16 Vegan Dishes to Try at VegFest O‘ahu

‘Ulu gratin, black-bean brownies, ‘ulu nachos, ‘ōlena chili, a vegan sample tent and all the plant-based treats you could want.
Spicy Tofu Poke VegFest Oahu
Spicy Tofu Poke from down to earth will be one of the dishes demonstrated at vegfest O‘ahu 2018.

Type #veganrecipes into Instagram’s search field and more than 2 million posts appear. These aren’t pictures of salads or fruit plates—they are imaginative recipes for baked goods and mouthwatering main course meals. Once considered niche, plant-based foods have become mainstream.


“I think it is actually a cultural shift,” says Sisi Kong, community outreach team leader at Down to Earth Organic and Natural supermarkets, a sponsor of the upcoming VegFest O‘ahu. “The internet has made it so easy to look up information, so I think people are taking more ownership and have more of an interest in understanding where their food comes from, and you know, they’re researching how it’s produced.”


People looking to add more plant-based foods to their diet will have the opportunity on Saturday, Oct. 13 at VegFest O‘ahu, described on its website as a celebration of island-style, plant-based, sustainable living. This year’s free festival takes place from noon to 5:30 p.m. at the Frank Fasi Civic Grounds. The event is in its third year and has seen an increase in interest too—the first festival had about 3,500 attendees compared to last year’s, which had nearly 5,000.


How exactly is the event attracting vegans, vegetarians and omnivores alike? By having a variety of speakers, entertainment, cooking demonstrations and food booths. Kelly Stern, co-founder of Yogarden—a Waimānalo farm that offers yoga and volunteer farming opportunities—is conducting a cooking demonstration and thinks the festival is an opportunity for people to try foods that may seem scary. She’s making a nine-ingredient breadfruit gratin that substitutes ‘ulu for potatoes and uses coconut milk to replace dairy products.


Ulu Gratin YoGarden VegFest Oahu
‘Ulu gratin by yogarden.


“I wanted to do something where it didn’t feel intimidating—something doable,” Stern says.


VegFest will feature a total of five chef demos, including Stern’s. Madeline Kammerer, community outreach assistant at Down to Earth, will show festivalgoers how to make spinach lū‘au and spicy tofu poke. Chef Mama T Gonsalves of ‘Umeke Market will make vegan falafel using ingredients like chickpeas, tahini and kale. Chef William Digiorgio will make zucchini oatmeal patties. And Kim Oshita, a registered dietitian at Kaiser Permanente, will make a tofu scramble using black beans and kale. After learning how to prepare these dishes, attendees will have the opportunity to try them too.


Spinach Luau Down to Earth
Spinach Lū‘au by down to earth.


Saturday’s festival will also have more than a dozen food booths with both pre-packaged goodies and plated meals available for sale. Some notable vegan restaurants that will be there are ‘Umeke Market and Peace Café, which will offer seven items including its katsu sandwich ($8) and mochi cake ($3). Attendees will want to leave room for dessert. Ke Nui Kitchen, a North Shore catering company, will offer a black-bean brownie made with cocoa, coconut oil and,  of course, black beans, while Down to Earth will be selling white chocolate macadamia nut cookies ($2). Both Ke Nui Kitchen and Down to Earth will also have entrées available for sale.


SEE ALSO: First Look: Juicy Brew Kaimukī


Jennifer Meleana Hee, a chef at Juicy Brew, says that “getting more people to use ‘ulu is one of Juicy Brew’s missions.” Those looking to bite into some breadfruit can purchase the restaurant’s baked ‘ulu nachos with organic jackfruit, ‘ōlena chili, cashew “cheez” and pickled vegetables (price TBD). For more ‘ulu goodness, attendees can sample 2018 Best of Honolulu winner ‘Ulu Mana’s hummus, which replaces chickpeas with breadfruit. There will be four flavors available to try and purchase—Totally Turmeric, Hoppin’ Jalapeño, Bangin’ Beet and sweet potato—along with fresh ‘ulu chips ($7 or 3 for $20 for all items).


SEE ALSO: Best of Honolulu 2018: Food


Ulu Mana VegFest Oahu 2018
‘Ulu Mana’s hummus.
Photo: David Croxford 


People that are looking to take vegan snacks and specialty items home with them can visit a handful of booths, including Hitch Distribution. The local company is a plant-based food-service distributor that will be selling Tofuna Fysh Sauce ($5), Butler Soy Curls ($4) and Louisville Vegan Jerky ($5). Kōkua Market, a Honolulu food co-op, will also have items for sale, such as cookies and chips. There will also be a vegan sample tent where people can try things like vegan meats and cheeses.


Soy Butter Curls VegFest Oahu 2018
Butler Soy Curls.


“We’re appealing to people who’ve at least opened to this idea of maybe lightening up on the meat and dairy,” says Joy Waters, who’s organizing VegFest O‘ahu. “We’re still geared very much to the omnivore meat eater who doesn’t really know.”


Lorraine Sakaguchi, president of VegFest sponsor organization, the Vegetarian Society of Hawai‘i, thinks that people will walk away from VegFest with a new perspective on plant-based eating.


“I think they’re going to see that a plant-based diet is not a grueling kind of thing you have to put yourself through to become healthier or to help your planet or the animals,” she says.


The event isn’t just about food.


There are retailers such as Vegans Rock Apparel, which sells clothing and accessories, and Indigo Elixirs, which offers beauty and skincare products. Attendees can listen to speakers that will discuss topics like health and climate change. One speaker, Genesis Butler, is a tween activist and previous TEDx Talks presenter who’s lectured about animal rights and the environment. The festival will also feature musical performances, dance classes—you can learn how to belly dance—and yoga.


“When you introduce people to the diet it kind of naturally is accompanied by the lifestyle as well because it’s not just the foods you eat, but even the products you’re using,” says Kong. “It’s a very holistic sort of approach because the plant-based lifestyle is very holistic.”


VegFest O‘ahu will be Saturday, Oct. 13 from noon to 5:30 p.m. at the Frank Fasi Civic Grounds, 558 S. King St. vegfestoahu.com.