The Sustainable Tourist


By Devany Vickery-Davidson
Photos By Devany Vickery-Davidson

As the plane landed, I felt myself aching for the ever-embracing soft air of Hawai`i. All I could think about was putting the top down on the car and riding under the luxuriantly green jungle along the Red Road on the Puna Coast, anticipating the wonders of the Big Island’s many farmers’ markets. Yes, I came for the incredible Hawaiian climate and yes, I came to enjoy blissful days snorkeling and hiking and touring, but most of all… I CAME TO COOK!

When I tell people we are planning on moving to the Big Island, the first thing most of them say is, “Lucky you!”The second thing they say is, “Oh, but it is so expensive there!” I guess I am glad for that stereotype in a small way, as it keeps real estate prices somewhat reasonable and prevents a massive immigration to Hawai`i. I usually take
the opportunity to educate them about how sustainable farming actually works better and is more important in Hawai`i than many locales because of the limits and prices imposed by importing goods to the islands vs. growing, producing and creating local products. It is all about living locally in every aspect of your life.

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On our latest trip to the Big Island it was my objective to eat locally as much as possible.This meant shopping at farmers’ markets and grocers who sell local products. Because we rent a house in Puna’s Kehena Bay area, there actually are not many other options. It is a place without a single hotel and only a handful of restaurants (none closer
than 15 miles). In each of Puna’s two major towns, there are only about two blocks of commerce. In Pahoa, Puna’s largest town, there are two farmers’ markets, Island Naturals—an excellent natural foods market offering locally grown and produced organic goods, a fantastic fish market, a large grocery store and a juice store offering fresh juices.

Because I was on a quest for the “Best of Hawai`i” in locally grown produce, we made the 45 minute trip each Saturday andWednesday to Hilo’s fantastic farmers’ markets as well as toThursday, Friday and Saturday
markets in surrounding communities.

During our two weeks in Puna, we dined out in Pahoa at Kaleo’s twice and in Hilo at Café Pesto (both featuring local food) but for the most part we “cooked in” three meals a day. I bought things abundantly, hoping to have the best of the best local foods at their peak of ripeness, knowing that no matter how much I spent I would not be paying one quarter as much as if someone else was cooking our meals and washing our dishes.

While I did use as many local products as I could, there were a few imported items like rice and some Asian condiments.We were fortunate to find not only local fruits and vegetables, as one would imagine, but also local herbs, tortillas, miso, tofu, goat cheese, milk, butter, breads, eggs, free-range beef, chicken, pork and, of course, fish. No trip to the islands would be perfect without freshly ground Kona coffee beans every morning.

Every morning we had a lavish spread of local fruits, some as exotic as rambutan, apple bananas, mountain apples and purple star apple (notice the apple theme here?). In actuality, most of them are nothing like an apple, but then neither is a pineapple. After a short time I realized that apple was the word used for naming many unusual fruits. Some mornings I made Mac Nut Pancakes topped with guava syrup made by thinning down and heating guava jelly I bought at the Hilo Farmers’ Market. We started off every day with freshly ground Kona coffee and fresh juices.

The abundance of tropical and exotic fruits in Hawai`i is one of the best things about being on the island. I piled masses of them around the house and we used them at every meal in some way. Their perfume filled the house as a side benefit. When I popped the fruit out of my first rambutan, I decided I could use the shell to serve small portions
of my coconut mousse later in the day. The possibilities were endless and I really enjoyed discovering the exotic gems of the island.

On Pahoa Highway there are several trucks selling Ahi tuna and sometimes other fish such as Ono/Wahoo, which is so Ono! I made my own tuna salad using a leftover piece of grilled ahi and sometimes seared a piece coated in sesame or mac nuts in coconut oil I bought at the Pahoa Farmers’Market. The coconut oil makes a great skin butter
at room temperature. The man who renders it also said it works well as a hair conditioner, but I did not take it that far.

Tuna melts with avocado, onion sprouts, tomatoes and cheese became a favorite lunch. I made taro chips by slicing them very thinly and frying, then topping with finely chopped chives and red sea salt. Sometimes I made an aioli to dip them in.

I kept a pitcher of ginger tea in the refrigerator along with fresh juices for refreshment.Most evenings at the cocktail hour I would concoct my “Puna Punch,” a variation on the Mai Tai. We would have pupus and sit on the lanai till the Coqui frogs started to sing. This event heralded dinner, which usually consisted of grilled local fish, chicken or beef (the local grass-fed beef was especially awesome), a salad with Hamakua Springs greens, grilled pineapple or mangos
topped with raw sugar as they grilled. I baked yams or stir fried rice. Chayote were stuffed with onion, chiles, garlic breadcrumbs and local Portuguese sausages and baked. I stir fried fern heads and added a bit of local miso glaze for extra flavor. For dessert (if there was room) we had more sumptuous fresh fruit and an occasional coconut or guava

Miso soup was made daily (sometimes for breakfast), adding mushrooms, fern heads, chives and tofu made in Hilo. One day I was thinking about our dinner and needed some chicken stock. Back at home I have an entire freezer dedicated to stocks, so I would not think of buying canned stock. It only took me a moment to decide to use the
chicken bones from the previous evening’s meal to whip up a quick batch of stock. I actually made myself laugh when I thought about it, “Here I am on vacation making chicken stock!” I also made my own mayonnaise without a second thought.

We made a visit to Barbara Fahs’ Hi`iaka’s Healing Herb Garden (, where she led us around educating us about the variety of local plants which one could enjoy for sustenance as well as healing.

It is easy to imagine what our life will be like when we are living in Hawai`i full time: much like our vacation was, living sustainability while enjoying the many flavors of locally grown, harvested and produced foods. It really is paradise isn’t it? Aloha au i, Hawai`i!