Shaved ice is not the same as the icy, frozen-solid “snow cones” that you bought from the ice cream truck as a kid. Shaved ice is made by shaving or grating solid blocks of ice into a fluffy, snow-like consistency. The freshly shaved ice is packed down into place – again, like fresh snow – and drizzled with sweet syrups for flavor. The difference between shaved ice and other types of “snow cones” is all in the texture. “Snow cones” have a hard, icy crunch to them while shaved ice delivers a more melt-in-your-mouth softness. The fluffiness of the shaved ice also helps it hang on to the flavored syrups, rather than just allowing them to run straight to the bottom of your cone – as can be the case with “snow cones” – and leave the top flavorless. The key to shaved ice is to start with a large block of ice, as you will get the most consistent shaved ice when you work with a large block, as opposed to trying to shave ice cubes.
What I’ve described here is really the North American difference between shaved ice and “snow cones,” but shaved ice is actually something that is popular all over the world with very different flavors offered, though the shaved ice has a very similar consistency. Some countries favor fruit syrups, others favor dairy toppings, and many pair their shaved ice with other dessert components, like ice cream or red bean.
While I’ve had shaved ice in the mainland US, the best place I’ve had shaved ice were in Hawaii (where it is known simply as “shave ice”), where the syrups feature the flavors of intensely sweet tropical fruits and you can always find a shop that is making their syrups by hand.
There are two shave ice places called Jo Jo’s in Waimea on Kauai. One, on the main street, will be busy and is full of tourists. The other, just off the main street and about 100 feet away from the first shop, will also be busy but it will be packed with locals. The latter is the one you want to go to. Jo-Jo’s Anuenue Shaved Ice is a hole-in-the-wall shop that makes delicious shave ice. Shave ice (often said in Hawaii without a “d” on “shaved”) starts out with a big block of ice (not ice cubes) that is run over a sharp blade to create powder-fine ice that is the perfect vehicle for fruity, tropical sauces. The syrups at Jo Jo’s are homemade and come in every flavor you could want, from cappuccino to coconut, from blue raspberry to li hing mui.
According to my guidebook, the shave ice shop down the street from this one was originally owned by Jo Jo herself. She sold it to some (again, according to the book, non-locals) without including her secret syrup recipes. That location remains popular with tourists, but Jo Jo opened this new shop and, since locals know who runs it, it is busy with fans who know the real thing. That story in the guidebook was enough to have me double checking the location and I wasn’t disappointed.
The shave ice was great, and the syrups were fantastic. I got a scoop of macadamia nut ice cream topped with mango, guava and coconut shave ice and dusted with Li Hing Mui powder. The fruit flavors were vibrant and fresh, and the ice cream was a nice match for them – especially when the last of the shave ice was gone and I was left with ice cream in fruity syrup. Li Hing Mui is a salty-sweet dried plum that is popular in Hawaii, often ground into a powder and sprinkled on sweets or fruits. I always make sure to get some when I have a chance, and I liked the savory element that it added to my shave ice, as well as the way it made the ice look like a little volcano.