The name was debated by the press corps when President Obama vacationed in Hawaii: is it “shave ice” or “shaved ice?” In Hawaii, there is no past tense, it is “shave ice.” But is it really just a snow cone under a different name?

I suspected the answer was “no,“ but now I have two expert opinions. My daughter and grandson visited Hawaii recently. They have lived in Texas for the past several years, where snow cones are a popular antidote to the heat. A snow cone truck was outside my grandson’s grade school each week for students to enjoy. They confirmed that there ere are several differences. One, I guessed. They provided another.

First, the flavors are different. I remembered fruit flavors like grape or cherry. In Hawaii, the flavors include guava, mango and passion fruit. They often add green tea, blue Hawaii and coconut. Each stand creates a few specialties. This was the difference I guessed.

In addition to the flavor of the syrup, the ice is different. I could not remember the texture of snow cones enough to be sure, but my grandson was emphatic. In Hawaii, the ice is slivered so that it absorbes the flavor of the syrup. He said: “With snow cones, I would drink the syrup from the bottom of the cup and then have a bunch of plain ice that I just threw away.” In contrast, my daughter said “I don’t like the sweet syrup, so I would just eat the ice, but chewing on it hurt my teeth and I would pour out the syrup from the bottom of the cup.” When we bought snow cones in Hawaii, the syrup melded with the ice like a frozen slushy. They both finished the ice and syrup simultaneously.

As with many food items, the portions in Hawaii are generous. I remember snow cones the size of a tennis ball in a coned cup. Even the small size in Hawaii is more like the size of a soft ball. Further, there are options that combine ice cream with ice to make hybrid shave ice confections.

Shave ice stands dot the Hawaii shores and are not difficult to find (many of the shrimp stands on the North Shore of Oahu also sell shave ice, as do places on Waikiki). But a shave ice is not just the Hawaii name for a snow cone. It is the tropical cousin of mainland snow cones: a product of the island flavor fusion with a different texture entirety. Surrender your taste buds to the islands and enjoy!

5 COMMENTS

  1. Oh yeah Paul I agree…snow cones don't even come close to a shave ice!!  The ice is so much finer and the flavors are SOOOOO much better!

  2. We went to Island Snow in Kailua and got a scoop of ice cream on the bottom topped with shave ice. The ice cream melted so it made the flavors all creamy – really tasty!

  3. Shave ice is an ancient Japanese art form. The quality & shape of the ice block and the angle of the blade which shaves the ice are all paramount. Real shave ice pays attention to the fluffy nature of the shavings, otherwise it is really just a glorified snow cone.

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