The author goes to the Maku’u Farmers' Market every Sunday. His favorite lunch there is Thai pumpkin curry and lemongrass ginger iced tea.
The Big Island is known for its rich farmlands and abundant agricultural products, so it is no surprise that there are as many as 28 farmers' markets found across the island. Maku’u Farmers' Market is one of the largest, located off Highway 130 in the Puna district, between Kea’au and Pahoa. Most visitors to the island have never heard of this market, but it’s slowly becoming more popular.
If you’re on vacation on the east side of the Big Island, a Sunday visit to the Maku’u Farmers' Market is a must! Only a 25-minute drive from Hilo, you will enjoy the wonderful sounds, sights, and tastes of this unique local market. The friendly vendors and customers there reflect the true image of a laid-back and extremely diverse Puna community.
Sunday at Maku'u Market
The Maku’u Farmers' Market is a busy open-air market with an almost carnival-like atmosphere. It is quite large—approximately 5 acres, with plenty of free parking and clean public restroom facilities—and is situated on a vast, beautiful piece of property known as the Hawaiian Homelands Farm Lots.
Note: No pets or animals are allowed at the market, except for service dogs.
Going to the Maku’u Farmers' Market is like taking a culinary tour of the world! There are over 150 vendors, most of them from the Pahoa area, as well as nearby Kea’au, Kalapana, and Hilo. Together, they offer an eclectic mix of foods that they prepare and cook for you right on the spot. Nowhere else on this island can you find such a great selection of delicious ethnic foods all in one location. Edible offerings include Hawaiian huli huli chicken, French crepes, Samoan breadfruit stew, Indian chickpea curry, Greek pizza, Thai green papaya salad, Indonesian satay, Puerto Rican pasteles, Vietnamese summer rolls, Mexican tamales, and Filipino pan de sal pastries, just to name a few.
Many Puna residents bring their whole families to this market each Sunday specifically for the delicious and affordable local foods. There are long picnic tables arranged under a large tent where people can sit and enjoy their lunch. There’s also a small stage where local musicians entertain the lunch crowd with everything from The Beatles to Bob Marley. Occasionally even a Japanese taiko drum band or a Latin marimba ensemble will perform. People often clap and sing along or get up and dance, which might just prompt you to drop your groceries and join in!
What to Do at Maku'u Market
In addition to its prepared foods, the Maku’u Farmers' Market is also well-known for its huge variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. On market day, you will find the freshest produce—either harvested earlier that morning or just the day before—from various local farms. Many of the fruits and vegetables are certified organic or pesticide-free. Depending on the season, you will find all kinds of tropical fruits available. Browsing row after row of exotic fruits beautifully displayed under the vendor’s tents, you can’t help but imagine you’re at a market somewhere in Southeast Asia!
At Maku’u market you will also find a large collection of ornamental plants and fruit trees for sale from local nurseries and backyard gardeners, as well as cut flowers and orchids from the anthurium and orchid farms in the area. Many of the potted orchids are ready to be shipped to the mainland for visitors.
You can also buy unique homegrown or homemade products such as Puna goat cheese, lehua honey, coffee, vanilla, macadamia nuts, chocolate, jam, jelly, and pickled or baked goods. Sometimes there’s even fresh seafood from local fishermen (selling mahimahi, ahi, and ono from the back of their boat in the parking lot!) and grass-fed beef from the upcountry ranch area of Waimea. Vendors also sell handmade soap, jewelry, and clothing, as well as crafts, paintings, photographs, pottery, books, vintage records/CDs, used furniture, and garage sale knick-knacks. There's truly something for everyone!
If you need to take a break from all the visual stimulation, you can always head to one of the massage tents and get yourself a lomilomi massage, or just relax on a picnic bench, sip cool juice from a fresh coconut, and have your palm read by a fortune-teller.
Maku'u Market Tips
- Vegetables and fruits are very inexpensive here, so bring plenty of $1 bills.
- This is a great place for people-watching! Get a plate of food, sit back, relax, and watch the crowd go by. You might even be surprised to see a visiting Hollywood celebrity, as some have been spotted at this market.
- It’s always crowded at the picnic tables under the lunch tent, but squeeze yourself in anyway; people will be glad to make room for you. Don’t be shy—you might find yourself sitting next to some of the most interesting people you've ever met!
- Buy a fresh coconut to drink from the permaculture farm booth located at the north end of the market. Just don’t look while the guy holds your coconut in one hand and furiously chops away at it with the machete in the other!
- Be sure to take a stroll through the beautiful Hawaiian garden at the south end of the market near the parking lot. It is full of many rare, native species you won't see anywhere else.
When visiting the Maku'u Farmers' Market, or any other destination on your Hawaiian vacation, please always be respectful to the kama'aina (local people) and the aina (land).
- From Hilo, head south on Hwy 11 (Mamalahoa Hwy) toward Kea’au.
- At the Kea’au intersection, turn left onto Hwy 130 (Keaau Pahoa Rd).
- Drive toward Pahoa village (about eight miles).
- You will see what looks like a buzzing tent city with lots of cars in the parking lot (rain or shine) on the left side of the highway. That’s the Maku’u Farmers' Market!
All photos were taken with a SamsungDigimax 301 3.2MP Digital Camera.
Questions & Answers
Question: Is the Maku'u farmer's market still open despite these volcanic eruptions?
Answer: Yes, Maku'u market is still open every Sunday despite the recent volcanic eruptions in lower Puna.
Question: I sell crystals, readings, and statues. How do I become a vendor at the Maku'u Farmer's Market?
Answer: First, you must contact Maku'u Farmers Market Association for information about becoming a vendor. Or on Sunday, go to their office, which is located at the back of the market, to talk to the staff and get an application. I believe there is a fee you have to pay as a vendor and you will be assigned a spot at the market.
© 2011 Viet Doan