The county of Kauai sponsors regular weekly Sunshine Markets (tel. 808/241-6390; www.kauai.gov) throughout the island, featuring fresh Kauai Sunrise papayas (sweeter, juicier, and redder than most), herbs and vegetables used in ethnic cuisines, exotic fruit such as rambutan and atemoya, and the most exciting development in pineapple agriculture, the low-acid white pineapple called Sugarloaf, rarer these days but still spottily available. These markets, which sell the full range of fresh local produce and flowers at rock-bottom prices, present the perfect opportunity to see what's best and what's in season. Farmers sell their bounty from the backs of trucks or at tables set up under tarps.
The biggest market is at Kapaa New Town Park, in the middle of Kapaa town, on Wednesday at 3pm. The Sunshine Market in Lihue, held on Friday at 3pm at the Vidhina Stadium parking lot, is close in size and extremely popular. The schedule for the other markets is Koloa Ball Park, Monday at noon; Kalaheo Neighborhood Center, Papalina Road off Kaumualii, Tuesday at 3pm; Hanapepe Park, Thursday at 3pm; Kilauea Neighborhood Center, Keneke off Lighthouse Road, Thursday at 4:30pm; and Kekaha Neighborhood Center, Elepaio Road, Saturday at 9am. Especially at the Koloa Market, which draws hundreds of shoppers, go early and shop briskly (www.realkauai.com/FarmersMarkets).
On the North Shore, Kilauea is the agricultural heart of the island, with two weekly green markets -- the county-sponsored Sunshine Market, Thursday at 4:30pm at the Kilauea Neighborhood Center; and the private Kilauea Quality Farmers Association (mostly organic growers) Farmers Market, Saturday from 11:30am to 1:30pm behind the Kilauea Post Office. Everything in the wide-ranging selection is grown or made on Kauai, from rambutan and long beans to sweet potatoes, corn, lettuce, and salsas and chutneys.
Also on the North Shore, about a quarter mile past Hanalei in an area called Waipa, the Hawaiian Farmers of Hanalei -- anywhere from a dozen to 25 farmers -- gather along the main road with their budget-friendly, just-picked produce. This market is held every Tuesday at 2pm. You'll find unbelievably priced papayas (in some seasons, several for a dollar, ready to eat), organic vegetables, inexpensive tropical flowers, avocados and mangoes in season, and, when possible, fresh seafood. The best of the best, in season, are rose apples, mountain apples, and the orange-colored papaya lilikoi.
Another great Kauai-made product that makes an excellent gift from Kauai is Aunty Lilikoi's passion fruit products (ranging from jelly to passion fruit mustard, bubble and bath gel, shampoo, even candles). Aunty's shop is located at 9875 Waimea Rd., in Waimea (tel. 808/338-1296; www.auntylilikoi.com).
Mangosteen, Pineapple & Other Fine Smoothie Options
Fruit stands have sprouted on this island, and smoothies are gaining ground as the milkshake of the new millennium. New crops of exotic trees imported from Southeast Asia are maturing on Kauai, creating anticipation among residents and fruitful ideas for the smoothie world. "Everyone's waiting for the mangosteens and durians," comments Joe Halasey, who, with his wife, Cynthia, runs Banana Joe's (tel. 808/828-1092), the granddaddy of Kauai's roadside fruit-and-smoothie stands. "They take about 12 years to start bearing, so there are a lot of maturing trees. We're all waiting for the fruit. Rambutans (with a hairy, red exterior and a translucent, litchilike flesh) are good for the farmers here because they're available, and they're a winter fruit. In the summer, mangoes and litchis are always in high demand."
Banana Joe's has been a Kilauea landmark since it opened in 1986 at 52719 Kuhio Hwy., between mile markers 23 and 24 heading north, on the mauka (mountain) side of the street. Sapodilla, star apple (round, purple, and sweet, like a creamy Concord grape), macadamia nuts, Anahola Granola, and homemade breads -- like banana and mango-coconut -- are among Banana Joe's attractions. The Halaseys have expanded their selection of organic vegetables and exude a quiet aloha from their roadside oasis.
Mangosteens, reputedly the favorite fruit of Queen Victoria, have a creamy, custardy flesh of ambrosial sweetness. When mangosteens start appearing at Hawaii fruit stands, they will no doubt be in high demand, like mangoes and litchis during their summer season. In the meantime, Banana Joe's has a hit on its hands with Sugarloaf, the white, nonacidic, ultrasweet, organically grown pineapple popularized on the Big Island. Whether made into smoothies or frostees (frozen fruit put through the Champion juicer), or just sold plain, fresh, and whole, the Sugarloaf is pineapple at its best. For litchi lovers, who must wait for their summer appearance, new varieties such as Kaimana and Brewster are adding to the pleasures of the season. In addition to fresh fruit, fruit smoothies, and frostees, Banana Joe's sells organic greens, tropical-fruit salsas, jams and jellies, coconut water, gift items, and baked goods such as papaya-banana bread. Its top-selling smoothies are papaya, banana, and pineapple.
Near the Lihue Airport, Pammie Chock at Kauai Fruit & Flower (tel. 808/245-1814) makes a pineapple-passion fruit smoothie that gets my vote as the best on the island.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.