Thursday, November 4, 2010

Shave Ice

Shave Ice is a Japanese dessert that was introduced to Hawaii when Japanese plantation workers immigrated to the islands and brought it here a long time ago.  It is NOT the same as a snow cone, though many people equate the two.  Shave ice is an ice-based dessert made by shaving a block of ice. While the product can resemble a snow cone, snow cones are made with crushed, rather than shaved, ice.  Snow cones on the mainland are made with crushed ice and fruit syrup, and are often re-frozen so that when you get them they're pretty much one chunk of flavored ice. Shave ice, on the other hand, is actually shaved off a big block right in front of you into a fine powder so it's easy to eat. Then it's topped with any one of countless exotic tropical fruit flavors. Shaving the ice block produces a very fine "snow" with an extremely fine texture.  It's nice because the syrups added to it are absorbed by the ice rather than simply surrounding it.  If you've ever had a snow cone, you know the flavored syrup can actually be sucked out of the ice, leaving just a giant ball of ice with no flavor.

Hawaiian shave ice is traditionally served "rainbow" with three flavors and with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the bottom.  You can also get sundae shave ice with hershey's chocolate syrup or shave ice with mochi balls and/or azuki beans.  There are countless options.  There is a debate among locals here about which shave ice location is the best.  There is Matsumoto's on the North Shore and Waiola's near the University of Hawaii. A quick Google search will yield a variety of reviews.  I think it's safe to say that Matsumoto's is the most famous, but I think Waiola holds the title of "Best Kept Secret."

One reviewer had this to say about Waiola:  
my favorite shave ice ever. the softest, finest, smoothest shave ice. and i've been eating this for so many years, well before their now fancy schmancy colorful signs!  To me, it's way better than Matsumotos, Aokis, Ice Garden, and the rest of the list.

Sundae Shave Ice from Waiola's
 Another reviewer thought Matsumoto's was the best:
This place is absolutely amazing. I was told it was a must in northshore and who ever told me this, he was right! The shave ice can't be more perfect. The presentation was amazing, the taste was really good, and the price was really affordable. It was worth all the driving.

I have not had Matsumoto's yet.  I live around the corner from Waiola, though, and had my first ever shave ice experience the other day.  Have you ever had something ruined by unreasonably high expectations?  Welcome to my shave ice life.  Everyone told me how amazing shave ice was.  Then they told me that the BEST shave ice on the island was Waiola (to be fair, I think there is a rivalry between the North Shore crowd and the Honolulu crowd with the former recommending Matsumoto's and the latter recommending Waiola.).  So I go to the window and order the Sundae Shave ice.  I get it with Strawberry, Vanilla, and Chocolate.  It came with Hershey's syrup, condensed milk, and a little ice cream.  It was definitely good.  We ate the whole thing (note: these are big enough to share!).  However, I was expecting an explosion of flavor to overwhelm my tastebuds such that I was temporarily disabled with orgasmic sensations.  No such luck.  It had a weird texture.  It was like rating flavored snow.  It was refreshing and unique, but not quite as good as ice cream.  As for price, it was about what I expected.  For a bowl large enough for two, it was $4.50.  I have heard Matsumoto's is cheaper, but then again you have to travel to the North Shore.

Of course, this is just my first impression.  I only had one kind of shave ice (sundae bowl) from one place (Waiola).  It was definitely good enough to have again and I will continue to experiment with different flavor combinations as well as different vendors.  I may even venture a trip the whole 48 minutes to the North Shore to sample Matsumoto's (maybe I'll even buy an over-priced t-shirt).  

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