Story By: Martha Cheng
Photo By: Ann Cecil
The origin of shave
ice, Hawai‘i’s beloved frozen
comfort food, can be traced to the Japanese immigrants who came to the Islands
to work on the sugar and pineapple plantations. They brought with them a taste
for kakigori, Japanese snow cones, which they made by flavoring the shavings
from blocks of ice with condensed milk and whatever fruit was available. It was
a wholesome treat, just like the shave ice it morphed into. But shave ice
changed over time, transformed by high-fructose corn syrup and Day-Glo colors.
Now some shave ice makers
are turning back the clock and rediscovering the joys of natural sweeteners.
“It’s like going back to the roots of how shave ice was originally made,” says
Bronson Chang, co-founder of Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha, a shave ice shop
in ‘Aina Haina. At Uncle Clay’s the past tastes of pure fruit and comes in
subtle pastels, such as soft yellow pineapple and blushing pink strawberry
speckled with strawberry seeds. And then there’s Uncle Clay’s nutrition-rich
nod to leafy green superfoods: the kalespin, slathered in syrup made from kale
and spinach and sweetened with apple juice.
Putting aside the
artificial for the natural opens up a new world of shave ice flavors. At Lemona
in Waikiki, the seasonal syrups range from pomegranate to papaya to pear, and
the shave ice bowls are capped with real fruit. Tucked into an alleyway at the
foot of Diamond Head, Monsarrat Shave Ice’s options include a tart yuzu and a
sunny yellow mango. On Kaua‘i, The Fresh Shave concocts shave ices that you’d
feel good about eating for breakfast; they come drenched with chai tea and
sweet cream or topped with coconut chia seed sauce and drizzled with Kaua‘i
The Local Hawaii, in
Kailua, takes the all-natural trend a step further, using only locally sourced
ingredients in its syrups—farm to ice, anyone? Digging into the shave ice there
is like hitting the fruit stands on Island road trips; the pulpy syrups are
made with mango from Makaha, lychee from Pupukea, mountain apple from Ha‘iku.
These days, all over Hawai‘i, you can find shave ice soaked in nostalgia with
none of the preservatives.