Hanalei’s Farm-to-fork Taro Shop

One of the most iconic views of Kaua’i is the Hanalei Valley scenic overlook. A patchwork of taro fields fed by the Hanalei River stretch across the basin. Encircled by mountains draped in waterfalls, endangered birds flourish in the valley, a National Wildlife Refuge. Tucked on 30 acres is W.T. Haraguchi Farm, a six-generation taro farm that began in 1924 growing rice. Today, the farm supplies taro and vegetables for its family-owned food truck, Hanalei Taro & Juice Co.

“We are a farm-to-fork taro shop that makes authentic Hawaiian food with a contemporary twist,” says cook and owner Brad Nakayama.

Nakayama was born and raised on Oahu and met his wife, Lyndsey Haraguchi-Nakayama, at the University of Hawaii-Manoa. Brad has a degree in psychology, and Lyndsey in tropical plant and soil science. The couple married in January 2005 and moved to Kaua’i four months later.

“I knew that if we got married, we’d eventually end up back on the farm,” says Brad.

“That’s what happens when you marry a farm girl!” says Lyndsey. “If we didn’t come back, we were going to lose part of the farm.”

“I never worked so hard in my life until I married you!” says Brad, laughing.

Despite frequent theft of produce and farm equipment, flash floods ruining crops and machinery and endangered birds eating the profits, the couple has managed to sustain the farm. Recently, they bought a new food truck to replace the original one Lyndsey’s parents, Rodney and Karol, bought in 2000, when Hanalei Taro & Juice Co. first opened.

Lyndsey grew up sampling recipes her mother tested in the family kitchen. The best were passed on to Brad, and with some modifications, he uses them today. For example, he transforms whole hogs from Kaneshiro Farm in Omao into kalua pig that is moist, rich, salty and smoky.

That pork, along with taro and poi, shows up throughout the small menu. The Kalua Pig Plate ($9), served in a biodegradable container, features a generous portion along with sweet poi (or rice), taro mac salad (another one of Karol’s recipes), lomi lomi salmon and, when available, kululo.

For the lau lau, taro leaves (from their farm, of course) are stacked, filled with chicken or pork, and steamed. As I remove a strip of ti that’s folded over, my fork pierces the pudgy layer of rich greens and slides through tender pork.

“We strive for balance,” says Brad. “Visitors say there’s too much fat in our lau lau, but the local boys like it fatty. “They say, ‘It’s really good, but … if you put two or tree mo’ fat inside, ho! That thing would be winnaz!'”

From kalua turkey with taro stuffing and lomi pineapple or Okinawan pork belly sliders with Asian slaw on taro buns, to Portuguese taro soup or local lamb curry with taro, Brad makes a special every day – including shoyu chicken, which is so popular it’s become permanent on the menu.

Lyndsey’s grandparents William (91), and Janet (89) tend a garden on the farm, and frequently their produce ends up on the menu.

“We had a flash flood and my grandfather dropped off a huge bag of cabbage from his garden,” says Brad. “So we had kalua pork and cabbage specials all week!”

There also are creamy sorbets ($1.50 a scoop), which vary according to what’s in season.

“Right now we have pineapple, but we also do mango, soursop, papaya and watermelon,” says Brad. “It’s a real treat anytime of year.”

Brad slips taro into almost everything. Fresh poi is handmade three times a week, there are 16 varieties of taro smoothies, taro mochi, and an açaÃŒ bowl with taro granola, fruit from the farm, pureed taro, frozen berries and açaÃŒ pulp from local distributor Tambor AçaÃŒ. There’s even an addicting taro hummus and a nutrient-packed taro burger.

“I did some research on taro-only burgers,” says Brad, “and nutritionally, they fell short. I modified Karol’s recipe by keeping out major allergens [gluten, soy and dairy] and added some protein.”

Hanalei Taro & Juice Co. food truck is located in Hanalei, and always in front of Kayak Kaua‘i

Hanalei Taro & Juice Co. food truck is located in Hanalei, and always in front of Kayak Kaua‘i

Burgers now have taro leaves, black beans, brown rice, quinoa, flax seeds and spices. Recently, Zesty Taro Hummus and Hanalei Taro Veggie Burgers became available at Sueoka Store, Westin Princeville and Menehune Marts in Kapahi and Kilauea.

Hanalei Taro & Juice Co. food truck is located in Hanalei and always in front of Kayak Kaua’i. You also can find it at the Saturday Kaua’i Community Market in Puhi, and Wednesdays at the Kapa’a Sunshine Market.

“We are thankful for our customers’ positive feedback and appreciate all the help of our staff – a small, extended ohana,” says Lyndsey. “We pray that this is a way that our farm can survive to the next generation and hopefully generations to come.”

Hanalei Taro & Juice Co., open Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., 826-1059, HanaleiTaro.com

Marta Lane is a Kaua’i-based food writer. For more information, visit TastingKauai.com.