Editor’s Note: With only one week to go to Moutainfilm in Telluride, May 25 – May 28, TIO brings our coverage of off-season travel to a close with Emily’ story about a trip to Hawaii and a universal treat: shaved ice. Read it and drool.
When we travel to Hawaii, our days at the beach are always followed by a trip to the shave ice stand. We usually try to fill our children with something other than sweets, but in Hawaii, we consider shave ice to have value beyond just sugar. It’s a snack. It’s a drink. And it’s the only thing that cools everything down.
Shave ice, not to be confused with a snow cone, is an island tradition. The Japanese first brought the idea to Hawaii. In Japan, venders used to cart snow wrapped in sawdust down from the mountains. They’d pour juice over the cones of snow and sell them in the street. In Hawaii, grocers used to sell shave ice in the back of their stores on Sundays, the only day that everyone was off from work. Today, some of the best shave ices on the islands are still found in the back of mom and pop shops.
Shave ice venders sharpen their machines regularly; Hawaiians are sticklers for quality shave ice. The ice must be smooth, never gritty like a snow cone. The consistency of a good shave ice should be closer to that of snow on a Telluride powder day; not like the hard-pack on Milk Run first thing in the morning.
The syrups, too, are important. While the stands are full of artificial flavors—grape, cherry, lime, etc—they also have plenty of fresh, local syrups—lychee, mango, lilikoi pineapple, coconut, and guava.
You can add toppings like azuki beans or ice cream, but it’s very important that you announce those toppings at the start of your order, rather than the end. The toppings go under the shave ice, rather than over them.
At Anuenue (Rainbow) shave ice stand in Kawaihae Harbor on the Big Island, where we always go, the line is long. It can be hard for everyone, even the adults, to be patient. We know the wait is worth it, though. Once we get our shave ices, we take them out to a spot facing the bay. Palm trees are rustling below us. On clear days, we can see Maui poking through the clouds. Sometimes, we spot whales traveling north to Alaska. But most importantly, for those few minutes, while we slurp our shave ices, everything slows down. We feel the warm humid air on our skin. Observe our tan feet. Feel the way the icy sweet treat cools us down.
In that way, one could argue (especially one who loves sweets as much as I do) that eating a shave ice everyday is actually good for you. You slow down. Look around. Decide on a flavor and stick to it. I only wish I could find a way to pack a little shave ice in my pocket for my life back in Telluride.