Visiting Oahu and not sampling a shaved ice would be like going to Philly and not eating a cheesesteak or not eating pizza in Naples. It’s iconic, a staple for locals and tourists alike, and there is no shortage of quality shaved ice purveyors in this tourist haven.
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What is Hawaiian Shave Ice?
Hawaiian shave ice, also known as “ice shave” and “shaved ice”, is a simple but popular treat made by shaving a block of ice and adding syrup and sweet toppings.
Shave ice is often compared to a snow cone, but snow cones are made from crushed ice and tend to be grainier. Shave ice, on the other hand, produces a smoother texture, like fine, freshly fallen snow. The syrups and creams added to shave ice are absorbed by the ice shavings, creating a texture and bold flavor akin to a slushie.
Hawaiian shave ice is often sold in paper cups or cones and there are a number of shave ice shops across Oahu.
Where is the Best Shave Ice in Oahu?
Ice is ice, so you could be forgiven for thinking that any old shave ice will hit the spot if you’re in Oahu. But the flavors are what make all the difference, and the texture can also vary from one shop to the next.
With that said, the following shave ice shops are some of the best in Oahu.
Matsumoto’s Shave Ice
Matsumoto’s Shave Ice is one of the most famous shave ice shops in all of Hawaii. It was founded as a grocery store way back in 1951 and has been keeping the locals fed ever since.
Located in Haleiwa on the North Shore, Matsumoto’s Shave Ice features a variety of shave ice flavors and combinations, including:
- Coconut Cream
- Green Tea
- White Cake
- Ume (Japanese Plum)
- Root Beer
- Cotton Candy
- Green River (Lemon Lime)
You can choose from small and large sizes, with the latter costing just $3.50. There is also an Ichiban Special for $6, which gives you 1 shave ice flavor, condensed milk, mochi, vanilla ice cream, and a waffle bowl.
These extras are also available as add-ons, along with adzuki beans.
Matsumoto’s Shave Ice is famous throughout the state, and as you would expect for a location known to produce some of the best shave ice in Oahu, it can be very crowded. Customers are served fairly quickly, so you may not need to wait very long, but there will almost certainly be a queue.
Waiola Shave Ice
Waiola Shave Ice has been around since 1940, making it the longest-running shave ice shop in Oahu. These days, there are actually two Waiola Shave Ice locations, and they both sell a plethora of shave ice flavors for less than $3 a cone.
Flavors include Green Tea, Creamsicle, and Pineapple, and you can add extras for just $0.25. To turn your refreshing shave ice into a creamy dessert, add some caramel or chocolate for an extra $0.50.
Check out the menu boards and create your own shaved ice concoction from the many flavors and toppings on show. Alternatively, just choose one of their pre-made options.
Island Vintage Shave Ice
Island Vintage is big on tropical flavors, giving you a true taste of the Hawaiian Islands. There are combinations that feature fresh passion fruit, mango, coconut, and matcha, and the ice is perfectly fluffy.
Add some extra fruits to your order to create a colorful, sweet, and somewhat healthy dessert.
Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha
Located just 20 minutes or so from downtown Honolulu, Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha is a clean and healthy way to enjoy Hawaiian shave ice.
You won’t find any artificial flavorings here and their syrups are made using only raw cane sugar and natural fruit juices. It’s still basically sugar and ice, so it’s not exactly healthy, but it’s as close as you can get with a shave ice.
What’s more, there are many natural fruit toppings and Uncle Clay’s tries to use locally-grown fruits where possible.
The biggest shave ice available at Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha costs $11 and comes loaded with a host of toppings—the perfect treat for a couple or even a small group of friends. The small shave ice costs just over $2.
There are two Island Snow locations on Oahu. The brand has been going strong since the late 1970s and combines an unusual blend of traditional shave ice with a clothing line inspired by island life.
It’s one of the most popular shave ice shops in Hawaii and while it doesn’t have the largest selection of flavors, it still has some delicious shave ices and other treats.
Monserrat Shave Ice
Located just outside of Waikiki, Monserrat Shave Ice is a healthier option that uses only fresh, organic produce. It’s not the sweetest option on this list, but they still make some delicious shave ice flavors, onto which you can add ice cream, adzuki beans, mochi, and more.
Where Does Obama Get Shaved Ice?
Barack Obama was born in Honolulu and spent a number of years there as a child. He no doubt ate at many different shave ice shops, with reports suggesting that both Waiola Shave Ice and Matsumoto’s Shave Ice were among his favorites. It’s hard to know, but what we do know is that he tends to visit Island Snow when he returns to the island.
Where Does Shave Ice Come From?
Hawaiian shave ice comes from a Japanese dessert known as kakigori, which was made between the 8th and 12th century AD.
It was an expensive and complicated dessert that could only be made during the winter time, so it was reserved for the nation’s wealthiest citizens.
In the 20th century, technological advancements meant that ice could be produced and stored cheaply, and so kakigori was cheaper to produce and available all year long. In the same century, the dessert made its way from Japan to Hawaii and was sold by Japanese immigrants.
Hawaiian sugar plantations were flourishing during this time, so not only did those immigrants have plenty of hungry customers, but they also had access to cheap sugar.
This is also when the term “shave ice” was popularized, entering the common lexicon through Hawaiian Pidgin. It’s why it’s known as “shave ice” and not “shaved ice”. It sounds odd if you’re not familiar with the product, but that’s the way it is and it’s the way the Hawaiians like it!
How To Make Hawaiian Shave Ice At Home
There are a number of shave ice makers available for sale on Amazon. These gadgets will make you cups of shaved ice at the press of a button, after which you just need to add some sugary syrups, fruit, condensed milk, ice cream, and/or other fixings.
Some options to consider include this Hawaiian Shave Ice maker, which includes a few shave ice syrups, as well.
How Do You Make Shaved Ice Without A Machine?
There are a few ways you can make shave ice without a machine. It won’t taste quite like Hawaiian shave ice and may lack the fluffiness, but if you have some sweet syrups, you’ll still have an enjoyable treat.
The easiest way is to fill a Ziplock bag with water, freeze it, and then pound it with a mallet until it has the consistency that you desire.
If you have a little more time and patience, you can literally “shave” the ice yourself.
Create a block of ice by filling a container with water and freezing it. Remove the block when it is frozen and leave it for 5 minutes or so.
Get a sharp knife, wear a glove to prevent ice burns, and start scraping. Be careful not to cut your hand!
Place all of your ice that you shave into a bowl, add some syrup and toppings, and you have your shave ice!