The island of Kaua’i is truly enchanting – lush green mountains rising out of the ocean; long stretches of sandy beach and turquoise water teeming with fish and sea turtles; palm trees, coconuts, frosty tropical drinks, green geckos; a tiny two-lane highway with speed limits that never top 50 miles per hour; and a way of life that is just a few shades more mellow than life on the mainland.
I intended our Kaua’i adventure to include lots of writing about all the delicious vegetarian and vegan foods I could find, but I’ll admit that I didn’t do a very good job. Many days I was just too wiped out from hiking or snorkeling or bicycling (poor me) to take decent photos or even bring my camera to dinner. Other days I was far too busy relaxing with my feet up or taking a nap to worry about my blog. And while Kaua’i is very mellow, it is also very expensive, so many days we ate cereal for breakfast and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch. But I did visit a lovely farmers market brimming with fresh local produce, and a hot-dog stand I had heard about. I also toured an orchard and garden at the National Tropical Botanical Garden, and I was fortunate enough to stumble upon some of the best vegetarian tacos I’ve ever had.
There are farmers markets every day of the week in Kaua’i. They take place in different towns and vary in size, but all follow basically the same format. Customers are not allowed into the market until the designated start time. Sometimes you’ll be let in a few minutes early to look around, but you can’t begin buying until the bell rings (or the whistle blows, or the guy hollers). Then it’s a frenzy of shopping. It ultimately wasn’t quite as cutthroat as I had read online, but you did have to move quickly for some things. Farmers markets are probably the most affordable way to get produce in Kaua’i. Not all of it is organic, but all of it is local and they offer some interesting and exotic things.
The National Tropical Botanical Garden was a great way to see some of the foods grown in Kaua’i. They had a display of plants and trees brought to the island by Polynesians, Japanese, and North Americans.
Puka Dog is a little hot-dog stand that offers veggie dogs in addition to Polish sausages. I had heard about it the last time I visited Kaua’i, but was unable to visit. This time around I wasn’t going to miss it. “Puka” means “hole” in Hawaiian, and the Puka dog is so named because instead of a traditional hot-dog bun, it’s served in a bun that has a hole cut in the center. The inside of the bun is toasted and filled with your choice of mustard (they call is “garlic lemon secret sauce, but it tasted like mustard to me) and tropical or traditional relish, and then in goes the dog. That’s it; there’s nothing else on the menu except freshly squeezed lemonade. There is typically a line out the door and virtually no place to sit – but no one cares. Puka dogs are that good.
Finally, the tacos. These are, hands down, the best thing I ate in Kaua’i: Crispy fried avocado tacos from Merriman’s Downstairs Café. The avocados were fried perfectly: They were crisp and lightly salty on the outside and still fresh, firm and green on the inside. Topped with plenty of fresh pico de gallo, cilantro, cabbage and a drizzle of sour cream, they were simple but well-prepared and definitely the most exciting vegetarian menu item I came across.
If you’re ever lucky enough to spend some time in Kaua’i, I recommend checking out all the food and food-related things mentioned in this post – including saving some money by eating PB&Js and cereal– but only if it doesn’t interfere with your snorkeling, sightseeing, hiking and generally relaxing. Aloha!