If there is one thing I have little tolerance for it's extremely hot weather, particularly when there is humidity included in the mix. So when I recently found myself in Hawaii with my employer, I knew that I had to have a relief plan ready to go. The solution turned out to be to do as the islanders do and seek relief in a giant cone of shave (not shaved) ice. Shave ice is a delight found on all corners of the Hawaiian islands and is similar to what we mainlanders call snow cones, but is much, much better. Whereas snow cones are flavored, tiny chunks of ground ice, usually served as one indistinguishably flavored hard mass, shave ice is light and powdery and comes in a variety of flavors that you get to choose for yourself.
The most popular shave ice shop on Oahu is a place called Matsumoto, which has been on the North Shore since 1951. Here you stand in long lines in order to indulge in this island tradition, but luckily, this place runs like a well oiled machine and regardless, it's always worth the wait.
Shave ice originated in Japan and was brought to Hawaii in the 1920's by Japanese migrants who came to the islands to work in the pineapple and sugarcane fields. It is made by turning a large block of ice over a razor sharp blade that shaves the ice off in snowy piles.
The ice is then scooped up and usually packed by hand into a paper cone or cup. Once the ice is firmly packed, flavored syrups are poured over and it is served with a straw and a spoon.
There are a number of ways to indulge in shave ice, each offering its own unique experience. The traditional way is, as previously described, to simply have ice flavored with syrup. Typically, you choose three or fewer flavors, because after three it becomes a muddled, sweet mess. Flavors range from everything from bubblegum to butterscotch to banana, but my favorites are the tropical flavors such as pineapple, coconut and guava.
For those who want a little more texture and sweetness added to their cone, most places offer an option to serve their ices over vanilla ice cream or sweetened azuki beans, or for the really bold, both. The ice cream adds richness to the shaved ice and makes it taste like sherbet while the azuki beans (red beans that are typically served as a sweet paste and commonly found in Asian desserts) add an unusual, sweet flavor and thick texture.
For those who want a little bit of creaminess without the addition of ice cream there is also the option of drizzling sweetened condensed milk over the top. I personally find all of the additions to be overkill to the already cloying sweetness of shave ice, but based on the popularity of these additions, I likely stand alone in my opinion.
One thing I think everyone can agree on is that when the heat of the Hawaiian sun is beating you down and you need a fast and refreshing pick-me-up, few things satisfy as much as a huge cup of shave ice.