The Path to Enlightenment is Paved with Thai Street Food

thai street food

thai street foodOnce a year the Thai Buddhist Temple of Hawaiʻi turns into a Thai Street Food Sanctuary

Crispy fried chicken with sticky rice, steaming bowls of coconut fish curry poured over vermicelli noodles with fresh herbs and lime and ice-cold cups of bright orange, spiced Thai tea. Getting hungry yet?

Thai fried chicken
Thai fried chicken

A few weeks ago I was out foraging with Nat Bletter, cofounder of Madre Chocolate, and we got to talking about Thailand––where he lived for a while doing his postdoc.

In between identifying native plants and cracking open kukui nuts he gave me a gem of a recommendation. Every year during Buddhist lent––July to October––the Thai Buddhist Temple of Hawaiʻi in Pearl City puts on a Thai Street Food Market on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. It is the closest you will get to authentic Thai and Lao cuisine in Hawaiʻi he promised.

thai street food
Green Fish Curry

On a sweltering hot day in July I grabbed a foodie friend and set out for the Temple. We failed miserably on our first attempt.

“It happens to people all the time,” Bletter said after hearing that we showed up to their old location on 2nd street first by accident.

By the time we found the right address, and made our way over to their new(ish) Temple on Farrington, Bletter was just showing up.

thai street food

The three of us spread 11 dishes onto a picnic table and dove in. Bletter gave us ingredient intel on each dish as we navigated through the flavors of sweet, sour, salty and spicy.

None of the dishes are over $8 and all proceeds go to support the monks––who steadily perform rituals and chants all afternoon while people graze.

Thai Street Food
Red Fish Curry

Spicy fried smelt (tiny fish) are tossed with red curry paste, fresh chilis and julienned lemongrass and Tod Mun, or fish cakes, made with galangal and makrut lime leaves are served with Thai sweet chili sauce.

thai street food
Spicy fried smelt
thai street food
Tod Mun

Papaya salad is made to order––to suit your taste––and is served with a handful of peppery la lot leaves. I opted for only one dried chile and an extra squeeze of lime in mine. The woman preparing it let me try it three times until she saw I was happy with the ratio.

thai street food
Green papaya salad

One of the vendors instructed us to eat the Saku Sai Mu––chewy balls of tapioca stuffed with pork––by wrapping them first in fresh cilantro sprigs and following each bite with a nibble off a Thai chili. It was my favorite dish of the day. “You have to eat it all today,” he urged. “It won’t be good tomorrow.”

thai street food
Saku Sai Mu

Pla Pad Chah gets its name from the sizzling sound the fish makes when it hits the skillet. This version is made with eggplant and includes mouthwatering aromatics like green chilis, pickled green peppercorns and Thai basil.

Thai street food
Pla Pad Chah

Another made-to-order salad I loved comprised bamboo shoots massaged with bai yanang––an herb and natural MSG. The marinated shoots are tossed with toasted, ground sticky rice, dried chilis, palm sugar, fish sauce, red onion, lime and mint.

Thai street food
Marinated bamboo shoots
Thai street food
Bamboo shoot salad

For dessert you must try the Khanom Krok––plump pan fried rice pancakes oozing with coconut cream and scallion––and Khao Tom Mud–– banana leaf wrapped coconut sticky rice stuffed with red beans and banana that turns bright pink once cooked.

Thai street food
Khanom Krok
Thai street food
Khanom Krok
Thai Street Food
Khao Tom Mud

There is also a table set up inside the Temple where the monks place their leftover food after they eat. The food is up for grabs to anyone who would like some blessed bites.

Thai Street Food
Food blessed by the monks

Bletter gave me a few tips. You may want to practice these when you show up to the Temple (or Thailand) out of respect.

1.   Cover your shoulders and don’t wear shorts to the Temple.
2.   At the beginning of a meal, fill up on a few bites of sticky rice first instead of going in for the more expensive ingredients right away.
3.   Pick up the sticky rice with your fingers and use it as a vessel to pick up the other ingredients with. Don’t lick your fingers.

On our way out we spoke with Loonk Pai-Rat, or “Uncle” Pai-Rat, a Buddhists who had been walking around educating guests while we were eating.

“You know why monks shave their heads?” he asked. “To make it easier to wash! That’s it!” He was demonstrating one of the principals of their lifestyle, which is to simplify.

He also warned us about desire––an action the Buddhists believe is the root of all suffering.

I digested his words, along with the feast we had just consumed, on the car ride home. It was a reminder to accept and be grateful for what I already have, to stop clinging to impermanent things and to stay focused on living a virtuous and intentional life––that eternal practice of letting go of the ego.

If you enjoy Thai cuisine you will love this event. Bring friends, sample everything and most importantly…open your mind. The Buddhist’s path is an enlightening one and as it turns out a delicious one too.

96-130 Farrington hwy, Pearl City
July-October, Sundays, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Pro tip: The parking lot gets full so if you see a spot on the street, grab it!

Madre Chocolate Farm Tour: How To Get From Bean To Bar

madre chocolate farm tour
madre chocolate farm tour
Photo by Ketino Photography

An afternoon of connecting with the land and tasting award winning chocolate awaits you on the Madre Chocolate Farm Tour at Nine Fine Mynahs Estate in Waialua.

Imagine biting into a bar of rich dark chocolate that is so creamy you swear it is milk chocolate.

There’s no crumble or chalkiness. Instead, it feels like you are sinking your teeth into a stick of butter. The essence of north shore rain and tropical fruit  slowly tempers on your tongue.

This is Madre Chocolate.

You can thank the climate and terroir in Hawaiʻi for that luxurious mouthfeel.

But don’t think it is because of sunny, warm temperatures. Hawaiʻi is actually one of the coldest places on earth growing cacao. It’s cool winds and volcanic soil produce beans that are extra high in cocao butter making them some of the best in the world.

You will learn this, and so much more, on the Madre Chocolate farm tour.

madre chocolate farm tour

Out on the farm

The air is thick and muggy upon my arrival. I hop out of the car, cover myself in a fog of bug spray and pull my hair up, which is already starting to frizz and stick to the back of my neck.

The owner of the property, Jeanne “J” Bennet, strolls over with a smile and ushers me to a picnic table surrounded by a cluster of tree stumps. The other guests are just starting to congregate.

In between the spaces of country silence I can hear mynah birds chirping and firearms popping off nearby. “Target practice,” Bennet says. “At least when they’re shooting guns you can hear them and know where they are. Not like when they’re shooting arrows.”

I survey the faces of the other guests, curious of their reactions, and then turn my attention to the plate of freshly harvested Sunrise papaya Bennet has just set out for us.

Next to the papaya is a bottle of Nat Bletterʻs mango hot sauce made from local mangos and chilis. “You can dip your papaya in the hot sauce if you’d like,” Bennet suggests.

madre chocolate farm tour
Nat Bletter, co-founder of Madre Chocolate

The dreamers of the dreams

We start the tour with a meet and greet.

Nat Bletter guides the Madre Chocolate farm tour. He is an expert botanist and cofounder of Madre Chocolate. He’s also a chili enthusiast currently growing 120 different varieties on O’ahu, hence the hot sauce.

Bennet and her husband Bruce Clements own the estate. They moved in several years ago to find acres of fallow land suffering from years of aggressive monocropping and depleted soil. They started by planting trees. Hundreds of them. All types. Within a year and a half 620 cacao trees covered the property. “We are planting trees as fast as trees are being cut down,” Bennet says.

Clements is an ex pilot and the farm’s “handy man.” He’s built everything you see at Nine Fine Mynah’s Estate including a massive workshop, a sweet little chocolate factory and the couple’s impressive country home (complete with indoor bird sanctuary). In his spare time he makes beer and chocolate with Bennet and Bletter.

madre chocolate farm tour
Nat’s mango hot sauce, miel de cacao, raw criollo cacao

Ice cream and black coffee

After her spiel Bennet quickly passes the baton to Bletter who gives us a brief history on the evolution of cacao and its origins.

He splits open a fresh pod for us to taste and hands out cups of cacao pulp juice he calls miel de cacao. The juice is delightful––syrupy sweet with a thick mucous-like consistency similar to what spills out of okra. The beans from the cacao pods are covered in a white, sweet-tart pulp with a crunchy center that is bitter like black coffee. A wonderful contrast in my opinion.

madre chocolate farm tour

Afterward, Bletter walks us over to a grove of cacao trees full of pods tie died red, yellow and orange.

The cacao enjoys the shade and consistent hits of nitrogen from the ice cream bean trees hovering above.

Bletter cracks open a fuzzy, green bean pod thatʻs about a foot long. It is packed with what looks like a cluster of damp cotton balls. He passes the pod around, so everyone can reach in and pull out a bean to try.

We are instructed to enjoy the soft, snow white outer coating but not eat the bean itself (which is only edible if cooked). It feels like cotton candy melting on my tongue and tastes of tamarind and vanilla ice cream. Some of the guests pocket the beans to plant an ice cream tree of our own when they get home.

madre chocolate farm tour
Nat introducing us to ice cream beans

Over 50% of the cacao used for Madre Chocolate is from Hawaiʻi. Criollo and trinitario varieties are grown at Nine Fine Mynahs Estate. More comes from Kona and a few other small farms on the Big Island and Oʻahu. The rest comes from Central America simply to keep up with supply and demand.

Bean to bar in 12 steps

Madre Chocolate is made in small batches, by hand, with the help of a few simple tabletop machines. Bletter walks you through each step during the tour giving you the opportunity to taste the cacao during every stage of the process, so that you can see the transformation the beans undergo.

1. Harvesting.  The cacao is checked for ripeness by scratching the pod. If it reveals a green hue they need more time on the tree. If they scratch yellow or red they are ready to harvest.
2. Fermentation.  After the pods are split open and the beans are removed they get placed in a small chest freezer to ferment for about 10 days, until reaching a temperature of 118-120 degrees. The beans look like they are covered in the same red-orange clay mud that spreads across the farm like peanut butter. They smell yeasty and, when peeled, take on the color and taste of red wine.
3. Drying. Still hot to the touch, the beans are laid out to dry on wire racks lined with 2 layers of fiberglass screens (so the metal doesn’t impart flavor). This happens in a well-ventilated A-frame shed for 6 weeks to 6 months.
4. Roasting. The beans are roasted using low heat resulting in a complex nutty, yet still fruity, flavor.
5. Crushing. The beans are crushed in order to remove the outer shell.
6. Winnowing. The beans are put through a winnower to blow off the outer shell.
7. Grinding. The cacao nibs go into a grinder.
8. Cacao butter separation. This step is omitted at Madre Chocolate. Bletter explains that they do not have the volume of cacao, nor the enormous machine thatʻs needed in order to separate the cacao butter from the cacao. Instead, the cacao butter at Madre Chocolate is left in.
9. Sugar and other desired ingredients are added.
10. Churning. The cacao and other ingredients churn together for 2-5 days straight to produce chocolate.
11. Tempering. The chocolate is heated and cooled for texture and shine.
12.The chocolate is poured into molds to create chocolate bars.

madre chocolate farm tour
Fermentation and drying process

Halfway through the tour, dark clouds start to fill the sky. We escape the rain by taking a detour through Bennet’s home and mynah bird sanctuary––what the estate is named after.

madre chocolate farm tour

Inside Bennet’s home a zoo unfolds. Mynah birds soar through the kitchen and dining room and the kids get the opportunity to feed some of the newborns by hand. Bennet notices my wide eyes and skeptical smile and turns to me and says, “We use a lot of wet wipes here.” I laugh and gaze at the happy birds in awe.

madre chocolate farm tour
The kids feeding baby Mynah birds with syringes

Nat and the chocolate factory

Soon Bletter shows back up to take us over to the chocolate factory for a chocolate making demo and chocolate dipped frozen apple bananas.

madre chocolate farm tour
Roasting, winnowing and grinding

He saves the best for last by caffeinating us with cacao shell tea and gifting our palates with samples of every flavor of their award winning chocolate, including a bar he calls Horchata that’s been flavored with cinnamon, puffed rice and almonds, their Drinking Chocolate that has a rustic stone ground texture and the Earl Grey Chocolate that contains as much caffeine as 6 cups of tea.

madre chocolate farm tour
Roasted cacao beans

Madre Chocolate, now 8 years old, is among the top 18 cacao growers in the world. They have won the highest number of accolades in Hawaii for their chocolate including Best Hawaiian Cacao at the Big Island Chocolate Festival and the prestigious International Cocoa Award at the Cocoa of Excellence competition in Paris.

madre chocolate farm tour
Chocolate dipped apple bananas with toppings

Producing award-winning chocolate isn’t Bennet and Clement’s only raison d’être. As much as they love chocolate they are equally as passionate about caring for the wild life and land that surrounds them. To tour the estate is to look deeply into their dreams and life’s work on an intimate level. An invitation I do not take lightly.

madre chocolate farm tour

Bennet is a recent breast cancer survivor. She says the first thing she asked her doctor, when she was diagnosed, was if she could still eat a chocolate bar a day.

Her doctor enthusiastically said, “Yes!” and told her that as long as itʻs 70% cacao the benefits of the antioxidants and flavanols cancel out any negative effects of the sugar. Bennet says when she heard this she looked at her doctor and replied “how about two bars a day?”

madre chocolate farm tour

In addition to the Madre Chocolate farm tour, Bletter also hosts chocolate making classes, whiskey and chocolate pairings and a boot camp for aspiring cacao farmers.

You can purchase their chocolate online, at the KCC farmers market or in select retail and grocery stores that can be found on their website.

Madre Chocolate Farm Tour 
Hosted by Nat Bletter and Jeanne Bennet

Sundays at 1pm
Nine Fine Mynahs Cacao Farm
Waialua, HI 96791
(808) 779-8608
www.madrechocolate.com

 

Like this article? Subscribe to The Healthy Locavore for more on how to eat local and live well in Hawaiʻi. I am so grateful for this community, thank you so much for being a part of it!

Vegan Sweet Potato Chowder

vegan sweet potato chowder
vegan sweet potato chowder
Photo by Ketino photography

Want a comforting, hot soup that will make you feel amazing afterward? One that won’t weigh you down? This vegan sweet potato chowder is a favorite at the yoga retreats I cook for. And after many requests for the recipe I’m finally getting it up on the blog.

Feel free to play around with adding different types of vegetables and spices to this recipe. You can swap lemon for lime too, which is just as tasty. One thing I recommend however, is to use Arroy-D brand coconut milk. It is 100% pure and does not separate like other coconut milks can when brought to a simmer.

I use local Okinawa purple sweet potatoes here, but I have also made this soup with a variety of other types of sweet potatoes and they all work well.

Vegan Sweet Potato Chowder

*Use local and organic ingredients whenever possible. 

Cuisine vegan
Keyword vegan sweet potato chowder
Total Time 1 hour
Servings 5 cups

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp coconut oil unrefined
  • .5 each yellow onion diced small
  • 2 ribs celery diced small
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic peeled and minced
  • 1 tsp fresh ginger peeled and minced
  • 2 cups sweet potatoes peeled and diced large
  • 2 tsp nutritional yeast
  • 1 pinch chile flakes
  • 1.5 cups water roughly
  • TT salt & black pepper
  • 1 can coconut milk Arroy-D brand (14oz)
  • .5 head broccoli cut into tiny florets
  • 2 each scallions sliced thin
  • 2 tbsp fresh parsley chopped
  • .5 each lemon juiced

Instructions

  1. Melt the coconut oil in a large pot over medium-low heat.

  2. Add the yellow onion and celery, season with salt and pepper and cook on medium-low heat stirring occasionally until soft. 

  3. Add the garlic and ginger and cook 2 minutes more. 

  4. Add the sweet potatoes, nutritional yeast, chile flake and water (enough water to barely cover the vegetables). Season with more salt and pepper, bring to a boil over high heat and then lower to a simmer. Simmer until the potatoes are tender. 

  5. Add the coconut milk and broccoli, bring back up to a boil and then reduce to a simmer and cook until the broccoli is tender. 

  6. Turn off heat, add scallion, parsley and lemon juice. Taste and adjust with salt and pepper as needed. 

Recipe Notes

Purchase Arroy-D coconut milk here

Purchase nutritional yeast here

Ulu-Kiawe Cornbread

ulu-kiawe cornbread

ulu-kiawe cornbread

I developed this ulu-kiawe cornbread recipe for my last Pupus With A Purpose  event to highlight ingredients that are both local and invasive to Hawaiʻi. To make a gluten-free cornbread (or any kind of gluten-free bread for that matter) takes a bit of tinkering. AP flour brings a lightness to breads and pastries that gluten-free flours can’t. To avoid creating a dry hockey puck I treated this bread like a cake. How do you create a super moist cake? You add fat.

So, in addition to high quality ulu and kiawe flours, and locally grown and milled cornmeal, I incorporate a good amount of coconut oil into this recipe. I also use a lower glycemic monkfruit sugar instead of refined sugar to make it even healthier.

Lastly, I bake this bread in a well seasoned cast iron dutch oven passed down from my aunt who used it for years before me. This helps steam the bread a bit while giving it a nice crust. Plus, everything tastes better coming out of a family heirloom.

This may be a difficult recipe to make if you don’t live on Oʻahu because the ingredients may be tough to source. But, if you are lucky enough to live here I invite you to please indulge.

Ulu-Kiawe Cornbread

Use organic, local ingredients whenever possible. 

Cuisine Gluten free
Keyword cornbread, cornmeal, gluten free, kiawe, ulu
Servings 16 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 cups cornmeal Counter Culture Organic Farms' 'Nalo Orange Cornmeal
  • 2 cups milk whole
  • 1 can creamed corn
  • 1.5 ounces kiawe flour Waiʻanae Gold
  • 5 ounces ulu flour Manaʻe Farm or Kahumana Farms brand
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 3/4 cup monkfruit sugar
  • 2 each eggs
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil plus more for greasing your pan

Instructions

  1. Pre-heat oven 400 degrees.

  2. In a small bowl combine cornmeal, creamed corn and milk; let stand for 15 minutes. 

  3. Grease a cast iron pan with 1-2 tablespoons coconut oil and place in the  oven while it's pre-heating. 

  4. In a large bowl whisk together flours, baking powder, salt and monkfruit sugar. 

  5. Whisk in cornmeal mixture.

  6. In a separate bowl whisk together the eggs and coconut oil until well incorporated, and then whisk this into the rest of the cornbread batter. 

  7. Remove the cast iron pan from the oven, pour in the batter, level it out with a spatula and place back in the oven. Bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cornbread comes out clean.

  8. Let the bread cool in the cast iron pan for at least 30 minutes. Invert the pan on to a cutting board to remove the bread, continue to let it cool on the cutting board for another 30 minutes, and then slice into 16 pieces or as desired. 

  9. Serve with soft butter, honey and jam or all on its own.