Saturday, July 14, 2012

Guide to Shave Ice Hawaiian Style

Shave ice is as vital to the local lifestyle as the ocean, the land, and spam. And nothing is more refreshing after a day at the beach.

In other regions of the world there are many variations and names for shave ice. But I am most familiar with Hawaiian style shave ice. It is what I grew up with and it is what this post is all about.

Two Simple Rules to Shave Ice:

1. It is NOT a snow cone.
2. It is NOT shaved ice, no 'd.'

If you can remember these rules, then you will have no big problems.

Hawaiian Shave Ice:

Shave ice has been a part of Hawaii's local food culture for over 100 years. I'm not going to go into that history but if you'd like to learn more here is a brief article about it: "Shave Ice" by Mike Gordon.

Today, shave ice can be found everywhere in Hawaii. Almost every crack seed or small convenience store offers it. Hawaiian style shave ice, in its most basic form, is made from finely shaved ice that comes from larger ice blocks. The ice shavings are then lightly compacted into a cone, cup, or bowl. The ice should not be crunchy at all. Various flavored syrups are then poured over the shave ice. Hawaiian style shave ice differs from other varieties in types of syrups and toppings offered.

The majority of syrups tend to be fruit flavored with a strong emphasis on local tastes. Flavors such as mango, guava, pineapple, lychee, lilikoi, and li hing mui can easily be found. Most shave ice places in Hawaii have a mix of syrups made from artifical and natural flavors. Some have homemade syrups and some don't. A wide variety of syrups can be found. Another iconic aspect of Hawaiian shave ice is the rainbow option. Rainbow shave ice is made by using red, blue, and yellow syrups. Most commonly strawberry, blue vanilla, and banana flavors. Rainbow is probably the most popular choice of kids because of its bright colors.

Hawaiian shave ice also has several topping options. Not every place has the same options but the most common toppings are: ice cream, azuki beans, condensed milk, and mochi balls.

Shave ice also varies in size and price. One shop's small may be another shop's large, etc. But I find that most shave ice ranges from $2.50-$5.00. All depending on size and number of toppings.

So then, the big question is:

What is the BEST shave ice in Hawaii?

Everyone seems to have their own favorite. This depends largely on your neighborhood and which shave ice store you went to as a child. I have my own personal favorite (to be revealed later), whether or not this is the best is debatable.

All of the places I mention are on Oahu. I haven't had too much shave ice on the neighboring islands. I can only recommend Ululani's on Maui. They have a fine shave, although not the finest I've had. They also have huge sizes and great tasting flavors. 

On Oahu there are many excellent shave ice shops. But there is one huge misconception about the best shave ice. It is NOT Matsumoto's. That's right, I said it.

Located in the North Shore's historic Haleiwa town.

Matsumoto's is way overhyped. Many travel guides say this is the best. That is why hoards of tourists drive out to North Shore. There is always a line out the door here, but it is really worth it? No. There are many places with better quality shave ice back in town. Matsumoto's shave ice isn't very fine and their syrups don't really standout from anywhere else. They do have cheaper prices for their sizes, but I don't think it is worth the wait.
If you are dying for shave ice and you're on North Shore, then I would suggest Aoki's.
Matsumoto's (see the large ice crystals)

Aoki's is only a few feet from Matsumoto's.

Aoki's shave ice has the same price and sizes, but I think they offer more flavors. Aoki's has a finer shave than Matsumoto's and they have the BEST azuki beans on the island. Aoki's doesn't get as much publicity as Matsumoto's but it is definitely better and the line is always shorter.


Now around Honolulu there are several places that truly are some of the best. Waiola, Ailana, Jung's, and Shimizu's all have their own fans. They are all great is their own respect, but my absolute hands down favorite is Waiola.

There are two locations, one in Moiliili and one in Kaimuki.

Waiola has been around for over 70 years. They also have the finest shave ice I have ever EVER had. It is so finely shaven you can lick it like ice cream. Waiola also has the most syrup flavors I have ever seen and excellent toppings. I always get Waiola's green tea flavor and mochi balls. It is so damn good. Waiola is where I always go and where I take everyone. Just the quality of their ice is something you must experience.

Recently I have come across a brand new place, that is definitely raising the bar for shave ice in Hawaii.

Uncle Clay's House of Pure Aloha
In the Aina Haina Shopping Center, Uncle Clay's is a bit pricier, but the quality is amplified. All the syrups are natural and homemade. They even have homemade mochi. They have the BEST syrups I have ever tasted. It is literally like eating liquid fruit, it tastes exactly like the real thing. The shave ice is also very fine, although not quite as fine as Waiola. I don't think anyone can top them.

Also it is worth going here just to meet Uncle Clay and hear his philosophy of pure aloha. He is a real character. The first time I went there he spoon-fed me the first bite of his shave ice. He is very very friendly. When you go he immediately welcomes you into his ohana. He is very proud of his shave ice and just wants to spread aloha to the world. He's a really nice guy who loves to talk, so you need at least 15 minutes to go.
Uncle Clay's

Uncle Clay's may actually be the best quality shave ice in Hawaii. It is so near perfection. But Waiola is still my favorite because it is closer to where I live and I just love their green tea and mochi balls.

So basically if you want to experience the best Hawaiian shave ice you must go to Waiola and Uncle Clay's. They are both the best in their own right.

1 comment:

Kelly said...

Great review of Shave Ice! I really enjoyed reading it and share most of your reviews but have had HOPA yet and I am looking forward to it!