Homemade Hawaiian Shave Ice

My air conditioner broke down last weekend and won't be fixed until maybe Thursday, just as temperatures are projected to reach the 90's and 100's this week...Alright, life, I'll swing at your curveball...

I bought those nifty window fans, positioned every electric fan that I could find in the house, and made sure that my ice maker's "Quick Ice" feature was functioning properly...whatever it takes to keep my house from feeling like an over-sized dry sauna. And not just for myself, but the little ones as well. A hot, cranky 5-year-old and 3-year-old are no fun!

As I was thinking of different frosty treats to distract them with, Hawaiian shave ice was one of the first to pop in my head. I've had plenty of shave ice all across the islands, from Matsumoto's rich tradition in Oahu to the imaginative creations at Ono Ono in Kaua'i. Sweet, flavorful, and homemade syrups are poured over refreshing ice. Many of them are inspired by the seasonal fruits grown locally right on the island. I quickly gave in to this idea, while the summer's fruits are ripe for the picking and a refuge from the scorching heat is so desperately needed, to find a tasty oasis in shave ice!

Jon and Jacquelyn, as young as they are, already  like to think of themselves as "connoisseurs" of this colorful snack. Right before I started, Jon even told me, "Well, I hope it tastes good!" Oh, from the mouths of babes...

I won't claim to make mine exactly how a famous stand in Hawai'i does it, but this method makes an equally fresh, delicious, and fun-to-eat treat. For everyone! :)

Since strawberry season is in full swing, these ripe, red berries made perfect sense for a syrup. Strawberry is one of those familiar summer flavors. (Bonus points because they're Jacquelyn's favorite.)

Start the syrup by removing the stems and leaves of the strawberries, then give them a rough chop.

In a small saucepan, combine the fruit, sugar, and a little bit of lime juice.

Then, add the water.

Bring the mixture to a boil, and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes.

Before straining the syrup, let the strawberries steep while it cools. This helps to infuse as much flavor (and color!) as possible. Once it's at room temperature, strain the syrup into a small pitcher or a squeeze bottle.

The final product tastes delicious and is a gorgeous ruby color. But the second-best part? No artificial flavorings or food color were needed!

I also had pineapple leftover from making fried rice, so I decided to make another syrup. When you order a shave ice, you usually get multiple flavors anyway. This gives the kids more than one option to choose from, but in any case, it's a helpful way to get them to love different fruits!

This time, let the fruit boil in the syrup for about 10 minutes until it softens. Mash the pineapple a little bit, and also leave it in the syrup until everything cools.

While waiting for the syrups to be pour-ready, I found a squeeze bottle of agave nectar in my pantry that was running pretty low. I just transferred the agave to a smaller container and washed the bottle. It was a perfect way to store the syrup and to make pouring over the ice a lot easier. This Summer, save your agave, honey, or maple syrup bottles and reuse them for shave ice syrup!

Finally, to shave the ice, you'll need some variation of a snow-cone machine or ice shaver. The one I have is actually the same thing that I use to make halo-halo, the Filipinos' version of a sundae. They're small, inexpensive, and pretty easy to find in Asian markets.

However, while we're on the topic of ice shavers, I'll go ahead and put it out there that mine doesn't give me exactly the right texture for shave ice. (Purists, please forgive me.) True Hawaiian shave ice is incredibly fine and delicate, so that the flavorful syrups are absorbed instead of pooled at the bottom of the cup.

Still, my simple Rival makes this step as easy as loading the machine up with ice and pushing a button. Done. And I can certainly live with that.

To tightly pack the tiny flecks of ice, a rice paddle is my tool of choice. That way, you don't have to ever actually touch the ice and melt it with your body heat.

Then, pour on the syrup!

The last addition is rich, creamy sweetened condensed milk! You can also top the shave ice with the traditional azuki beans or ice cream, but sweetened condensed milk is my favorite and the only topping that I'll recommend. (I could eat spoonfuls of sweetened condensed milk. Straight up.) Some brands, like Nestle's La Lechera, even sell it in squeeze bottle form already. If you can find that instead of the cans, even better!

Jon and Jacquelyn helped me with the very first shave ice...and they went pretty syrup happy. Before I had the chance to add any pineapple syrup, the ice was swimming in a sea of strawberry red...

Let me try that again...

Mmmmm...there we go. A little bit of strawberry on one half, and a little bit of pineapple on the other half. Aside from a milky "snow cap", I spooned on some more diced fresh strawberries and pineapple as garnishes.

With or without the crisis of a broken air conditioner...Shave ice is the ideal refreshment for the dog days of summer ahead. When the sun is beating down and the afternoons are dragging on, just imagine that you're relaxing in Maui and put together a make-your-own shave ice bar! Infuse your syrups with ripe fruits that are in season. Strawberries and pineapple aren't the only ones piling up at farmers markets and fruit stands. Try mangoes, cherries, peaches, and nectarines. Adults and kids alike will love coming up with their own rainbow of flavor combinations, a nice break from the usual ice cream or popsicle. Shave ice is something fast, easy, and satisfying for the whole family to enjoy! :)

Homemade Hawaiian Shave Ice

Print Recipe

Strawberry Syrup:
1 1/2 cups Diced Fresh Strawberries
2 tbsps Freshly Squeezed Lime Juice (1 Lime)
3/4 cup Water
3/4 cup White Granulated Sugar
Pineapple Syrup:
1 1/2 cups Diced Fresh Pineapple
2 tbsps Freshly Squeezed Lime Juice (1 Lime)
3/4 cup Water
3/4 cup White Granulated Sugar

Sweetened Condensed Milk (optional)
  1. To make the strawberry syrup, combine the strawberries, lime juice, water, and sugar in a small saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, then cook over medium heat for 5 minutes. After removing the pan from the heat, leave the fruit in the syrup while it cools to room temperature. Then, after it cools completely, strain the mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a small pitcher or squeeze bottle.
  2. In a separate saucepan, repeat the process from Step 1 with the pineapple. (*Cook pineapple for about 10 minutes.)
  3. Finely shave ice into bowls or cups, then pour syrup over the ice.
  4. Drizzle each serving with sweetened condensed milk, and serve immediately! Enjoy!