Enjoyed year-round by young and old alike, shave ice is Hawai‘i’s most beloved cold treat and a must for any traveler visiting the islands.
While many cultures have their version of shaved ice covered in sweet syrup, Hawai‘i’s iconic treat can be traced back to the Japanese immigrants brought to work on the sugar and pineapple plantations in the mid-1800s. They introduced kakigori, the Japanese term for shaved ice, repurposing carpenters’ hand planes to create shavings from large blocks of ice. Back then they were topped simply, with sugar or molasses syrup, but modern-day shave ices boast domes of Technicolor, artificial rainbows with add-ons like mochi, ice cream, and snowcaps (sweetened, condensed milk).
With something so simple — ice and syrup — the details matter. For the perfect shave ice, the ice should be powdery, soft, and fine, with a consistency of snow (no crunchy ice flakes). The ice should be softly mounded in a cup — packed, hard ice absorbs flavorings poorly, while loose ice collapses under the weight of syrup. These days, there’s a shift away from the artificially flavored and fluorescent-colored syrups toward those made from real fruit. Either way, the flavors should be bright so they don’t get lost in the ice.
Here are the best places to experience the cool, fleeting joy of shave ice.
Part of the Eater Guide to Hawai‘i