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Hawaiian Shave Ice

24 Sep 2019

What is It, How to Eat It, and the Best Shave Ice Places on Maui

After a day at the beach, there’s nothing like shave ice. Refreshingly cold shaved ice saturated with sweet, fruity syrup, combined with ice cream and other tasty toppings - shave ice is a uniquely Hawaiian treat. But what is shave ice, and where did it come from? What’s the best way to eat it and what are those strange red beans? We have the answers to all these questions, plus where to find the best shave ice on Maui during your stay.

 

Best Shave Ice on Maui

So many shave ice places, so little time. To give your sweet tooth a fighting chance, here’s a shortlist of the top places for shave ice on Maui. There are several excellent shave ice spots located nearby our vacation rental accommodations in the West Maui area. Take your pick!

  1. Ululani’s Shave Ice, Kaanapali and Lahaina - the OG classic.
  2. Breakwall Shave Ice, Lahaina - home of the “adult shave ice” made with alcohol.
  3. Local Boys Shave Ice, Lahaina - voted Hawaii Magazine’s best of Maui shave ice.
  4. Big Wave Shave Ice, Napili Bay - cute shave ice wagon right across from the beach.
  5. Surfing Monkey Shave Ice, Shops at Wailea and Kihei - known for their vegan ice cream.

 

Dragon fruit shave ice with snow cap from Breakwall Shave Ice, courtesy of Breakwall.

 

The (Short) Story of Shave Ice

The history of Hawaiian shave ice begins in Japan. Since the 8th century, royal families have been eating Kakigōri (Japanese for sweetened shaved ice). Before modern refridgeration, cutting and transporting blocks of ice from the likes of Mount Fuji to make Kakigōri was extremely costly, and thus reserved as a delicacy for the elite. 

When Japanese immigrants came to Hawaii to work on sugarcane plantations, they brought the concept of Kakigōri with them and began serving their own version at the small mom and pop stores they opened. The icey cold treat was an instant hit, flavored with syrups made from the many tropical fruits grown in the islands like pineapple, lychee, guava, and mango. Today, shave ice is a ubiquitous Hawaiian dessert and part of Hawaii’s infamous “melting pot” food culture.

 

Big Wave Shave Ice Co in Napili, courtesy of Big Wave.

 

“Adult” Strawberry Daiquiri Shave Ice from Breakwall Shave Ice, courtesy of Breakwall.

 

What’s Makes Shave Ice So Delicious?

Visitors to Hawaii often ask, what is shave ice, and how is it different than a snow cone commonly found in the mainland United States? 

The key difference is the ice, and how it’s prepared. Shave ice is made from incredibly thin ice shavings shaved by hand, or by a machine with a sharp, fine blade. This gives it an incredibly light, fluffy texture that melts in your mouth like snow, and acts like a sponge for the flavored syrup. Snow cones are generally made with larger ice pieces which have a crunchier texture and don’t absorb the syrup as well. 

 

Toppings and Add-ons

No shave ice is complete without the extras. A nod to Hawaii’s diverse food culture, shave ice toppings have Japanese, Filipino, Chinese, and Hawaiian influence that you won’t find at your typical American ice cream shop. A few of the most noteworthy include Ube ice cream, li hing mui powder, and adzuki beans. While they might seem strange bedfellows for a sweet treat, these add-ons are super tasty and worth a try if you want to experience some genuine local flavor.

 

Shave ice with Adzuki bean topping from Ululani’s Shave Ice, courtesy of Ululani’s.

 

Ube Ice Cream

A fillipino specialty, Ube ice cream is made from purple yams. Its vibrant purple color and rich taste make it a popular addition to shave ice. It pairs well with pretty much any flavor of syrup. Not to mention it looks great on camera if you like posting photos of your food to social media.

Li Hing Mui Powder

Hawaii locals go crazy for Li hing mui anything. Made from a dried Chinese plum, you’ll see this tangy pinkish-orange powder on candy, fruit, the rims of margaritas in place of salt, and as a topping for shave ice. Some say it’s an acquired taste, as the powder has a unique combination of tang, salt, and sweetness that sends your salivary glands into orbit. 

Adzuki Beans

A popular bean in Japan, adzuki beans were traditionally served on New Year’s Day to bring good fortune. They are often prepared sweetened in deserts like anpan (a Japanese pastry) and as a topping on Kakigōri and Hawaiian shave ice. 

Mochi 

Some shops, including Ululani’s, offer hand-cut mochi pieces as a topping. Mochi is a bite-sized chewy Japanese dessert made from rice flour, sugar, and fruit or other flavoring like butter or chocolate. Brought over by early Japanese immigrants, it is an extremely popular sweet in Hawaii. It is commonly given as a gift on New Years.

Toasted Coconut

In Hawaii, the coconut is used for everything. Shredded toasted coconut makes an unlikely but savory addition to shave ice and ice cream with a nice crunchy texture.

Haupia Ice Cream

Haupia is Hawaiian coconut pudding, often used in local style desserts like Haupia cheesecake. As an ice cream flavor, it’s fantastic and gives an extra punch of tropical  island flavor. Another popular flavor of ice cream you’ll find at shave ice shops is macadamia nut.

The “Snow Cap”

No shave ice is complete without one, if you truly want to be decadent. A snow cap is sweetened condensed milk poured over the top of the shave ice. Some shave ice shops offer “coconut caps” using coconut milk as a delicious dairy-free option. 

 

Phew, are you in a sugar coma yet? All this shave ice is giving us brain freeze! What’s your go-to shave ice spot on Maui? We’d love to hear from you. Tag us @mauiresortrentals with a photo of your favorite shave ice.