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Making Hawaiian Memories with Shave Ice

September 17, 2009

So what exactly is shave ice?

An authentic shave ice starts with a block of ice that is spun across a razor-sharp blade  (which shaves the ice creating a soft snow-like texture). Then it is packed into a paper cone, and flavored syrup is poured over the ice.

Usually you can choose up to three flavors. For an ultimate shave ice, add a scoop of  vanilla ice cream or Azuki Beans (sweet red beans) in the bottom of the cone to create a  delicious treat. Some places you can also request sweetened condensed milk or li-hing-mui  powder (pulverized dried salted plum) to be poured on top. (via)

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Shave Ice #1

I had my first shave ice on July 29, 2009, a day I’ll never forget. I was walking alone on a crowded street in Waikiki Beach after baking myself in the sun all day, suddenly forgetting that I was in fact a redhead. The dehydration was starting to set in, along with the violently pink skin and the resulting shame. Like an oasis in the Sahara Desert, I saw a small cart parked underneath a palm tree, straddling the border where the street stopped and the beach began. An Asian teenager with a smile that stretched from ear to ear was masterfully shaving ice, the cool remnants flying into the air before melting away into nothing. I had to have one, or face the possibility of fainting in public.

It was called “The Rainbow,” a delicious mix of vanilla, strawberry, and blueberry. Immediately, my oncoming fever receded for a moment and feelings of euphoria started to flow through my veins. I was hooked, and there was no going back.

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Shave Ice #2

“This shaved ice is incredible.”

“It’s shave ice.”

“Shave-ah ice.”

“No, ‘shave.’ Without the ‘D.’”

“Shave-ded. Ice.”

Not only did my next shave ice encounter include ice cream, Azuki beans, AND condensed milk, I got it at one of the most famous shave ice places in all of Hawaii: Matsumoto Shave Ice on the north shore of Oahu. I waited in a line for 20 minutes to get my shave ice, among biker dudes, surfers, screaming babies, and Texans. It was worth every second. The condensed milk drizzled on top only enhanced the flavor, and the ice cream at the bottom of the cone was a welcomed surprise.

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Shave Ice #3

My final shave ice was eaten at the Polynesian Cultural Center, Hawaii’s version of Disneyland (think lots of grass skirts and flaming head-dresses, banging drums, yelling, etc.). Ok, so maybe it’s not really like Disneyland, but it’s very theme park-esque. I was again on my own, trying to figure out the perfect way to spend my last night in Hawaii. The sun was setting, the cool breeze was starting to float through the fake Fijian huts around me, and my impending departure from Hawaii was becoming all too real. To comfort myself, there was only one thing to do: get one last shave ice for the road. I picked strawberry and cream flavoring, and I happily received what tasted like a strawberry root beer float in ice form. It did the trick, making me feel at ease as I skipped on down the road to see the fire-eaters perform and watch the Tahitian dancers shake their hips at breakneck speed.

I used to think that photographs were a great way to bring back memories of a vacation. Certain songs remind me of great trips of the past, or even the smell of the ocean can help me reminisce. But I found out in Hawaii, where the cuisine is a melting pot of the best indigenous foods from around the world, the most efficient way to capture a memory is to eat a shave ice during whatever activity you’re pursuing. It’s much better than lugging a camera around, and will leave something more permanent than a tattoo. No other food is more authentic to Hawaii, and no other food will help you feel more connected to this great place.  So if you ever find yourself wandering around Oahu, do as I did: have another shave ice and make some memories.

– Alison

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 3, 2009 3:30 am

    I had my first shave ice in Hanapepe on Kauai after coming back from swimming at Salt Pond. I had the colorful rainbow flavor and it was so different from an ordinary snow cone or an icee that they have on the mainland, even though they are all just made of ice particles and flavoring. Shave ice is the best! My second shave ice was when I dropped it on the ground. But I picked it up and it was still good! I was 4 years old. Keale

  2. October 3, 2009 7:11 pm

    Even though it’s cold and rainy out in Boston today, I could totally go for a Rainbow flavored shave ice right now! They really are the best.

    – Alison

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