fact, for KCC customers, maybe too well—restaurants are snapping up all his produce.
Need a cool drink to go with the ’cue? Near the aisle’s end is …
3. Wicked HI Slush
“The Original Honey Slush,” as it bills itself, was serving a seasonal watermelon special that won over a young New Jerseyite rocking Elton John sunglasses in the heat and humidity. I opted for the best-seller piña colada ($6, nonalcoholic), which, unlike any I’ve ever had in a bar, was as subtle as it was tropical. Also on the regular menu: honey dragon fruit lemonade and honey liliko‘i. Talk about refreshing! Wicked HI keeps it simple and straight: all local, raw honey from local beekeepers, fresh pressed local fruit juices, no artificial anything, no refined sugars and sweeteners. Boothie Lex Nelson was a charmer, too, and generous with the samples.
Since it’s still morning, why not a pastry? Across from Wicked HI Slush is …
4. La Tour Bakehouse Taro Sweet Potato Pastry Puffs
The taro sweet potato pastry is the latest brand-new offering from prolific La Tour head baker Rodney Weddle, whose quest for the flakiest, tastiest crust comes close to perfection here. The visually unprepossessing puffs come in a set of three for $8; far from half-baked, they got da kine umami. Imagine mini pound cakes with pie-crust-like flakiness with a dense purple taro-potato filling that teases with sweetness instead of overwhelming, which is too often the case with taro and ube products.
Rounding the corner and going to the next aisle down, we come to Restaurant Row, where, next to Thai Farms, is …
5. 2 Lady Farmers Sausage Sushi
The saga of Patsy Oshiro and Stacy Sugai is cherished by pork lovers everywhere but finding the right niche at KCC has taken some time. Now they’re rolling with a new snack that is hitting the eat-on-the-spot spot: sushi made before your eyes and filled with your choice of adobo, char siu or Portuguese sausage. The spicing is light and complements the farm-fresh meat; at $2.50 each, they can’t be beat for walkin’ around.
SEE ALSO: Farm Friday: 2 Lady Farmers in Wai‘anae
Just a little bit farther down the aisle …
6. 7. Papi’s Empañadas
I’d never noticed Nelo Gonzales and his little stand until I ran into my neighbor Jyoti Kandell picking up two of the largest Mason jars brimming with the brightest, greenest kale-mint-everything smoothie that I’ve ever seen. “I get the corn empañadas,” she says. “But these smoothies are my favorite things.” Gonzales is from Argentina, where empañadas are to comfort eating what burgers are here. The beef empañada is his biggest seller, but the day’s special—showing up more and more—was lobster. Some people like to drink their green meals; some like supergreen chimichurri sauce on their crispy, hot-from-the-fryer empañadas. At Papi’s you can have it both ways (16 ounce smoothie, $5; empañadas $3.50 each, three for $10).
On the theory that savory should alternate with sweet, next pull up in front of …
8. IMO’s Sweet Potato Tarts
Just two months after its debut, IMO and its sweet potato tarts are in all the farmers markets. “We’re actually Watanabe Bakery,” confides the (anonymous by preference) woman running the display, which makes the most of the graphic possibilities of purple and yellow sweet potatoes and these elegant, eminently Instagrammable tarts. The cakelike crust makes a little boat—like an open-face Twinkie—for the creamy sweet filling. They run four for $8 and come in proper pastry bags with inserts to keep the tarts from bumping. All you need is a pot of tea when you get home and you’re all set for the afternoon.
Kap‘iolani Community College Farmers Market, Saturdays, 7:30–11 a.m. and Tuesdays, 4–7 p.m. 4303 Diamond Head Road. kapiolani.hawaii.edu/project/farmers-market/