Early 2017 festival lineup a feast for foodies

The Honolulu Festival Friendship Gala brings together top Oahu chefs to create inventive Hawaiian dishes using local ingredients.
The Honolulu Festival Friendship Gala brings together top Oahu chefs to create inventive Hawaiian dishes using local ingredients. Photo Credit: Honolulu Festival Foundation

Hawaii's singular cuisine has a lot to offer the culinary tourist. Still, it can be difficult to check off all of the food-focused sights during a single visit. Dining out at top-flight restaurants every night has a way of burning through even the most robust vacation budget.

That is why food festivals are a great opportunity for travelers to experience a variety of flavors and dishes in an economical, convenient manner. While there are numerous culinary festivals in the islands throughout the year, the first few months of 2017 offer up enough events to satiate the appetite of even the most voracious culinary tourist.

Honolulu Festival Friendship Gala, Oahu: March 10-22
The gala, where top Oahu top chefs flood the Hawaii Convention Center to put on a full display of creative regional cuisine featuring local ingredients, is one of the marquee events of the Honolulu Festival, Oahu's premier cultural event. The gala promotes goodwill between the people of Hawaii and the Asia-Pacific region. In addition to an array of regional dishes, there are also dance and musical performances.

Kona Brewers Festival, Hawaii Island: March 11

It began in 1996 as a birthday celebration for Kona Brewing Co., but has grown into something much more. Now one of the highlights of the Hawaii culinary calendar, the festival features 60 types of ales and lagers served alongside island cuisine from some of Hawaii's most decorated chefs. The festival raises funds for environmental conservation organizations, and now includes a running race, home brewers competition and a variety of entertainment.

Big Island Chocolate Festival, Hawaii Island: April 28-29

Brace yourselves, chocoholics. This festival dedicated to the wonders of the cocoa pod and Hawaii's chocolate industry brings together top chocolate makers and chefs.

Visitors can explore a variety of displays and sweet creations, including a 4-foot chocolate fountain.

The festival includes seminars, demonstrations, a student chef and professional competition, a gala fundraiser and a silent auction. Proceeds benefit local schools and aspiring chefs.

East Maui Taro Festival: April 29

This all day event that offers a lesson on one of Hawaii's most important traditional staples is now entering its 25th year. The festival features a packed schedule of Hawaiian entertainment and hula, food booths and arts and crafts. What distinguishes the festival are the hands-on cultural demos such as poi-pounding, kapa cloth making, workshops on crafting Hawaiian musical instruments and lauhala weaving.

Waikiki Spam Jam, Oahu: April 29

Last year an estimated 25,000 people attended this one-day event that shuts down Kalakaua Avenue to car traffic. Two entertainment stages are set up on either end of the space, and in between a sampling of Honolulu's restaurants serve up unique and inventive sculpted Spam dishes. In addition to the canned meat creations, there are musical acts, craft booths and other activities.

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