Islands offer abundance of food festivals: Travel Weekly

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Tovin Lapan
Tovin Lapan

Thanks to its unique geography among the 50 states, Hawaii is abundant in some products, like chocolate, coffee, and an array of tropical fruits and Pacific seafood, that are for the most part not grown or found elsewhere in the U.S.

Additionally, the Aloha State's mix of cultures -- Polynesian, Japanese, Chinese and Portuguese, among others -- has influenced its cuisine. Today, Hawaii produces top-flight chefs while also inspiring others to pack their knives and move across the Pacific for a taste of island life and the opportunity to work with Hawaiian products.

As the culinary scene has grown along with food-focused tourism, so too have the festivals, fairs and other events dedicated to food and drink. The second half of the year is chock-full of food festivals and fairs that offer entertainment and the opportunity to try new and innovative dishes.

Here's a sampling of some of the highlights of the culinary calendar that attract visitors and locals alike:

Coming to Maui's northwestern coast June 6-9, the Kapalua Food and Wine Festival has been attracting world-class chefs and master sommeliers to wine and dine guests for 38 years. During that time, the program has grown to include two large evening galas, the Grand Tasting with theme-inspired cuisine and wines from around the world and the Seafood Festival featuring prominent chefs of Hawaii, in addition to cooking demonstrations, wine and food pairings, winemakers' dinners, a Golf tournament, tennis clinic, and the Kapalua wine tour.

Now celebrating its ninth year, the Hawaii Food and Wine Festival has quickly grown into a star-studded affair and one of the state's biggest gastronomic celebrations. This year's edition takes place Oct. 5-27 and includes an Iberian Feast exploring the food of Spain and Portugal, a Brews and BBQ event, and "Wicked Cocktails, Wicked Plates," a Wizard of Oz-themed event with 13 chefs and a fireworks show to close the evening. The two-week event always closes with its Halekulani Culinary Masters Gala in Waikiki, where guests enjoy six courses with wine pairings prepared by a team of Michelin-starred chefs from around the world. This year's Hawaii Food and Wine Festival talent includes acclaimed chefs and restaurateurs Robert Irvine, Roy Yamaguchi, Masaharu Morimoto, Jonathan Waxman, Michael Mina, and numerous others.

Coffee connoisseurs should head to the source of some of the most coveted beans on the planet, Island of Hawaii, for a highly caffeinated celebration like none other Nov. 1-10. The Kona Coffee Festival is one of the longest-running events of its kind in the state, first brewing during the November harvest season of 1970. There are ample opportunities to sample roasts of every shade and flavor, as well as nearly 50 other events including food tastings, farm and roasting tours, art inspired by Kona's top crop, and live music. Each year the festival wraps up with a block party and cultural festival.

The largest Hawaiian cultural celebration held in the state, the Aloha Festivals celebrate everything Hawaiian for an entire month, kicking off Aug. 31 and closing on Sept. 28 with a floral parade. The annual Hoolaulea on Sept. 21, a massive block party on Waikiki's Kalakaua Avenue, is the place to be for visitors who want to find a range of Hawaiian dishes and other fare all in one spot. In addition to stalls selling Hawaiian delicacies like poke, spam musubi and shave ice, the event also includes games and live entertainment.

The Kauai Coffee and Chocolate Festival is two days packed with chocolate and coffee tastings, kids' activities, live music, tutorials, a silent auction and more. A wide array of Kauai shops, restaurants and food trucks also set up shop in Historic Hanepepe Town for the annual affair. This year the event will be held Oct. 18-19 and admission is free. Tickets, $15-$20, are also available for participants who want to guarantee themselves a coffee and chocolate tasting in addition to a receiving a tote bag filled with discounts and other offers.