Hidden Hawaii: Maku'u Farmers Market in Puna on the Big Island
The Big Island is known for its rich farmlands and abundant agricultural products. 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 Puna district, between Kea’au and Pahoa. Most visitors to the island have never heard of this market, but it’s slowly gaining popularity as more visitors discover it. If you’re on vacation on the east side of the Big Island, it’s definitely worth a Sunday visit to the Maku’u farmers market. 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 at this market reflect the true image of a laid back and extremely diverse Puna community.
SUNDAY AT MAKU'U MARKET
Maku’u farmers market is a busy open air market with almost a carnival like atmosphere! It is quite large (approximately 5 acres, with plenty of parking) and situated on an even larger, beautiful piece of property known as the Hawaiian Homelands Farm Lots. There are over 150 vendors, most of them from the Pahoa area, as well as nearby Kea’au, Kalapana and Hilo.
Going to the Maku’u farmers market is like taking a culinary tour of the world! This market is famous for an eclectic mix of foods that vendors prepare and cook for you right on the spot. Nowhere else on this island can you find such a great selection of interesting ethnic foods all in one location. From 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, to Filipino pan de sal pastries. In fact, many Puna residents bring their whole families to Maku’u farmers market each Sunday specifically for the delicious and affordable local foods. There are long picnic tables arranged under a large tent for people to sit and enjoy their lunch. There’s also a small stage where local musicians entertain the lunch crowd with everything from Beatles to Bob Marley, or occasionally a Japanese taiko drum band or a Latin marimba ensemble performs to the crowd's delight. People often clap and sing along, or get up and dance, which might prompt you to drop your groceries and join in on the dancing!
WHAT TO DO AT MAKU'U MARKET
Along with the prepared foods, Maku’u farmers market is well known for its huge variety of fresh fruits and vegetables available for sale. On market day, you will find the freshest produce just harvested earlier that morning or 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 fruit 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 mainland for visitors. You can also buy unique homegrown or homemade products such as Puna goat cheese, lehua honey, coffee, vanilla, macadamia nut, chocolate, jam, jelly, pickled, and baked goods. Sometimes there’s even fresh seafood from local fishermen (selling mahimahi, ahi and ono from the back 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, potteries, books, vintage records/CDs, used furnitures, and garage sale knick knacks. 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 lomi lomi massage, or just relax on a picnic bench, sip cool juice from a fresh coconut and have your palm read by a fortune teller.
TO GET HERE
From Hilo, head south on Hwy 11 (Mamalahoa Hwy) toward Kea’au. At Kea’au intersection, turn left onto Hwy 130 (Keaau Pahoa Rd) and drive toward Pahoa village (about 8 miles), you will see on the left side of the highway what looks like a buzzing tent city with lots of cars in the parking lot (rain or shine) - that’s Maku’u farmers market!
- Maku’u farmers market opens every Sunday 8AM to 2PM. Free parking and clean public restroom facilities.
- No pets or animals allowed at the market, except for service dogs.
- Vegetables and fruits are very inexpensive, bring plenty of $1 bills.
- 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 meet some of the most interesting people in your life!
- Buy a fresh coconut to drink from the permaculture farm booth located at the north end of the market. Just don’t look when the guy holds your coconut with one hand and chops away at it furiously with a machete in the other hand!!!
- Be sure to take a stroll through the beautiful Hawaiian garden - planted with many rare native species - at the south end of the market near the parking.
When you visit the Maku'u famers market on the Big Island, or travel to any islands on your Hawaii vacation, please always be respectful to the kama'aina (local people) and the aina (land).
ABOUT THIS ARTICLE
The author goes to Maku’u farmers market every Sunday. His favorite lunch at the market is the Thai pumpkin curry with steamed rice and lemongrass ginger ice tea. All photos were taken with a SamsungDigimax 301 3.2MP Digital Camera.
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© 2011 Viet Doan