Big Island Bounty at the Hilo Farmers Market Print
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Written by Melanie Waldman   

Hilo Farmers MarketOn the eighth day, God created the Hilo Farmers Market on the Big Island of Hawaii. And lo, it was good, offering as it does lilikoi lemonade, local crafts, exotic plants and a whole lot more.

Since 1988, the farmers' market in downtown Hilo - the biggest little city on Hawaii's lush eastern side - has featured the bounty of the island's iron-rich soil. Back in the day, the market was little more than a few farmers hawking their wares from their flatbed trucks, while now you'll also find prepared foods, toiletries and crafts that reflect the mixed heritage of the local population: Polynesian, pan-Asian and Transplanted Mainlander.

It rains in Hilo at least once every day, so just about the entire market is tented. As you elbow your way through the sometimes-serious crowds, keep an eye out for:

  • Filthy Farmgirl at Hilo Farmers MarketFreshly made Vietnamese rolls and tropical-fruit-flavored lemonades
  • Spam musubi, a local version of sushi made with...Spam
  • Hand-woven palm baskets from one of Hawaii's oldest families
  • Gorgeous beach glass-and-silver jewelry by Seashore Collections
  • Little bites of purple sweet potato mochi from the Papa'a Palaoa Bakery
  • Dramatic necklaces made from big, shiny, dark and indigenous kamani nuts
  • More Hawaiian shirts than you've ever seen in your life
  • Soap from Filthy Farmgirl, featuring fresh ingredients -- and hilarious labels

This is the perfect place to try some new-to-you fruits, as well. Longan (pictured below), or dragon's eye fruit, looks like clusters of dusty brown-shelled grapes on the outside; once peeled, though, they taste sweet and juicy. Bumpy red lychees from China, fuzzy red rambutans from Thailand, pale and watery mountain apples and creamy-citrus-strawberry-like soursop from the Philippines can all be found here. Ask for samples and take a short trip around Asia.

Hilo Farmers MarketGingerly approach the guy with the machete hacking the tops off of coconuts, and you'll soon have yourself a refreshing, tropical drink. Snack your way through some Lava Rocks Puna Goat Cheese, which comes packed in a Mason jar full of olive oil, herbs and edible flowers. Consider purchasing a now-rare Japanese glass fishing weight, adorn yourself in a hand-strung flower lei, or revel in some of the most magnificent salad produce you'll find on Earth.

It used to be hard to reach Hilo from the U.S. mainland; you had to fly into Kona, a three-hour drive away on the western side of the Big Island. As of summer 2011, however, United/Continental Airlines has launched direct flights to Hilo International Airport (ITO) every day from both Los Angeles and San Francisco.

And once you're here, it's very easy to visit the Hilo Farmers Market: it's open year round, every day but Friday. The biggest days are Wednesday and Saturday from 6 a.m. – 4 p.m., when more than 200 local farmers and crafters set up shop on both sides of Mamo Street near the corner of the main drag, Kamehameha Avenue. On Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday from 7 a.m. – 4 p.m., you'll find about 30 farmers and crafters, but smaller crowds and more street parking.

To see more of Melanie's adventures, check out her travel blog: TravelsWithTwo.