I visited Honolulu from May 9 to 16 with fellow Serious Eats contributor and Honolulu native Kathy YL Chan. Here's a food-related snapshot from my vacation.
The main thing I wanted to try during my trip to Honolulu was shave ice. (Yup, that's "shave," not "shaved"—it's the preferred name in Hawaii.) What's so special about a mound of ice shavings soaked in flavored syrups? If the ice is as fine and fluffy as freshly fallen snow, it's pretty special.
Until I visited Hawaii, the only shaved ice I had ever tried was more akin to crushed ice made of unpleasantly large crunchy ice crystals. The only saving grace was when the shaved ice was smothered in other ingredients—chopped fruit, red beans, condensed milk, ice cream, and the like—to distract from the subpar ice.
For my first taste of Hawaiian shave ice, Kathy brought me to her favorite shave ice spot, Waiola. We ordered a custard bowl ($4.50; shave ice on top of flan-like custard) flavored with lilikoi (passion fruit) and li hing mui (salty dried plum), and added mochi ($0.50; chewy glutinous rice cake nubs). The ice was so fine and smooth that it melted immediately—no chewing required. It was like eating a smooth sorbet, but lighter and juicier. And unlike previous experiences I've had with shaved ice desserts, no bite of ice here went un-syruped; the mound of ice was soaked to the core, and a straw was provided to suck up all the melted ice and syrup at the bottom of the bowl. The bits with creamy custard and chewy mochi bits were my favorite, but the ice can hold up without any add-ins.
I may have to wait until I go back to Hawaii to eat another shaved ice dessert.
3113 Mokihana Street, Honolulu HI 96816 (map) 808-735-8886
I visited the newer second location. The original location: 2135 Waiola Street at Paani Street, Honolulu, HI 96805 (map) 808-949-2269