Cooking & Eating on Moloka'i

Kalua Pig in an Imu, Lu'au Cooking
There are many great home cooks here on Moloka'i, including the men. Actually men did most of the cooking in ancient Hawaii, and the women did the gathering. One of my first, and best meals here was when I was invited to a local luau (see photo to the right) where the men cooked 3 giant pigs in an underground imu (oven). 

My wife and I have lived on Moloka'i for the past 16 years. People have asked me why we live on such a quiet island, when we could be living on Oahu or Maui. Sometimes I ask myself that same question, and then I remember living in San Francisco for 35 years, breathing pollution, stepping over the homeless, and fighting my way through office politics and traffic.

Musubi with Pickled Maui Onions and Ogo
Moloka'i is unique, it has a quality of life that is unlike any other island in Hawaii. It is undeveloped, unhurried and peaceful. It's a small community of just over 7,500 residence, most of which are Hawaiian. Many of the people on Moloka'i have a limited palette. Rice is served with every meal, Spam is the meat of choice in many homes, and venison is abundant because of the over population of Axis deer on the island. Taro and poi are still eaten regularly here, along with local pork and fish from the waters around Moloka'i.

There are no celebrity chefs here, only a handful of restaurants trying to make a go of it. Here's a link to restaurant reviews on Moloka'i from Yelp.

Moloka'i has several small grocery stores, no movie theaters, freeways or stoplights. The tourism industry is minimal here, because there is only one small hotel, and many visitors find that there are only a few places to shop and very little to do, unless you like uncrowded warm beaches, waterfalls, hiking, golf, or just relaxing with a good book as the warm trade winds blow through your hair.

Kualapu'u Cookhouse,
located in Kualapuu

Unfortunately Moloka'i has a VERY high cost of living. Almost everything is shipped here, lumber, appliances, clothing, food, etc. Utility rates and gas prices are the highest in the U.S. A 2012 survey showed that about 40% of food consumed on Moloka'i comes from subsistence sources like hunting, fishing, gathering and homegrown produce, according to Catherine Cluett, Editor of the Moloka'i Dispatch. 

Beneath the still waters of Moloka'i lies the true spirit of helping each other called "Aloha." Yes, there is such a thing as Aloha, something a lot of the world seems to have lost.

Understanding what it's like shopping for food on Moloka'i

Downtown Kaunakakai, Moloka'i, Hawaii
The majority of food brought to Moloka'i comes from Oahu twice a week (Monday and Thursday) via barge. It is then offloaded and stocked on the grocery shelves the same day.

Shopping for food can be a challenge on Moloka'i, especially for the first time visitor. The grocery stores are small, therefore the selection of food is small. The stores here cater to the food preferences of the local population, not visitors from the mainland or other countries. The food that you are used to buying at home may not be on the shelves here. If you don't see what you want, just ask an employee, that's why one of our markets is called "Friendly Market", but don't be surprised if they don't know what you are talking about.

Moloka'i Saturday Farmer's Market
For really fresh locally grown fruit and vegetables I would suggest that you visit our local Saturday Farmers Market in the early morning so you have a good selection (8:30 am). It is a small market, but usually has very fresh produce at reasonable prices. Our farmers market is located on the main street of Kaunakakai, between Bank of Hawaii and American Savings (both of which have ATM machines if you need cash).

My Three Cookbooks, available at
my wife's booth at the Moloka'i Farmer's Market
If you want to have a catered meal or party, check out the "catering" tab on the left column. If you want to try and prepare a few local dishes yourself, but don't have a recipe, you can buy one of my cookbooks at our local bookstore, or find hundreds of recipes by clicking the "recipe" tab at the top of this page. Most of the ingredients for the recipes found on this site can be purchased on Moloka'i. I hope you enjoy your visit here, perhaps I will see you around town.

Chef James Temple


Judy said...

I am on your site most every day. I love your opo soup recipe and the list could go on and on. Which one of your cookbooks has the most recipes featured on this site? That's the recipe book I want. I live in Kona and don't come to Molokai very often - please send me information on ordering one of your cookbooks (especially the one you recommend).

James Temple said...

Mahalo Judy, for information on purchasing my cookbooks, please email me at