Shave Ice: A Love Story

posted by Lisa

We love shave ice.

Finn loves red and green:

Ella loves cherry, coconut, & li hing mui:

Kory likes mango, passion fruit, guava:

I like it all. Especially with ice cream at the bottom:

For the most part, there are few desserts or sweet things I crave. The rest of the clan feels differently. And so do I when it comes to shave ice.

It’s one of the best food things about Kauai, and we have it pretty much every day. At around $3.50 a piece, it’s not a cheap habit, so we usually forgo the add-ons, including ice cream at the bottom, which is pretty wonderful, but which we reserve for a few select days when we just can’t hold out any longer.

Shave ice is not a snow cone. It might be what a snow cone aspires to be in nirvana, or what a snow cone remembers as the shadow of its most perfect, platonic form.

When it’s done right, shave ice is a large cupful of ice, shorn off a large, flat, wheel of ice into impossibly fine bits by a machine with a very sharp blade. The machine basically looks like an industrial drill press from your high school shop.

And the syrups–well, let’s just say the flavors, at the best places, are beyond compare. They have everything from bubble gum to guava:

Some shave ice joints are separate parts of stores. Some are carts on the roadside. Others operate out of trucks.

Our go-to cart this year was Da Opu Kaa, The Stomach Cart. It was close to our condo and the ice was fine and the flavors nice. It’s not the best ice on the island, but it’s pretty darn great.

Sadly, she’s closing up cart at the end of the summer, and not relocating anywhere on the South Shore.

As with any love story, there’s always an unrequited love. For us, that would be the Wishing Well.

We found this truck on our first trip, five years ago. It sits by the side of the road on the way into Hanalei, and it is astounding. More flavors, better flavors. It was so good the first time, that we sat in our car after finishing, and then instead of pulling away, got in line for another one.

And that was the last time we had shave ice at the Wishing Well.

We’ve been back 5 times since then, to no luck. Last year, twice, we arrived too late, and she was out of ice. Once it was Monday. The posted hours are noon-5, Tuesday-Sunday. Supposedly.

This year, we tried on our first Saturday, a sort of rainy day, and we hung around until 1 pm. No ice. Later in the week, we went after our day at the beach, and actually left the beach early, to get there by 3:45. We pulled in, saw a little crowd, grew hopeful. Gleeful, in fact.

But no ice. I was so mad, I forgot to take a picture.

We contented ourselves at Shave Ice Paradise, which is very good, but not quite as glorious. They make a great rainbow:

Perhaps, like any pathetic rejected lover, we’ll keep going back to Wishing Well. If she’ll have us. If not, well, we’ll always have the South Shore.

Fish fresh enough to …

posted by Lisa

This morning at our little protected beach at Poipu, one minute, Finn was drawing a line in the sand:

to protect the digging from the building:

and the next there was a large fish darting lightening quick around the swimming area. The tide was going out, and the water was only a few feet deep, and we could all see its muscular form cutting through the water with astonishing clarity (though less so in this picture):

It’s very common to see a good range of fish in there, but this one was big and dark and sharp-finned and it swam with dizzying speed, zipping from one end of the pool to the other, in spirals and circles, Something had chased it in, and it couldn’t get out.

I thought it was a baby shark.

But a lifeguard (they’re all amazing here, full of any information you want to know about the sea and its creatures) who had just returned from doing something that lifeguards do in the open water, took one look at it and said, “Tuna.”

He instructed one of the dads who was standing around gawking to corral it, scare it really, into the shallowest water, up near the sand, and with not much effort, when the fish was pretty much cornered the dad grabbed the fish–a really beautiful yellowtail–by the tail, and hauled it up out of the water.

I thought he was going to throw it back, but while we were all standing around gawking at its big black eyes and bright yellow fins, and beautiful blueish scales, the guard said, “Want me to filet it up for you? Make some sashimi?”

Well, the dad didn’t think twice, and I felt equal amounts of sorrow and, well, envy. It was a gorgeous fish, and it seemed so wrong and sad to kill it. But I also sort of wished that Kory had been the one to catch it. Or me. It was about 12 pounds, so not at all large as yellowfin go. Kory said, “Well, there’s tons of them out there, and it swam in here.” But that seemed to me not the point. I thought, too, well the guard hadn’t thought twice about it…

So it goes.

The guard carried it up, packed it on ice, a few hours later, Kory and Ella and I had the best bite of sashimi we’ll probably ever taste, standing not 5 feet from where that fish was pulled from the water.

Shave Ice all day long…

posted by Lisa

Not every day can be food paradise.

On Saturday, we woke up late, which meant a late start for the North Shore. I neglected to eat breakfast, so by the time we stopped in Lihue to replace the Ella’s cheesy dancing hula girl miniature that Finley had broken the night before, and got to Hanalei, it was 11 am. The farmer’s market, which we loved last year, was a huge disappointment, due to a massive downpour which meant few stalls. When I dashed out from the tent under which we had sheltered, Ella and Finn devoured my raspberry coconut twist-pastry thing, which was really good and island-y–and I wouldn’t have minded sharing so much, but they had already eaten a banana muffin and a mango muffin.

We stopped for a fish taco, but they were $10 each and I figured they couldn’t possibly be any better than the truly superb ones we get every week at Sancho’s, so we passed, and that meant Shave Ice Paradise for lunch. Not my healthiest food decision, but none of us minded one bit.

We at the pretty pedestrian picnic lunch I had packed on Aninni beach: hard boiled eggs, cheese, bread, mangos and bananas from the market, rice crackers. But on the way home I was hungry and had a headache, and the kids were tired and had already devoured the rest of the rice crackers and peanut butter crackers, and Kory wanted shave ice again, so we stopped at a roadside truck, so Kory could test his theory about whether trucks on the side of the road serve better things than actual storefront.

His theory was disproven.

Dinner was Annie’s instant mac ‘n cheese for the kids, and steamed green beans from the market. They pretty much fell asleep in their plates.

Kory & I picked up some poke and ocean salad and steamed rice on the lanai, which was actually pretty great.

We like bananas, coconuts, and …

posted by Lisa

My daughter Ella admits that apple bananas look awful, but taste really, really good. They’re best when they have a good number of brown spots, and they’re about half the size of commercial bananas we get on the mainland, and they taste just like, well, a banana should taste.

After nap today, I was looking for a snack, and cut open our first strawberry papaya. The kids had never seen one, and I’m not a particular fan, but we try things.

It looks otherworldly, bright orange, fleshy, fertile, The aroma is really earthy. Both kids and Kory used other words to describe it.

Even after scooping out the seeds, slicing out the flesh like a melon, it was not a hit. So I tried the passion fruit, which you can see for yourself is even more alien-looking to people who have not grown up eating tropical fruit.

You scoop out the seeds with a spoon, which are sweet and tart and bright tasting. It’s really good, but after the papaya, Ella and Finn weren’t trusting me so much.

I hate to waste food, especially from a farmer. So, I made smoothies. Which were a big hit.

Baby steps.