Mama Jelly’s Chicken Papaya from Tita Kaiwi of Maui Food Bank

A comforting Filipino soup — chicken papaya is the “chicken noodle soup” of Hawaii. To get the ingredients for this recipe Tita Kaiwi took a trip to the Maui Upcountry Farmers Market in Pukalani. On a Saturday morning as the sunlight just began to peak over the mountains onto the tops of tents Tita stopped at several farmer’s booths, hunting for the specific items she needed for her soup; green papaya of the strawberry and rainbow variety, some ginger, and onion, plus more produce to bring home.

In partnership with HEAL and Blue Zones Project the Maui Food Bank, where Tita works, launched their Give Healthy Initiative in 2019. Through the initiative she encourages donors within the community to give healthy foods to their food bank by offering healthy pantry workshops geared towards assisting partners with creating a nutrition policy for their pantry, and teach them how to identify foods that are healthy.

Since COVID began, the Maui Food Bank went from working with 3 local vendors to almost 20 local vendors to provide Hawaii produce, bread, as well as ground beef and venison. The Maui Food Bank has never distributed more local food in their entire history! Now Tita is working with Lauren Loor of Maui HEAL Coalition to sustain these vendor relationships and secure funding to continue distributing fresh, local food to those in need after the pandemic subsides. It was no surprise when HFMA first reached out to Tita about submitting a recipe her reply was, “I’ll go stop by our farmers markets this weekend… and see what I can come up with. So excited!”

“It is truly a delightful experience in itself to venture through the booths at the farmers market.”

Tita Kaiwi

This chicken papaya recipe comes from Tita’s grandma, Mama Jelly, who was born and raised in the small town of Hana, Maui. Growing up, this was hands down her favorite dish! It’s rich, savory, nutritious and an overall comforting flavorful meal. Mama Jelly makes hers with a variety of papaya; strawberry, rainbow, and cooking papaya, along with papaya that are lighter green and just starting turn yellow which adds a little sweetness and some beautiful color to the soup.

Her rendition probably came about as her husband, Papa Paul, worked as a supervisor on Ono Organic Farm out in Hana years ago. Once in a while he’d bring home varieties of fresh fruits including papayas! Over time the traditional dish changed slightly, and it has become a multi-generational family favorite. Now Tita makes this dish for her kids and they love it too.

Mama Jelly’s Chicken Papaya Soup


  • 10-12 Chicken Thighs
  • 2  Green Strawberry Papayas (peeled, seeded, and cut into 1 inch cubes)
  • 2  Green Cooking or Rainbow Papayas (peeled, seeded, and cut into 1 inch cubes)
  • 3  Tbsp. Ginger, minced
  • 3  cloves Garlic, minced
  • 1  lg. Onion or 2 med. Onions, chopped
  • 2  Tbsp. Fish Sauce or Soy Sauce
  • 1  C. Kalamungay (Moringa) Leaves
  • 6  C. Chicken Stock
  • 2 tsp. Pepper
  • 3 Tbsp. Vegetable Oil
  • Salt, to taste

Preparation Instructions:

  • Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the chopped onion and minced ginger. Cook until onions are translucent and beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. 
  • Then, add the chicken to the onions and ginger, along with a dash of salt. Cover and let the chicken brown on one side for about 5 minutes, then flip and brown the other side for about 5 minutes. 
  • Next, add the chicken stock, minced garlic, pepper and patis (fish sauce) to the pot. Stir gently to combine ingredients. Cover and let it cook for 10 minutes. Stir occasionally. 
  • Add the papaya and stir. The chicken stock should completely cover all contents in the pot. If not completely covered, then add more stock or water till ingredients are just below the liquid. Cover pot and reduce to medium heat. Let that simmer for 30-35 minutes. Papaya should be translucent.
  • Last, stir in Kalamungay leaves. Turn heat off and let it set for 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste, then serve… and enjoy!

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