Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Vegan Big Island

From the Kona Farmer's Market
Ashley and I went to the island of Hawaii for our honeymoon! Our wedding, replete with vegan feasting and an epic dance party that left me limping down the stairs the next morning, couldn't have been better. But - in spite of the bliss of the event, and the affirmation of 15 months (plus a lifetime) of work on Ashley's part - we were so relieved it was all over and we could escape to an island!
So for us any trip anywhere is about eating, and because on a honeymoon you don't even have to pretend to do anything else, we pretty much ate our way around the island.

For our first week, we had a condominium in Kona, with a full kitchen and dishwasher that made it way nicer than our home kitchen. So we were able to shop at the incredible farmer's markets around Kona, stock up on tropical fruits like papayas, mangos, pineapple, lilikoi (passion fruit) and starfruits, in addition to just about any vegetable that grows in the ground. Even though food costs can get awfully high on the islands, the farmer's markets were surprisingly affordable.
Breakfast: Strawberry Papaya with Lime
Breakfast most days was a cup of Kona Coffee and a papaya with lime juice. We enjoyed it on our lanai while deciding if we wanted to leave our room today. Most days we did, and some of the restaurants awaiting us made it worth the trip. Local ingredients may be more than we could have even dreamed in terms of how many options we had, but local-style restaurants, not so much. A lot of Hawaiian local food is some kind of barbecued meat with a side of rice and macaroni salad. Not so much our style... But because Hawaii is a midway point between the Americas and Asia, there is a vast array of international foods available, and some of the dining experiences we had were simply transcendent.
Ashley at Lemongrass Bistro, with Vegan Kimchee Salad (right)
On our first day, we stumbled upon Lemongrass Bistro, just blocks away from the Kona Farmer's Market. This place wasn't even in our guidebook, the beloved Hawaii - The Big Island Revealed by Andrew Doughty, but it caught our eye as we were driving by in our Jeep because we just really love lemongrass. Even though the menu was a little light on vegan options, the very friendly owner was happy to accommodate us and adapt some of the dishes to make them vegan. A kimchee salad with octopus was transformed into a salad of crunchy vegetables with a spicy kimchee dressing that was exactly what we were craving as we were not yet accustomed to the humidity and felt hazy. Next, we ordered a stellar coconut curry with an array of fresh vegetables and a bright lemongrass and kaffir lime leaf flavor.
Macadamia-Nut-Crusted Tofu with Peanut Sauce
Lastly, one thing we couldn't resist ordering was macadamia nut-crusted tofu with a sweet peanut sauce. The buttery, nutty crust on the tofu was thick and savory and the tofu inside was fresh and soft. We asked him if it was vegetarian and he responded happily, "it's vegan!" He knew just what we meant.
Our condo was part of Kona Coast Resort, right across the road from Keauhou Shopping Center, which includes a movie theater, a number of restaurants, a grocery store and a farmer's market on Saturdays. We brought staple items from California, where we shopped at Trader Joe's the day before leaving. For items like pasta, nuts and dried fruit, it was a huge money saver, as most everyday groceries are much more expensive in Hawaii. But we still shopped at KTA Superstore for some local items and we had so much fun! Some of the great local items we got were a Hawaiian BBQ Sauce, like a thick teriyaki with sesame seeds and miso, and Pickled Maui Onions with Ogo, a local seaweed.
Our groceries from KTA Superstore
We decided early on in our trip to take advantage of lunch specials and go out to restaurants for lunch, but to return back to our condo and cook up something for dinner. We got lunch in Keauhou Shopping Center at Royal Thai Cafe, where we had some great Pad Thai and a surprisingly spicy curry. We also went for some burritos at Los HabaƱeros, a Mexican grill.
On our adventures outside of Kona, we saw the other side of the island, full of lush jungle and a coastline of black volcanic rock with crashing waves. We went to the quaint old sugar town of Honoka'a on our way to the majestic Waipio Valley and had lunch at Simply Natural. We both ordered a Taro Burger with Pineapple Ginger Sauce (again, we asked if it was vegetarian and she said back, "it's vegan!"). It wasn't the most exciting or flavorful meal, but it was unique and felt like a very local lunch. The beautiful woman at the counter who thanked us for choosing Hawaii island for our honeymoon and made everything with a smile didn't hurt.
Finally our adventures took us to the island's largest town, Hilo, where we had our best meal of the trip at Tina's Garden Gourmet. We ordered pineapple curry with tofu, which used the low-acid white pineapple that grows on the island, fresh tofu, and Thai Basil leaves in a spicy coconut curry sauce.
Pineapple Curry with Tofu
We asked for spicy and they gave us spicy! But the flavors were vibrant and fresh and we thought the prices were expensive until we saw how large the portions were. It was enough to last us two meals. The second dish we ordered was the Hearts of Palm Salad. I love hearts of palm out of a can, but I was not prepared for the deliciousness that awaited.
Hearts of Palm Salad
These fresh hearts of palm were crunchy, tender and refreshing, served with celery, peanuts and herbs in a bright and spicy chili dressing. We were in awe of the freshness of the ingredients, and so happy to know our sweetheart of a waitress, and then we went out an alley to the back to find the bathroom, we saw a beautiful container garden with lemongrass, basil and chilies and it was clear why everything tasted so fresh!

We loved our honeymoon on the Big Island of Hawaii, where many veggie delights await hungry travelers like us. Mahalo!

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