If rapturous unrestrained joy is something you consider to be an important part of your visit to Hawaii, you need to get some shave ice.
This refreshing substance is, technically, an island original. Despite consisting of just two simple ingredients which are used in countless other frozen sweet treats around the world (ice and syrup), the way the two are prepared and combined in the Hawaiian style is distinctive.
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The ice is in fact or perhaps more accurately, grated. The ice is reduced to a very light, fine substance quite indistinguishable from powdery snow - no crunching here. This allows for the syrup to soak into the ice thoroughly and evenly, creating what is indisputably one of the greatest melt-in-mouth substances for refreshment underneath warm tropical sunshine.
Warm tropical sunshine permeates every Hawaiian island, pretty much all the time. So does shave ice. Here are the best places for you to get it.
Founded all the way back in 1951, this family-owned store can be found just off the Kamehameha Highway in Haleiwa. They offer all the classic familiar flavors like cherry, grape pina colada, and so on. They offer some surprising original flavors too, like Ramune.
The Big Island
Although Hawaiian shave ice has roots in the Japanese treat kakigori and was first introduced by Japanese immigrants in the mid-19th century, there is reason to suspect that the Island of Hawaii (or Big Island) might be where “Hawaiian” shave ice was first born. This is where many of the plantations these immigrants worked were located, and where the treat’s uniquely refreshing powers may have first worked their magic.
It often goes by a different name here, and here alone: the inverted “ice shave.” It is also home to the boldly-named Original Big Island Shave Ice Co. Though a few years younger than Matsumoto’s on Oahu, this shave ice shop has been open for more than 50 years and it is certainly another staple in both the history and modernity of Hawaiian shave ice.
The island of Maui is actually something of a hotspot for shave ice. Regardless which experience on the island you’re chasing and where, a shave ice stop will be an easy and welcome addition to the itinerary.
If you’re traveling the famous Road To Hana, just after mile marker 17 you’ll run into Halfway To Hana. In addition to classic Hawaiian shave ice, this charming little shop also sells homemade banana bread, fresh fruits, and drinks. In both Lahaina and Kihei, you can also find Local Boys Shave Ice, open Sunday through Saturday, 10 am to 9 pm. Claiming, believably, to be the “most authentic shave ice in Hawaii,” the range of flavors you can find at Local Boys is probably unmatched anywhere.
For not only shave ice, but ice cream, root beer floats, and syrups proudly made with real sugar, you can visit Surfing Monkey Shave Ice in both Wailea and Kihei.
Grownups can also visit Breakwall Shave Ice in Lahaina. This is the home of the ingenious “adult shave ice,” a 21+ rendition that you should definitely enjoy, but enjoy cautiously.
Last but not least, there is Ululani’s. This family-owned Maui original now has no less than 6 locations all across the island of Maui. They also have a location on the Big Island’s Kona coast. Ranging from “simple to gourmet,” the shaved ice that comes out of Ululani’s shops is created with obvious care and sincere pride. From the ultra-pure water they use to form the ice, to the technique used to “shave” the ice, to the pure cane sugar used to sweeten the house-made syrups, and much more; this is a place where perfecting the craft of shave ice is nothing short of an obsession.
The island of Kauai is home to one of the most distinctly high-end shave ice experiences to be found anywhere in the state. Waikomo Shave Ice stands out from other Kauai shave ice shops for its use of all-natural ingredients. No artificial flavors, no artificial colors, and, best of all, served in a real coconut shell.
Find them at 2827 Poipu Rd in Koloa, open 12 pm to 5 pm.
Any island, anywhere, pretty much any day you look - shave ice is available. This is not, shall we say, a health food; but it will absolutely nourish your soul and make you smile.