On the mainland they are called “snow cones,” in Puerto Rico “piragua” but here in Hawaii we know it as “shave ice.” This is one fun treat that is worth trying.
The tasty shave ice was brought to Hawaii in the 1880s by the Japanese immigrants who came to work on the sugar plantations. At that time, the treat was sold on Sundays, the only day off for plantation workers. They would take a block of ice and shave it and then drench it in sweet syrup. When the Japanese immigrants moved off the plantations and opened their own stores, shave ice went retail and became hugely popular.
Shave ice is still a local favorite in Hawaii, cherished by residents and visitors alike. Similar to a snow cone, its distinction lies in its texture; instead of the ice being coarsely crushed, it is delicately shaved, resulting in a finer texture, reminiscent of freshly fallen snow. The true delight unfolds as you peruse a vast selection of over 40 exotic syrup flavors, from tropical lychee, tangy lilikoi, to the unique taste of li hing mui. Diving into popular choices, a source at the renowned Matsumoto Shave Ice revealed that the sweet strawberry and the visually enticing tri-colored rainbow are amongst their top-selling flavors.
In addition to the numerous flavors, you can also select toppings with your shave ice. Commonly, a scoop of vanilla ice cream is first added to the bottom of the cup. If you really want to get wild you can add the mochi balls (a Japanese rice cake) and azuki beans (a Japanese sweet bean).
For fewer than three dollars you can try a shave ice at Matsumoto Shave Ice and Aoki’s Shave Ice, both in Haleiwa, on the North Shore or Waiola Shave Ice in Honolulu also on Oahu or Jo Jo’s in Waimea on Kauai.