Walk into Bamboo Fresh in Lahaina, and the first thing you’ll notice is the ingredients piled everywhere: a big round stalk of bananas hangs behind the counter, piles of orange papayas and bright liliko‘i nest together on shelves, pineapples decorate the counters, and coconuts form a small mound. The unique thing about Bamboo Fresh is that all of these ingredients are locally sourced: Kula strawberries and Hana beef, amongst other fresh local fare, are advertised on the colorful chalkboard menu. The local ingredients not only make for better tasting food; they’re also also confronting a big problem in a tasty way.
According to analysts, the State of Hawai‘i imports between 90-95 percent of its food. This, on an archipelago of formerly-productive lands that, pre-Western contact, fed all of the estimated million residents of Hawai‘i. It’s an unsustainable situation, and there is a growing awareness of this stark reality. There are those in our islands already doing what they can to help this unsustainable situation, but we can all do more with our daily spending and eating habits. One easy solution is supporting businesses that feature local produce.
The movement toward locally-grown food is the driving force behind Bamboo Fresh, which serves healthy fare with fresh flavors. With a menu full of color and flavors and options for both vegetarians and omnivores, Bamboo Fresh, now in its seventh year, is committed to providing a meal that comes with a clear conscience.
The restaurant is all the way at the end of Front Street, tucked behind a jumble of shops in The Shops at 505 Front Street next to Lahaina Shores. The interior is cute and colorful, reminiscent of a beach-side fruit stand, with brightly painted walls, a smoothie station, heaps of fresh fruit ready to be popped into a blender for smoothies, and surfboards hanging over the cash register.
The day I went in to check it out, Michelle, the owner, was happy to talk us through the menu and the choices she makes in purchasing to include local produce. “The pork and beef is grass-fed and free-range, on island,” she told me. “Everything is cooked in house, slow-baked in our oven. All of our produce is delivered three times a week.”
The menu includes flavors of honey-dijon chicken, beef seasoned with rosemary and sage, kalua pig, butter-herb turkey, and lemon pepper chicken. For vegetarians, Mama’s Garden and Tofu & Spice options include avocado, sweet potato, local goat cheese, and fresh veggies. The menu is versatile, and each flavor can be ordered as a wrap, salad or rice bowl.
“You have a balanced meal in every wrap,” said Michelle. You have the proper balance of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates; you have your live foods and your cooked foods. The chicken is organic and hormone-free. We also use fresh herbs.”
The smoothies are popular and delicious. “A fruit puree is used to make our smoothies, so there’s no sugar, syrup, or dairy,” said Michelle. Smoothies are suited for a variety of palates, like the Mermaid, with mango and liliko‘i flavors, and the Jedi OG, with cacao and peanut butter. Or, they can be ordered custom. The house special, Life Force, combines 10 fruits with kale, mint, ginger, and spirulina. Each smoothie is blended with coconut water. Beside these main stays, the menu also offers coffee and bagels.
“We started from zero, and we’re still here,” said Michelle. “I’m not a foodie; I’m not a chef; this is all by accident.” Michelle used inspiration from her childhood growing up on Rhode Island, where her family used seasonal ingredients and used to “jar and can everything,” she said. From that beginning, she’s become passionate about local food. Despite a series of challenges that many small businesses on Maui encounter, the cafe has persevered, mostly from word of mouth and a mix of tourists and local regulars. One of the hard-to-swallow aspects of eating well is the price tag, but Bamboo Fresh keeps their prices pretty reasonable.
On the wall by the cash register, a small sign hangs. “Wouldn’t it make sense… that a community that feeds itself, is a community that thrives?” It would.
505 Front St #142
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