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 kakigōri, 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 “It’s like going back to the roots of how shave ice was originally made,” says Bronson Chang, co-founder of Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha, a shave ice shop in ‘Āina Haina.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 Waikīkī, 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 honey.
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 Mākaha, lychee from Pūpūkea, mountain apple from Ha‘ikū. These days, all over Hawai‘i, you can find shave ice soaked in nostalgia with none of the preservatives.
Story by Martha Cheng. Photos by Ann Cecil.