Sunday, February 10, 2013

Waipio Valley's Edible Treasures

When we first moved to Hawaii in 2006 I wanted to go everywhere and see everything. We've traversed razor sharp lava rock roads, hiked barely visible trails, and splashed across slippery streams in search of some sort of hidden Hawaiian rainbow waterfall treasure. The thing about hidden Hawaiian rainbow waterfall treasures is that they'll be found when they're good and ready. You can go ahead and drive every back road and visit every beach but you'll never satiate your need to find the MOST special the MOST secret the MOST real Hawaiian experience of all time.

What draws us to Hawaii is the very thing that eludes us. Because the most special, secret, real Hawaiian experience of all time cannot be had by all. There is a sacredness here, and it is our responsibility, no matter who we are and where we come from, to honor that.

I spent the past weekend in a place called Waipio Valley on the island of Hawaii with a group of fellow teachers. For the past two years, I have been participating in a program called Kahua that has been specially designed for new teachers to help us implement culturally relevant teaching practices in our classrooms. Part of Kahua has been visiting and learning about significant places on the island. I had been looking forward to the Waipio trip for over a year as it is a very special place that few get the chance to experience.

We stayed on a taro (or kalo) farm tucked back from the beach, surrounded on all sides by fresh water streams and protected by the steep walls of the valley. Reaching the valley requires a very steep hike straight down the valley wall or a nervous car ride in a 4x4. 


The best part of the trip was gathering food for our dinner. Ho'i'o (in Japanese it is known as warabi, English is fern shoots) grows wild in massive boggy clumps that extend 8 feet or more upwards. Once you know how to spot a shoot, they are easy to gather. The shoots, when blanched, are similar in texture to asparagus and taste something like cucumber. If you can get your hands on some, try this Fern Shoot Salad

Next we collected tender, baby kalo leaves that also grow wild along the steam beds. These leaves must be boiled or steamed thoroughly to cook out the "itchiness" that you will get in your throat if you eat it raw or undercooked. When cooking, treat the leaves as you would collard greens.  We cooked ours with some beef and it was so delish. 

Although we didn't get a chance to eat any, the valley is covered in apple snails, an extremely invasive variety that is slowly destroying kalo crops. 

Gathering ong choy

Last, we harvested ong choy (or Chinese watercress) and stir-fried it with some pork. These treats were served with farm-grown poi, and steamed purple sweet potatoes. Who could ask for more? This was one the most special meals of my life by far. 

Returning home I felt re-inspired to gussy up my garden and re-committed to eating as many locally grown products as possible. The message I want to bring back to you after being so lucky as to enjoy this sacred place is that although I understand the need to seek out the best Hawaiian experience of all time, there are places that are better left alone. Tread lightly. 


  1. Wow - this looks like an amazing experience. I agree with the concept of not exploiting, invading, or traveling through every inch of space, is one I've thought about quite a bit. I lived in Florida for a long time. It's a constant struggle to preserve beaches, marshes, the Everglades, and the reefs. Not only do development, tourism and pollution place constant burdens on those delicate ecosystems, but Hurricanes are devastating to them. It's often difficult to chose to limit our activities in order to be eco-conscious but I do believe it's an important thing to do. The meal sounds amazing! You're so lucky to have gotten to participate in that.

  2. Great post. Love the pics. We call the fern shoots pohole ferns here. And they are eaten on Maui as well. I resonate with your first two paragraphs as well, though have not made as much time to explore as I'd like.


Aloha Saturdays with Maggy reader! Thank you for your comments, I love hearing your thoughts and feedback.


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