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Plant-Based Eating in the Big Island, Hawaii

Sharon Palmer

I just got back from five glorious days on The Big Island, Hawaii. This has now become my favorite of the Hawaiian Islands. Why? Because it’s the least touristy and most “normal”, culturally relevant, “real” of the islands. I met so many locals, as this island is mostly comprised of those. There aren’t as many huge resorts or sprawling mansions. Delightfully, it’s a thing to “live off the land”! People grow their own food, get solar panels, and live the simple life. And it’s really easy to eat a plant-based, vegan diet on The Big Island; options were virtually on every menu. I think because of Hawaii’s Asian influences, tofu has always been a thing. And many restaurants let you replace any animal protein on the menu with tofu—on top of having a few plant-based choices to boot! I think people have a real affinity for the beauty of the island and eating a plant-based diet follows along with that thinking style. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that you can grow tropical fruit—like those pictured—right in your backyard!

Flumin’ with My Family, Kohala

We had such a fun day flumin’—kayaking down old turn of the century, plantation irrigation ditches—in the charming, locals village of Kohala. It was pure paradise, with foliage, ferns, wild flowers, herbs, and fruit trees surrounding us.

Flumin’ with My Family, Kohala

Guess what that is? It’s a cinnamon tree sprout which I nabbed in the forest while flumin’. I took it home to see if I could grow it.

Green Sea Turtle, Puako

Come to find out the house we rented is on a Green Sea Turtle Preserve! Every morning this fellow was on the beach to give us a wise old grin. Isn’t he (or she?) beautiful? I even got to snorkel in the beach area behind him and swim with these guys. There were literally dozens of sea turtles every day on the beach.

Fruit Stand, Puako Bay, Hawaii

I got my fill of fresh tropical fruit every day! This guy sold organic pineapple he grows at home at a roadside stand, as well as fresh coconut. My favorite pineapple was the white pineapple, which is much sweeter.

Taro Root, Hilo Farmers Market, Hawaii

Farmers markets are a real thing on The Big Island. They are all over the place and you must check them out. I suggest renting a house so that you can take advantage of the fresh local produce and cook a few meals. That’s what we did. It was cool to see fresh taro at the market—this food is a staple in the traditional Hawaiian diet.

Hilo Farmers Market, Hawaii

The onions are really good in Hawaii, whether they’re green or white.

Hilo Farmers Market, Hawaii

This gives you a picture of all of the tropical fruit that grows readily (some wild) here: bananas, sour sap, avocado, dragonfruit, pineapple, melon, and mango.

Hilo Farmers Market, Hawaii

Also, lots of squash and pumpkins are grown and included in the diet.

Ginger, Hilo Farmers Market, Hawaii

Lots of different types of ginger grow on the island—isn’t this so pretty!

Fiddlehead Fern Sushi Rolls Hilo Bay Café, Hawaii

These vegan sushi rolls were filled with fern (all over the island), avocado, and cucumber—topped with crispy quinoa!

Hilo Bay Café, Hawaii

The salads really can’t be beat here, as all of these veggies are grown locally on the island—in particular the salad greens are remarkable!

Abundant Life Natural Foods, Hilo

This a great place to pick up some healthful, plant-based ingredients for your rental house fridge.


These little “lucky” houseguests are everywhere on The Big Island. I had read that they eat fruit nectar, and now I know that’s true, as this guy crawled into my guava juice glass to lick out the remnants.

Birds, The Big Island

If you’re a birdwatcher, you’ll love it here, as these little colorful bright yellow birds (Nihoa Finch) were everywhere, along with Mynas, fowl, ducks, and Iiwis.


Papaya trees, as well as mango, banana, guava, are everywhere.

Coffee, Kamuela Farmers Market, Waimea

The coffee on The Big Island is incredible, because they grow it locally in the Kona area. You see lots of small, organic coffee farms there. So, it’s a real treat to enjoy a rich brew here (and take back some in your suitcase).

Macadamia Nuts, Kamuela Farmers Market, Waimea

Macadamia nuts also grow profusely in this island, and I enjoyed all types during my visit, as well as tucked away some roasted in sea salt and covered with dark chocolate into my suitcase.

Fermented Vegetables, Kamuela Farmers Market, Waimea

I wish I could have taken home a jar of these beautiful fermented vegetables, layered in a rainbow pattern, but I was afraid it wouldn’t make it home intact in my suitcase. These jars really speak to the culinary and health aesthetic of the Big Island, which has a very Bohemian, healthful, celebratory spirit.

Greens, Kamuela Farmers Market, Waimea

It’s all about the tender local greens on this island.

Kamuela Farmers Market, Waimea

Beets and avocados grow really well here, too—I enjoyed them in several dishes.

Kamuela Farmers Market, Waimea

Locals tell me that they frequent the farmers markets each week to load up their refrigerators with produce.

Red River Café, Waimea

The cover of this menu (sorry for the blurry pic) says it all about the local food scene in The Big Island.

Red River Café, Waimea

Lots of plant-based choices in this rustic, yet elegant restaurant—such as tofu steak with quinoa, local vegetables, in a rich sauce.

Kula Shaved Ice, Hawaii

You must try shave ice while in Hawaii, and this spot in Hilo uses only real fruits, and includes lots of plant-based toppings if you so like (i.e. coconut cream).

Lava Lava Beach Club, Hawaii

My family took in this local hot spot, where you dine on the beach at sunset.

Tofu Curry, Lava Lava Beach Club, Hawaii

I enjoyed a really wonderful tofu curry with brown rice. The curry dishes in Hawaii are great and must be explored!

Çoconut Sorbet, Lava Lava Beach Club, Hawaii

We shared coconut sorbet, frozen right in the shell, and it was so delightful!

Laulima Food Patch, Hawaii

This cute little strip mall shop has really wonderful plant-based bowls, such as this one with purple sweet potatoes, edamame, and tofu.

Lava Boat Tour, Hawaii

With the most active volcano on the planet in this island, and lava flowing directly to the ocean, we had to take in a lava boat tour. It was an amazing (and very wet) experience on this boat, which came right up to the lava flow.

Puoako Bay, Hawaii

Our view from our rental house.

If you find yourself in this part of the world, take time to enjoy yourself, curl up with a good book on one of the many beaches, swim with sea turtles and fish, make friends with the geckos and birds, visit the farmers market and pick some local fruit to cook your own breakfast and lunch at home (with a good cup of Kona coffee), talk to the locals, and visit some of the great eateries.



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