Chips and Dale: The tasty handmade chips of Kauai’s Taro Koby: Catherine E. Toth
posted: Fri Aug 22, 2014 at 10:36 AM
A wok-fresh batch of Taro Ko's thin, crisp, garlic-salted taro chips. Photo by Mike Coots.
If you drive too fast, you’ll miss it.”
That was the sage, if succinct, advice I received from a friend several years ago when I mentioned I was headed to the small farming town of Hanapepe on Kauai’s south shore. She was describing a worn-down, faded green cottage on the biggest bend of the town’s main drag, Hanapepe Road. A place that, should I be fortunate enough to find it, sold the freshest—and, there are many that argue, best—taro and sweet potato chips in the state.
Ever since my first taste of Taro Ko Farm chips—thinner than mass-produced varieties, wonderfully crisp, with a toothsome garlic salt kick—I’ve been a believer. They’re that good.
It really is easy to miss Taro Ko’s, uh, factory. The sign outside the two-room, former plantation-laborer home bears a barely readable address. A shelf on the building’s far end is stocked with bananas, squash and papaya sold on the honor system. The smallish door into the shop is closed tight when chips sell out. But, if it’s open, the person you’ll likely find there will be Dale Nagamine, Taro Ko’s 60-year-old owner and sole employee.
Standing at a 30-inch wok filled with thin-sliced taro, potato or sweet potato gliding buoyantly on bubbling soybean oil, Nagamine probably won’t turn from his work to acknowledge you, or stop working to sell you a bag of chips. They are, after all, usually stacked in cardboard boxes just inside the entrance on a small table. You know, within sight and all.
Thankfully, however, Stanley Sakoda will take your money AND exchange pleasantries. Sakoda is Nagamine’s childhood friend and greeter of Taro Ko customers, who hangs out at the factory every day, all the time.
“You a Seahawks fan?” Sakoda inquires of a hulking blond man sporting a logo T-shirt for Seattle’s hometown NFL team who walks in looking for taro chips.
“That would be right,” the man replies, smiling and eyeing the San Francisco 49ers hat perched on Sakoda’s head. “I take it you’re not.”
The two start talking football and playoffs. Before long, the man, who only days before sampled his first Taro Ko chip, leaves with three bags.
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