What is more iconic in Hawaiʻi than shave ice?
Waiola Shave Ice.
The affordable and accessible treat, that everyone loves, started on O’ahu with practical beginnings.
When chef de cuisine of XO Restaurant Harrison Ines was a kid growing up on Oʻahu his mom gave him crushed ice as a treat. Every once in a while, If he was lucky, she took him to Waiola Street to a little blue building on the corner that dished up something even better.
“It’s just what you eat when you’re hot,” Ines said. “When you don’t want something as fatty as ice cream … like if you wanted to enjoy a cold drink in the most texturally pleasant way.”
According to the book Kau Kau: Cuisine & Culture in the Hawaiian Islands, written by Arnold Hiura, the concept of shave ice started in Hawaiʻi back when residents used to have ice delivered to their homes.
“The iceman sawed off blocks of ice from the back of his cart to deliver to customers with iceboxes in their homes or businesses, and the kids were allowed to enjoy the ice shavings that fell from the saw,” Hiura wrote.
Hiura further explained that later, in the early 1900s, a business owner named Kaichi Kaya was the first to serve shave ice with homemade flavored syrup out of a pushcart along Honolulu Harbor.
Waiola Shave Ice has been a local institution for decades. What is their secret to success? According to Ines, it has to do with how finely they shave the ice.
“Waiola’s is the fluffiest,” Ines said. “And by being the fluffiest their syrups are going to take the longest time to fall to the bottom. You’re going to have the softest texture in your mouth. The first time I ever had it, it felt like I ate a cloud.”
Indeed, that light and flaky texture is what holds the accompanying syrups in place, rather than them sinking immediately to the bottom of your cup like with coarser ground shave ice served elsewhere.
In fact, when you plunge your spoon into a scoop of this shave ice it is so airy it does not even make a sound.
But, before you take the plunge there are some things you need to know.
Do not walk up to the window unprepared to order, unless you want to hold up the line or get a blank stare from the aunty or uncle on the other side of the counter.
There is not only a proper way to order your shave ice, but also a proper way to say shave ice, so that locals do not look at you funny.
First, it is not “shaved ice.” The “d” does not exist. And second, you would never pause between saying “shave” and “ice.” If you want to say it like the locals do, itʻs pronounced “shay-vice,” all as one word.
How to order
When you arrive, stand back, take in the menu, and mentally prepare yourself to order. Once you have decided your size, flavor, base and toppings you can hop in line. When you reach the order window do this:
1.State the quantity and sizes of everyone in your party’s order.
*Pro tip: I recommend ordering a small size for $3.00. It is just enough to be satisfied without making yourself sick. More importantly, it is small enough to be able to finish before it melts. If you are in the mood for more, you can always purchase another. The line moves fast.
2.When prompted, state what you would like on the bottom.
Ice cream? Mochi? Coffee jelly? Adzuki beans? Once heard, they will start preparing your order and come back to you when they are ready to hear the rest.
3.Next, order your flavors and toppings.
*Pro tip: “If you go on the days when there’s the younger people, like the nephew and the niece, putting the syrup on your shave ice, you’re probably going to get a juicier shave ice,” Ines said with a laugh.
4.Pay and go.
Once your order is complete, have your money ready and be prepared to pay. Then grab your order and get out of the way for the next person in line.
So, for example your order may sound something like this: One small. Mochi on the bottom. Haupia and lilikoi with condensed milk on top.
There are endless ways to construct your frosty treat, so have fun with it and be creative.
Ines has been to Waiola Shave Ice over 100 times and still does not have a favorite flavor combination. Instead, he concocts a new one every time he goes. According to Waiola Shave Ice’s website there are over 1000 different flavor combinations.
How to eat
After you complete your transaction take your food pics and selfies quickly. There is no time to waste. Enjoy your fresh shave ice before it starts melting in the warm Hawaiʻi sun.
Start from the top as opposed to going in from the side – unless you want your tower of shave ice to topple over. Donʻt worry about the stuff at the bottom right away. First, just enjoy the sweet, juicy snowflakes on top. Once you have eaten four or five bites you will no longer be in danger of having half of it fall to the ground.
Once the top half is gone you can start stirring up the treasure chunks you have waiting for you at the bottom of the cup. This is when the ice starts to melt slightly and becomes one with the syrups and your shave ice transforms almost into a whole new dessert.
As an adult, Ines visits Waiola Shave Ice about once a month. His eyes still light up at the possibilities when he looks at the menu of over 50 flavors and the stories of his childhood come pouring out faster than melona syrup.
Waiola Shave Ice has two locations – one near Diamond Head and the original on Waiola Street in Moiliili. Nothing beats the original. That sweet little blue sundries shop with the palm trees and rainbows painted on the side, with the walk up order window. It is quintessential Hawaiʻi.
Waiola Shave Ice: Open 12:00 p.m.-6:00 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m. Saturday & Sunday, 2135 Waiola St, Honolulu, Hawaiʻi, 96826, (808) 949-2269, cash only, www.waiolashaveice.com