The girls and I decided to give ourselves a little challenge this summer: review as many shave ice vendors on Kaua’i as possible and see which one we liked the best. Tough work, I know.
Shave ice (NOT ‘shaved’ ice) is the quintessential Hawaiian treat. Unlike a snow cone, where ice is crushed, with shave ice the ice is actually shaved, creating a fluffy, snow-like consistency. The sharper the blade, the fluffier the ice. As a result, a shave ice is much bigger than a snow cone, and you eat it with a spoon.
There are different ways you can upgrade your shave ice. You can ask for ice cream on the bottom – vanilla or macadamia nut are the most common flavors. Sometimes the ice cream is included in the price, other times you have to ask for it. Most shave ice vendors will allow up to four different flavors at no extra cost, and there’s plenty of room for them. If you really want to go all the way, you can ask for a ‘snow cap’ – sweetened condensed milk (sometimes flavored) is added over the top. Locals often ask for li hing mui (dried Chinese plum) powder as well, but it’s an acquired taste.
We began our Summer Shave Ice Challenge at Ono Ono Shave Ice in Kapaa Old Town, one of the girls’ favorite places for this treat. Ono Ono only serves one size of shave ice: BIG. The ice they hand you is easily five inches across, and just as tall or taller. They have loads of flavors, and a nice menu of special flavor-combo options. I ordered the Kaua’i Sunrise: mango, pineapple, passionfruit and coconut syrups, and Brett got the Rainbow: vanilla, pineapple and strawberry. The girls ordered their own flavor combos, with vanilla ice cream on the bottom (they forgot to ask for the snow cap). Ono Ono’s price is right too – $3.50 for a basic shave ice, with added vanilla or macadamia nut ice cream only $1.00 more. Snow caps are free. On the down side, they don’t offer any natural flavor syrups, and according to the girls, their shave ice is not the most aesthetically appealing either. Ono Ono also serves halo-halo shave ice, a Filipino variation made with evaporated milk and other various ingredients. It’s served in a tall glass versus a cup.
Ono in Hawaiian means ‘delicious.’ We’re pretty sure the first Ono in the name refers to the Ono family that runs the restaurant next door, but it could just as well mean ‘doubly delicious’ shave ice. They are!