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Shave Ice: Hawaii’s Favorite Summer Treat

Summer is right around the corner and that means long sun-filled beach days, twilight hours on the golf course, and sweet treats to stay cool – namely Shave Ice.

Kauai Shave Ice

The origin of shave ice dates back to 794 AD in Japan, during the Heian period. At that time, ice was taken from the mountains and stored in caves called Himuro, or ice room. The ice was shaved into a dessert called Kakigori. Only the royalty were able to enjoy Kakigori because ice was such a rare luxury. Modern Kakigori shave ice was invented in the 1800s in the port town of Yokohama, Japan, and by the early 1920s was a favorite indulgence available at many mom-and-pop type stores in Japan.

During the early 21st century, immigrants from all over the world flocked to Hawai‘i in hopes of finding better opportunities on the sugar and pineapple plantations. Hawai‘i became a melting pot of cultures and foods, with these cultures of people blending together to share the flavors of their distant homelands.  During these times, the delicious frozen treat was only sold on Sundays, the only day of the week immigrants had off.  Japanese laborers used their machetes to “shave” ice into fine flakes of ice and flavored with fresh sugar cane or fruit juices.  With the decline of Hawaiian sugar’s popularity, these immigrants moved off the plantations and opened their own family grocery stores. M. Matsumoto Grocery Store, Waiola Shave Ice and Shimazu Store on Oahu were pioneers in the shave ice business in Hawai‘i and have all served shave ice for over 60 years. These hole-in-the wall shops continue to serve their iconic shave ice today – Matsumoto’s sells over 1,000 shave ice a day!

Matsumoto Shave Ice Hawaii

The new generation of shave ice shops popping up all over Kaua‘i have taken shave ice to a new level, incorporating organic syrups and juices, fresh fruit toppings, sweetening the shave ice layer by layer, or adding mochi bits or azuki beans as a topping.  A few local favorites include Wailua Shave Ice, Uncle’s Shave Ice, The Fresh Shave, Tegue Tegue and Jojo’s.

Shave ice has grown in popularity and exists all over the world today. You’ll find Gola Gunda in Pakistan, Juski in India, Ice Kachang in Malasia & Singapore (served with red beans and other fruits), Raspa, Raspado, or Raspadillo in Mexico and Peru (Raspar means “to scrape” in Spanish) and of course the Snow Cone on the mainland.

Don’t let these names fool you, when you come to Kauai be sure to ask for only Shave Ice.