Hello, Hilo

By contrast to the hustle and bustle of Honolulu, Hilo is a sleepy little town tucked into the lush countryside. Compared to the rest of the country though, it’s still a lively and fully urbanized city. Condensing the majority of its shops and eateries into just about a dozen square blocks, almost everything is immediately accessible without hopping in a car, despite the lack of a comprehensive public transit system. For those seeking a tropical “escape” that still has all the amenities of home, Hilo should be at the top of your list. Pick your arrival time wisely, however, and don’t do as I did by landing on Sunday. Just a whisper above a ghost town, most of Hilo either takes Sunday off completely or closes up shop early, leaving those seeking shopping or structured entertainment to fend for themselves. Bear in mind that the listed hours for businesses here are generally more of a rough estimate than a precise time to set a watch by on any day, so always call in advance to confirm that the hits on your list are actually open when you drop by. Luckily, there are still a handful of eateries putting out their best dishes well into the evening. It was the small farmer’s market that shocked me, generously pointed out by an effusive shuttle driver on my way out of the airport.

The Hilo Farmer’s Market website states Wednesday and Saturday, 6:00 AM to 4:00 PM in no unclear terms, and yet there it was, gently humming away into the midday heat of Sunday afternoon. Though more modest in size and selection than the “big” days, this was no ramshackle assortment of venders here. Hidden on the corner just behind the KTA grocery store, skip the shopping cart to find more locally produced items just a few steps away. Piles of fresh produce overflowed out of baskets, fresh flowers sat in carefully arranged bouquets, and a good handful of homemade jams and syrups were available for tasting, to boot. Better than the selection that I’d find at my own local markets in the height of summer, this was a true boon to discover. Now that I had a full kitchen back at my hotel, I shamelessly stocked up on fruits and vegetables, stuffing the fridge as much as one can for such a brief stay.

Little did I know what hidden treasures lay barely a foot outside my hotel room door. For the first time using the descriptor of “homey” as a positive thing, I would recommend the Dolphin Bay Hotel to absolutely anyone. Walking into my comfortably furnished studio apartment, it really did feel like my own, happily lived in space. Offering bottomless cups of coffee in the morning far better than the average bitter brew, that generosity is only topped by the readily available papayas and finger bananas 24/7. Sitting right out in the hall, everyone is encouraged to eat as many as they can, and I did indulge quite a bit. Best of all, however, is their impossibly fruitful backyard. A quick stroll outside brought to light more edible delights than I could count, including but not limited to starfruit, oranges, ginger, bread fruit, mountain apples, and yes, avocados. It simply boggled my mind that all of this could be grown in the comfort of one’s home.

Though I now had plenty of food to survive through my single full day stay, there were a few enticing gustatory leads worth investigating nonetheless. All of my original points of interest were unavailable, but I struck solid gold after glancing into Le Magic Pan‘s open door. One of the rare establishments open until 9:00 PM everyday, they’re your best bet for a memorable vegan meal. Admittedly, options are slim, with your only real choice being the chickpea flour or buckwheat Vegan Crepe, but the mere existence of vegan crepes should be enough to encourage a taste. Go for the “half salad, half crepe” option, as portions are generous and the salad is far better than mere iceberg shreds with a token cherry tomato on top. Wildly varied and colorful throughout, the seemingly disparate ingredients came together to create a delightful little starter to whet one’s appetite.

Crispier than the average pancake, my chickpea-based crepe reminded me more of dosa than any French fare, but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment one bit. Tucking artichoke hearts, creamy avocado chunks, and the salty pops of kalamata olives into that blanket of batter, the whole thing is topped off with an artful drizzle of “magic sauce,” which was appropriately surprisingly and mysteriously delicious. A must-try for any vegan in Hilo, budget travelers can play their cards wisely to get the best deal: The very same dish is on offer for breakfast, but at $2 cheaper.

Though I did have grand plans to visit a sushi joint offering up some creative vegetarian rolls, alas, bad timing thwarted my attempts. A full day tour kept me away from the downtown area until most places had closed up shop for the day, and then little was open the following morning of my departure. My greatest regret is missing out on trying shave ice… But I guess that’s just one more reason I’ll need to return, and soon.

Photos are still being uploaded to my Flickr set everyday, so keep clicking by to see the full scope of my trip. Coming soon: waterfalls and craters and vog, oh my!

20 thoughts on “Hello, Hilo

  1. I am living vicariously through your wonderful adventure Hannah…you lucky girl! The only time we get to see anything at all about Hawaii or Honalulu is in old 60’s television show re-runs or Dog the Bounty Hunter and he isn’t focussing on vegan food and growing delights and tends to hover around McDonalds (might be a good idea NOT to work for him as it seems mandatory for all of his “crew” to go there with him and have upsized everything ;) ). I, too, have envious lust at the amount and variety of tropical fruits you were able to access straight from the tree! The pawpaws and finger bananas are a really good marketing idea and would certainly make people want to return. I want to return and I haven’t even been there! I might have to cook me some of those gorgeous looking crepes to make up for it ;). Cheers for allowing us all to travel with you whilst in the safety of our jammies in our computer chairs ;)

      1. Here’s the story…Hawaii is suffering the very same P.R. problem that Australia is…when any American is asked “name an Australian actor” the very first names that come into their heads are “Crocodile Dundee and Steve Irwin”…that’s it, that’s ALL! Same goes for Hawaii (unless you are old enough to remember “Danno” which I most certainly am NOT! ;) ) so after you move on from Hawaii, the home of the Dogmeister, I shall return to my more widespread knowledge of topics other than Dog ;)

      2. Gotcha… Either that, or you’re a secret Dog super-fan! I do kid of course, it’s hard to think of many well-known Hawaiians. There is Roseanne Barr who purchased a macadamia nut plantation on the Big Island, but she’s clearly a transplant, and the locals didn’t take too kindly to her when she started rearranging the land without getting the proper papers. Manti Te’o, the football player, has also become much more visible these days thanks to his “fake girlfriend” scandal (it was on the news ever day when I was there!) but I suppose that’s not exactly a shining example either. Gotta work on that!

      3. And we don’t get any of that over here…I never knew that ole mouthy Rosey had bought a macadamia nut plantation (both Rosey AND the nuts are transplants! ;) ) and we tend to ignore the “football” because our own football is so much more manly ;). I have watched a few episodes of DTBH but am more amused with the relationship dynamics than anything that he does ;)

    1. I wanted to, but was too intimidated! I looked up a few articles on it, and the preparation seemed too demanding to figure out quickly. I’m really regretting not giving it a shot though… How did you eat it? Plain or do you have recipes? I’d like to be prepared next time! ;)

      1. Well, to be honest, I had it before I was vegan (oops!) but I had it mashed (like potatoes) and also sliced and fried. I don’t have any recipes but I bet there are some in Caribbean Vegan. The reason I haven’t gotten recipes is because I couldn’t find breadfruit in RI! I just moved to CO though so maybe I’ll have some luck out here :)

      2. Those sound like great ideas regardless, which shouldn’t be too hard to veganize! I sure hope I can stumble across breadfruit again soon so I can play around with it a bit… It’s definitely a challenge to hunt down outside of tropical climates. I’m so sad I wasted that opportunity now!

  2. Interesting crepe. I’ve not eaten very many but the ones I have enjoyed could never be described as crispy. It sound enticing as does EVERYTHING about Hawaii. Love the out door market and I’m looking forward to seeing those waterfalls.

  3. i would eat that crepe up! you definitely need to head back for the shaved ice and more fruits! thats one of things i miss a lot from back home in India. Fresh seasonal fruit. All the fresh and cheap fruit is all we always ate for snacks.. the meals that were thought out were breakfast lunch and dinner and the 2-3 times of snacking was all fruits and fruits with some nuts thrown in. i miss the juicy fresh fruits. :)

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