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May 8, 2012 05:58 PM

Moving to O'ahu, Looking for Specialty Grocery

Hi Hawaii 'Hounds! I'll be moving to O'ahu late this summer or early autumn. I grew up on the Big Island, but have been living on the mainland for about 10 years.

In thinking about the move, I'm curious whether I'll be able to find some of the specialty grocery items I've gotten used to while living on the mainland. So, I would greatly appreciate any suggestions or recommendations in the following categories:

-- A gourmet grocery store, with excellent produce (doesn't need to be organic), goat's milk, high-end crackers and snack chips, a wide variety of unique yogurts, etc. I know there are Whole Foods locations, but are there other options? Natural/health food isn't important, it's more the gourmet aspect that I care about.

-- A place to get amazing cheese, bucherons and mimolettes and triple-cremes and really unique stinky cheeses. Again, Whole Foods has some of this stuff, but I'm not a big fan of their cheese department, as they always saran-wrap the cheeses, which spoils them before you can even take them home.

-- An artisan bread bakery. If anyone is familiar with Zingerman's ( in Ann Arbor, MI, that would be like the gold standard.

-- A good Indian grocery store. I know there's an Indian grocery in Honolulu, but how does it compare to some of those in areas where there is a larger Indian population? Do they have a wide variety of spices, cheap? How about produce and fresh curry leaves?

-- Any good farmers markets where one can buy fresh local produce (again, does not need to be organic)?

Thank you so much!!!

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  1. Not too optimistic about meeting your needs with one go-to gourmet store. The closest may be the R. Fields concession in the Foodland Super Market on Beretania, but while they have some nice cheeses, they generally will be found in plastic wrap. However, the small and fairly dedicated staff may be able to supply whole cheeses on request.

    Doubt you will find goat's milk there...others will have to suggest an option. They do have lots of imported chips and crackers and bottled sauces, etc, but it is not nearly as large as even a small Whole Foods, so the selection will be limited.

    There is a very good bakery that opened recently in Manoa, Fendu. Heavy on pastries in the early am, but nice loaves come out later in the morning. Kokua Market, a health-food coop on King St near the University has a fairly good selection of yogurts, including goat's milk types...not sure if they have goat's milk itself or not, but worth inquiring. Nearby is Down To Earth which is larger, but for reasons that would be censored on this site, I won't mention why I never shop there...nothing to do with their products.

    The KCC Saturday morning farmer's market is the gold standard...should be lots of posts about it here and elsewhere. Some organic, but they police it fairly well to assure that everything is grown, made, or produced in Hawaii, if not O'ahu..

    The Indian market at Isenberg/Beretania is run by a very nice Fijian-Indian family. Not a large selection, as the local Indian population is not large, but certainly worth visiting. Lots of spices, and a fair variety of staples.

    1. In my opinion, the best bread is made by Ba Le. This is a chain of Vietnamese sandwich places, most (or all) of which, however, do not carry their breads. You can find their breads, instead, at Whole Foods (where it is slightly more expensive) and at some Foodlands and at at least two farmers' market: the Saturday morning KCC market and the also excellent Wednesday afternoon market at Blaisdell. Don't expect Zingerman's, but it's pretty good.

      These farmers' markets are probably also your best bet for herbs and nice produce, though the aforementioned R. Fields, which is generally quite expensive, is often a secretly great place for deals on herbs and produce.

      The aforementioned Indian market has some great stuff, but sadly is pretty expensive for spices--they don't have those big, cheap containers that mainland stores do. I think I've seen curry leaves there.

      Some of the wine stores, especially Tamura's, carry a lot of gourmet stuff (Tamura's is generally cheaper than R. Field for the same products.)

      Another place with a slightly different selection of cheeses, olives, and Balkan/Middle Eastern products is Oliver, next to the Olive Tree restaurant, and basically open when the restaurant is.

      Overall, if you're looking for a one-stop store, you are still probably best off with Whole Foods, or with one of the Foodlands (Beretania or in Kailua) with an R. Fields inside, or the Foodland Farms in Aina Haina.

      2 Replies
      1. re: arni psito

        Most of the Ba Le breads can be found at LaTour, their 'upscale' restaurant on Nimitz.

        Getting back to the OP, when Safeway opened their new store in Kapahulu they had an amazing selection of cheeses. I'm guessing that they probably ended up tossing about 70-80 percent of it as it sure wasn't being purchased. Both Tamura's and Fujioka's have a limited amount of deli items, it would be worth it to check them out.

        You may need to focus on the unique things Hawaii offers rather than trying to recreate your mainland loves. Few places in the US have the selection of fresh fish we do. I don't know of anyplace on the mainland where you can get prepared kalua pork, lomi salmon, lau lau, and a huge variety of poke, etc. that are available in almost any grocery store here and even costco. Welcome home, its a great place - but it's not the mainland, for all the good and bad that means.

        1. re: arni psito

          Kokua is also carrying some La Tour (Ba-Le) breads now.

        2. Just an off-hand suggestion: go to the KCC Farmer's Market on any Sat. morning & ask some of the vendors.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Steve R

            or the wednesday afternoon market at blaisdell center, lots of people who work downtown make a lunchtime trip to chinatown for some of their shopping.

            1. re: KaimukiMan

              Second K-Man on suggesting you widen your culinary horizons from familiar Mainland themes to what makes cuisine in Hawaii so unique...the many Asian/Pacific influences with their endless variations, and the abundance of local produce.

              The markets in Chinatown offer some of the freshest produce (and cheapest) as well as many condiments and ingredients hard to find in the supermarkets or gourmet stores. While there is also much imported stuff there, there are some things you won't find at the farmer's markets, while the competition for low-income families' dollars means it is hard to find better prices. For example, I use a LOT of garlic, and buying it in the supermarkets here is never a good idea...overpriced and often tired looking. The KCC and Blaisdell farmer's markets restrict out-of-state products, so you won't see garlic there. In Chinatown you can buy a huge bag of heads of garlic, maybe 20 heads, with all but the final skin peeled, so you can see how large and firm the cloves are, for just $5. I go thru a bag like that in a couple of weeks, and that much garlic, less fresh, would cost a lot more anywhere else.

              Go early in the day, and explore the two blocks around Kekaulike pedestrian mall. You can also buy fresh fish, many different types of fresh asian noodles, pastries, roast pork, duck, chicken, etc etc etc.

          2. Thanks for the great suggestions, everyone. I'm really excited to be coming back home, and am eager to check out these places you've all mentioned.

            K-Man and macaraca -- I certainly know what you mean about focusing more on the local specialties that are unavailable elsewhere in the world. But don't get me wrong, though: I'm not trying to recreate my mainland culinary lifestyle. Rather, I'm curious if I can combine sort of the "best of both worlds" into my own, personal style. And in fact, the cuisine is one of the biggest draws of Hawaii for me--having grown up there, I very much appreciate the local flavors and foods, and the abundance of unique produce and fish.

            I guess I've just come to really enjoy some aspects of mainland life, and I'm curious how much of it I can preserve during the move, while gaining the culinary treasure trove Hawaii offers. Just like Hawaii people who move to the mainland, they're always seeking the comforts of home, finding friendships with other displaced Hawaiians. People are creatures of habit, after all.

            2 Replies
            1. re: jjspw

              can't argue with that, but don't let it become an obsession. after 36 years i still miss 'real' sourdough french bread. Even what is flown in from the west coast isn't the same. some things just can't be replaced. but it doesn't mean we give up looking and trying.

              1. re: jjspw

                I understand your desire very well, and suggest you stock up on some essentials to ship here when you move to help tide you over until you are able to find the best local sources for those necessities. Don't know where you are, but confess to hitting up Trader Joe's and other places in SFO myself when I travel for some things I can't find here. Two things come to mind for my larder: dried porcini mushrooms, which I get from the mushroom dealers inside the Ferry Bldg, and really good orange marmalade. Can get great fresh mushrooms here now, but dried porcinis here are ridiculous expensive or of poor quality, and they keep well, so I stock up. Have not found a really good local marmalade, and Hero brand used to be available some places, but haven't found it lately. Of course I also take advantage of home-made lilikoi and guava jelly from local artisans, but sometimes I just want good marmalade!

                If you have a lot of stuff to ship, you may want to check with the "Ship to Hawaii" people...if you sign up with them or their competitors, you can use them for relatively inexpensive shipping costs on internet orders that otherwise charge outrageous prices for sending things here.