Shave ice in Hawaii is an iconic treat made from fluffy ice closely shaved off a block of ice. Those who are unfamiliar with this sweet snack might erroneously refer to it as “shaved ice” instead of “shave ice,” which is what it is called in Hawaii. Additionally, some people mistakenly confuse shave ice with snow cones since it can resemble each other to the uninitiated. However, snow cones come from ice that is crushed, rather than from ice shaved off a block. Shaving, rather than crushing, allows the ice to layer lightly in subtle shavings, the way snow naturally falls. When made authentically, shave ice rarely needs a straw, since its flavoring generally is absorbed in the ice itself, rather than quickly seeping to the bottom of the cup.
The essential flavor of shave ice comes, in large part, from the type of syrup that is poured over the ice shavings. Shave ice stands in Hawaii offer an incredibly wide range of syrup flavors from the classic strawberry and rainbow (a combination of syrup colors resembling a rainbow) to those that are quintessentially Hawaiian, such as coconut, guava, lilikoi, lychee, mango and pineapple to name a few. Many places also combine the flavors into a variety of delectable syrups. Many also offer the classic shave ice extras such as sweet azuki beans or ice cream, which is added under the shave ice, as well as more recent concoctions such as the topping of sweetened condensed milked called the snow cap in addition to many more contemporary ones too numerous to mention.
History of Shave Ice in Hawaii
This snack traces its roots to Japan, dating back to the Heian Period during 790 to 1180 AD where it was called kakigori. Hawaii’s version of kakigori was thought to have originated in the town of Yokohama during the 1860s. The icy treat was first brought by Japanese immigrants who came to Hawaii as one of many ethnic groups that worked as laborers on the pineapple and sugar cane plantations. During their breaks, Japanese plantation workers would carefully shave ice off a large block with their machetes, used to cut sugar cane or pineapples. They would then augment the shaved ice with syrups made from sugar cane or fruit juice for a refreshing treat. As Japanese laborers gradually moved away from plantation work, some began to open grocery stores and snack shops, serving and selling shave ice in a variety of flavors. Once available only on Sundays, this sugary snack soon became immensely popular among residents and tourists alike.
Why People Love Shave Ice
In the tropical, humid climate of Hawaii, shave ice offers refreshing rejuvenation after a day of adventures in the sun and surf. This delicacy can be enjoyed at all hours of the day. Stopping for a bowl of shave ice in the afternoon can prove an invigorating snack before an eventful night out on the town, or as the perfect snack to end the day. Once guests enjoy genuine shave ice, they understand what all the fuss is about. There is nothing as soothing as savoring this scrumptious cool treat after long hours in the sunshine.
Best Places to Get Shave Ice in Hawaii
Oahu: Matsumoto Shave Ice on the North Shore of Oahu draws devoted fans that wait willingly in long lines to sample timeless shave ice flavors and extras such as azuki beans and ice cream. Though there are countless shave ice places in Honolulu, some of the more well-known places include: Waiola Store (a long-time local favorite), Shimazu Store (a popular shave ice stand), Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha and Aliana Shave Ice.
Maui: Ululani’s Shave Ice in Lahaina laces their shave ice with finely crafted flavorings and uses unique toppings. In addition to the classic flavors and combinations, Breakwall Shave Ice Company, also in Lahaina, offers ice cream on the side. Visit Local Boys Shave Ice located both in Lahaina and Kihei for unique options such as Shark’s Blood, Wedding Cake and Kona Coffee. They also cater for anyone hoping to throw a family reunion or island-themed birthday bash.
Kauai: Ono Ono Shave Ice in Kapa’a is well-named, as this “ono” (which means delicious in Hawaiian) shave ice is a must-visit. Uncle’s Shave Ice & Smoothies in Koloa, Jo-Jo’s Shave Ice in Waimea and Shave Ice Paradise in Princeville are also great places to stop and refuel, no matter where you are on the island.
Big Island: Anuenue Ice Cream and Shave Ice in Waimea creates colorful blends and rainbow shave ice treats. The Original Big Island Shave Ice Company, also in Waimea, serves up shave ice in food truck style, with yummy flavors like macadamia nut cream and sweet potato. Da Shave Ice Place in Kailua-Kona is another quaint and simple stop, featuring beloved flavors like haupia and strawberry cream.
Molokai: Big Daddy’s in Kaunakakai, Molokai makes beautiful version of rainbow shave ice and those in Kualapu’u can stop at Coffees of Hawaii for some delicious shave ice.