Every Sunday morning along a nondescript stretch of highway in Big Island’s Puna District, local vendors of every stripe arrive at Maku’u Farmers Market to set up their elaborate village of pop-up tents, flea markets, produce racks, food trucks and display tables crammed with all sorts of handmade merchandise.

They arrive to the market space’s unassuming gravel parking lot early – some even before dawn – and set to work stringing up tarp awnings and deploying seemingly endless ranks of plastic folding tables. Their booths are arranged in several long, compact columns running nearly the entire length of the parking lot, with walkways running between them that bring shoppers down the line from one table to the next.

Makku Farmers Market Vegetables Activities

There doesn’t seem to be any particular order to the layout of the market, either; a beeswax candle seller can be found next to an old woman hawking baked goods next to a flower-print dressmaker next to a colorful booth adorned with psychedelic-looking art. The only real segregation here seems to be near the main entrance where it’s mostly populated by hot food vendors, who cook up everything from burritos to fried rice and noodle dishes to crepes to potstickers to tamales all on propane grills. This block of apron-clad cooks rushing about to and fro and serving up paper plates heaped with delicacies sends the enticing aroma of roasting meat and frying oil billowing down the line of stalls.

In the height of the late-morning rush, this area of the market usually swells into a bustling beehive of activity, with lines of hungry patrons waiting for their plates to come off the grill. Everywhere there are groups of people rushing around with cardboard to-go containers, some of them stopping to munch on the typical mounds of noodles, crispy spring rolls, and platters of tacos, while others dig into more exotic fare like spicy papaya salad, falafels and hunks of grilled tropical fish. The mix of smells emanating from this sprawling line of grills can be truly overwhelming sometimes, combined with the hissing roar of frozen food being tossed into large woks full of hot oil.

Hungry market patrons who came to Makuu looking for some true island cuisine crowd around an old Hawaiian man offers up homemade poke (the legendary cubed, seasoned raw fish dish currently enjoying immense popularity on the mainland) with a light green and very thin wasabi sauce that is mind-blowingly spicy. Another local uncle, whom many have simply dubbed “dry fish guy”, works a stall nearby this improvised “food court” area and has been a dependable market fixture for years, selling a variety of different species of fish which he cures himself, like ahi, ono and mahi-mahi, in addition to other homemade seafood side dishes like squid salad and seaweed salad. He serves all of these dishes to-go from a series of coolers stacked in the bed of his pickup truck, which he backs right up to the edge of his stall.

Makku Farmers Market Desserts Activities

For drinks, there are a handful of food trucks located in the parking lot serving up coffee, freshly squeezed juices and smoothies made with a wide assortment of Big Island’s legendary tropical fruits like pineapple, mango, guava, papaya and its many different types of citrus. On a typical Sunday, there is also at least one booth dedicated wholly to serving kombucha – the slightly-alcoholic probiotic fermented tea drink — both in to-go cups and in larger glass bottles and growlers. Some of the food court vendors even have drink dispensers adjacent to their grills, full of everything from lemonade and gingerade to iced tea and coconut-passionfruit juice.

All of these food and drink choices make Makuu Farmers Market a great spot to go for Sunday brunch. The food is relatively affordable, typically good quality and is made fresh right in front of customers’ eyes. It’s also a prime destination to shop for pretty much any type of Hawaii souvenir that the heart could desire, from carved wooden bowls to aromatic, colorful pressed flowers to jewelery to clothing and so much more. The skill and detailed craftsmanship employed by their makers is easy to notice in items like carved wooden figurines and the tightly woven mats, sun hats and baskets made from leaves of the native Hawaiian hala tree – a handicraft that’s been practiced in the islands since the first Polynesian settlers.

Strange Fruits, Goat Cheese, Wildflower Honey and Coconuts To-Go

Makuu Market (pronounced MAH-KOO-OO) is a fantastic one-stop-shop for the famed Big Island “fruit tour”. In essence, this is where Hawaii visitors coming from the mainland try the island’s stunning variety of strange, sometimes peculiar-tasting tropical fruit; types that simply can’t be found in the produce aisle of any conventional grocery store in any other state. Those taking the tour can usually be spotted pretty easily: they’re often the wide-eyed, semi-euphoric people standing in front of the fruit vendor tables, reeling from experiencing flavors that they didn’t know existed until that moment and trying to draw similarities; the jackfruit tastes like Juicy Fruit Gum, the soursop tastes like Starbursts candy, the longan berries taste like perfumey cantaloupe, and the durian tastes like creamy onions.

On the other six days of the week, Hilo Farmers Market is undoubtedly the best place on the island to take the fruit tour. It’s open every day and offers a low-priced, consistent array of neatly stacked pyramids ranging from easily recognizable avocados and mangoes to much more mysterious-looking specimens like rambutan, sapote, mangosteen and rollinia. But on a typical Sunday, Maku’u Market eclipses its big-city counterpart in terms of variety and value, offering an incredibly diverse selection of island-grown exotic fruit at prices that are consistently less than at the supermarkets in town. This is where visitors can find “white” pineapples, “ice cream” bananas, “purple” sugarcane and “strawberry” papayas – a stunning realization for people who’ve only ever known there to be one type.

In addition to these special varieties of produce, Makuu vendors also offer other specialty and artisanal food items, such as small-batch goat cheeses, handcrafted hot sauces, and jars of wildflower honey found in hues ranging from dark amber to pinkish blonde to nearly translucent. The vast majority of the market’s vendors make the items they sell themselves; this gives shoppers an invaluable opportunity to ask questions about their particular craft, to learn in-depth about how these items are made, and even to arrange for custom orders. All this makes a trip to the market a very intimate, educational and pressure-free experience, providing a great opportunity to meet genuine small-town East Hawaii locals, to support their burgeoning small businesses, and to get a taste of the “Real Hawaii”.

At the very far end of the market is its resident coconut vendor, Ano. He is an old hippie and permaculture enthusiast who harvests the nuts himself and gracefully swings his machete again a beat-up chopping block to open them. Crowds of onlookers can usually be found in a semicircle around him watching the process, somewhat mesmerized by a sight that is in a way the quintessence of tropical island living.

How To Get There

Maku’u Farmers Market is located right off of Highway 130 in the East Hawaii Island neighborhood of Hawaiian Paradise Park, locally known simply as “HPP”. The market space’s gravel parking lot and restroom building can be easily spotted from the highway, which on every other day but Sunday is a complete ghost town. It is only open from 7:00am until noon on Sundays, so most visitors make it their first stop of the day, and continue on to Pahoa-area beaches like Kehena or Pohoiki Beach, or to sightseeing destinations like Hawaii Volcanoes National Park or Hilo’s Bayfront.

Makku Farmers Market Jelly Activities

Hawaiian Paradise Park is a sprawling residential neighborhood that stretches from the highway downhill all the way to the rocky coast, found between the small towns of Keaau and Pahoa. The two-lane gravel driveway leading to the market’s parking area is easy to spot, jutting off perpendicular to the highway and leading past a roadside propane-filling station marked with a large white-painted tank. For many years market-goers had to pay one dollar per vehicle at the check-in kiosk to enter, which just recently was raised to two dollars by the market’s administrators.

Somedays, however, the kiosk is unstaffed for whatever reason and vehicles freely cruise by without a second thought. The pull-in parking spaces beyond are very poorly marked, so the lot can sometimes seem like a free for all. After parking, walk a short distance towards the restroom building, which inhabits one corner of the market area and marks its main entrance. Keep in mind that the parking lot and market complex itself are paved with gravel, so wear decent shoes and watch your footing. Makuu is also well-known for its torrential rainstorms, often interrupting otherwise clear and calm mornings with little notice, so if planning a visit to the market during rainy season, it’s a good idea to bring a waterproof jacket.