While spending a few days in Honolulu for my first-ever trip to Hawaii I had set out with a list of foods that I have heard so much about and never eaten. I had yet to have a proper plate lunch, fresh pineapple, malasada, and of course shave ice. Shave ice is a tropical Hawaiian mutation from the kakigori (かき氷) from Japan. The only other place I can see this type of ice developing would be Okinawa because of the similar environments, but I’m not sure it things like condensed milk would have made it on the menu.
My experiences with shave ice happened in two parts: before Hawaiian style shave ice and after. Before, I had grown up with a small manual ice-shaver, that make decent ice but it was really crunchy, kinda like a snow cone. We would pour a single syrup on top and call it good. (My go-to was root beer flavor!) I had one experience with the Japanese variation kakigori when I had visited with my grandparents: I had been working outside during the summer and when I finished up my grandpa asked if I wanted to have some beans on my ice. I was puzzled but said yes immediately. The beans were a nice texture and flavor to pair with the ice, but it left something to be desired.
Fast forward to 2017 and I had my first proper shave ice in Honolulu decked out with all the goodies. I visited three different ice shops and all were tasty, and I have solidified my love for the delicious icy treat!
Island Vintage Shave Ice
Royal Hawaiian Center, 2201 Kalakaua Ave Kiosk B-1, Honolulu, HI 96815
This was my favorite shave ice during my trip, and the first one I tried! It was definitely more bougie than the others we visited, was the longest line, and was the most expensive of the bunch—but everything tasted more fresh, there was fresh fruit on top and the syrups were not as over-the-top sweet. I ordered the Coconut Island: a coconut/mango mix with fresh strawberries, mochi, lilikoi popping boba, and a snow cap (condensed milk). The ice was light and fluffy, once I had made it to the core of the pile of ice, there was ice cream! It was awesome.
Waiola Shave Ice
2135 Waiola St, Honolulu, HI 96826
This is the most famous Hawaiian shave ice spot and my second one of the trip. They are one of the older ice shops on the island, originally started in 1940 by the Koide family. I ordered an ice with ice cream and lychee flavor. I think that Waiola’s definitely had my favorite ice, as the texture was the best and most pleasing to eat. The flavors are handmade and created in small batches to keep from getting stale. The history of this place along with the awesome ice texture make this a must visit!
Shimazu Shave Ice
3111 Castle St, Honolulu, HI 96815
My last shave ice during the trip! I was blown away by the size of the ice they serve—I got a ‘small’ and it was way too much for just myself. Rainbow Drive-In is right next door and we filled up while there so there wasn’t a bunch of room left in my stomach. This was by far the best bang for your buck, and we even had someone else order a large size cone. I was cautioned by the people working there that large is really big—It was no joke, twice the size of the cone that I had. They had decent ice, and good syrups. I got mine with azuki beans and ice cream and made it through about 70% of it before falling into a food coma.
This experience with shave ice was one that I loved! This was one of my favorite treats during the summer as a kid and it was made even better in Hawaii! I think that the food culture in Hawaii is unlike anywhere else in the world. As I came to discover, Hawaii is packed full of mixed culture foods. They have so many amazing combinations of cultures that they end up eating the most delicious foods from all over. I had never felt more comfortable with the people and what I was eating. Every meal was amazing and a new experience for me. It goes without saying that this will not be my last trip to the wonderful state of Hawaii!