Shave ice is the ubiquitous treat of the islands. But a great one is more than refreshment. It’s a brain-freezing course in cultural history – one that seemed appropriate on Kaua‘i Proud Day, and as Kukuiula celebrates its grand opening.
Rick Lovesy is tasting, slowly, a peach flavored shave ice from his shop, Uncle’s, in the Village at Kukuiula. “It’s all about the melt,” he says, satisfied. And he should know. He’s been a connoisseur of shave ice since he first tasted it in the early ‘70s.
“The melt” is the expression for the way a shave ice will dissolve on the tongue – it should evaporate with the magical lightness of a snowflake rather than the icy crunch of a snow cone. Seasoned shave ice customers often pay Rick this ultimate compliment. Uncle’s has good melt.
As the owner and smiling face behind the counter at Uncle’s, Rick has made shave ice a professional passion. On the wall of the shop is a portrait of Mamoru Matsumoto – acknowledged as a founding father of Hawai‘i shave ice – whose children still run the business from the original general store on the north shore near the surfing area of Haleiwa on Oahu.
Rick’s ice shaving machine is the real deal, a Fuji Marca, which performs the all-important shave from a solid, glistening block of ice – “not from crushed ice, ever,” he says. He even makes his own syrups – popular flavors run the gamut from mango to coconut, guava and lilikoi (passion fruit) to strawberry and rootbeer.
Rick is perfecting a confection with long, rich history. Shave ice came to the islands with plantation workers from Japan, where it has existed for a thousand years. (It was made from mountain snow in the early days and was a luxury reserved for royalty; modern shave ice had its beginnings in Yokohama in the 1860s.) On Hawai‘i, the treat was sold only on Sunday, plantation workers’ day off, but its popularity soon spread when Hawaiian children discovered it in the 50s, baptizing it Kala Koa (Calico) for the colors the syrup made on the shave. As plantation work became scarce, immigrants opened grocery stores, selling shave ice on the side. For many, the side business soon took over.
Here’s how Rick assembles the perfect shave ice:
•Start with ice cream, vanilla or macadamia nut
•Add Azuki beans (Red bean paste), Mochi bits (made from rice) and/or fresh fruit (Rick prides himself on the freshness), like strawberries, mango or pineapple
•Next, first layer of shave ice and syrup
•More Azuki beans, Mochi Bits, or fruit
•Second layer of shave ice and syrup
•Then, as if that wasn’t enough, a cream topping, either “Sno Cap” made from Eagle Brand milk or “Haupia Cap” made of coconut milk.
The shave ice business is a natural for a man whose first line of work was organizing Santas and Santa photos for malls on the mainland. “I just love working with people,” he says, “especially kids.” Somehow, we knew that.
So next time you’re in the village, bring the kids. If you’re lucky, Rick will let them taste their shave ice right from the machine – the shave ice equivalent of visiting the cockpit. Whether from the brush with the master or the shave ice itself, goosebumps are guaranteed.
A shave ice is refreshing after a long day of creating exciting memories. Find the perfect Hawaii luxury home for your next adventure.