Now that I am retired from teaching, I have taken a vow never to correct anyone’s English ever again. This is quite a challenge in Hawaii where the English language has taken on a life of its own. When I hear a local say, “We should of went surf but no can, gotta go work dat’s why,” I nod sympathetically. But when I see signs for “Shave Ice” all over the island, I struggle to resist the temptation to add a “d” to the word “shave” with an indelible sharpie pen. In truth, however, in Hawaii, Shave Ice is Shave Ice, not Shaved Ice. That’s all there is to it.
And happily, there is plenty of good Shave Ice around, a good thing in a climate that is always warm. Conversely, there are also plenty of grainy snow-cones filled with ice chips and dripping with sugary electric red and blue syrup masquerading as real Hawaiian Shave Ice. When you travel to Hawaii, I am here to help you find the good stuff and avoid the imposters at all costs. First of all, the texture of real Shave Ice must be very soft and fluffy, much like snow, which ironically is never to be found on the island of Oahu. In the old days, Shave Ice was literally made by scraping a block of ice with a razor blade to produce light powdery ice that could then be flavored with syrups made from actual tropical fruits. Today, the ice shaving machine is key. First class Shave Ice places like Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha and Matsumoto’s Shave Ice use traditional ice shaving machines in which a block of ice is inserted and a crank with a blade is turned to produce a pile of delicate ice powder that is immediately flavored and handed to the customer. True Shave Ice is a fragile and ephemeral delight that must be consumed immediately.
Our favorite Shave Ice place on the island of Oahu is the afore mentioned Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha, run by a charming family team, Uncle Clay and his nephew, USC graduate Bronson Chang. This little establishment, located in the Aina Haina Shopping Center east of Honolulu at 820 West Hind Drive, will serve you the best Shave Ice around along with a generous helping of welcoming love—the essence of the Hawaiian spirit of Aloha. If Uncle Clay happens to be on the premises, he will introduce himself to everyone in the room and then introduce everyone he has just met to everyone else in the room. We have made friends from all over the world just by dropping by Uncle Clay’s for our favorite treat.
Uncle Clay’s customers can choose from pre-selected tropical combinations or create their own. Fresh fruit such as ripe strawberries or pineapple chunks can be added to the Shave Ice, or customers can choose the Japanese version, called Uji Kintoki, which includes the addition of sweetened azuki beans and mochi balls to green tea flavored Shave Ice with ice cream. The House of Pure Aloha serves very fine quality Tahitian vanilla or chocolate ice cream. Serious Shave Ice lovers can also choose to top their creation with condensed milk, coconut or chocolate chips.
We believe that Hawaiian Shave Ice originated with the Japanese immigrants who came to the islands to work in the sugar cane and pineapple fields in the 1800s. Japanese style Shave Ice is still very popular in Hawaii, and a very good version of the sparkling green tea flavored Uji Kintoki can also be found in the Shirokiya Village, a Japanese department store and food wonderland in the Ala Moana Shopping Center in Honolulu. This uber-food court, which almost rivals the mega-food palaces in department stores in Japan, has been under renovation and re-opened to glorious fanfare at the end of June, 2016. Look for Japanese Shave Ice and other Japanese dessert treats at the Kulu Kulu shop. The Hikotaro shop offers kakigori, the traditional Japanese-style Shave Ice dessert with slightly crunchier ice; the Uji Kintoki version with green tea syrup, azuki beans and mochi balls is readily available there.
An even more venerable institution which keeps the old Japanese tradition alive is Matsumoto’s Store in Haleiwa on the north shore of Oahu. Matsumoto’s has been around since 1951, originally in a rickety old wooden grocery store. They have now moved into newer and more elegant surroundings near their previous location. The new Matsumoto Shave Ice, which still claims to be a grocery store, can be found at 66-111 Kamehameha Highway, Suite 605, near two old plantation style buildings with M. Yoshida 1923 still emblazoned on the wooden facades. Across the street is the Queen Liliuokalani Protestant Church, established in 1832. Matsumoto Shave Ice now faces an inner courtyard where customers can line up without creating a traffic jam on the highway and enjoy their Shave Ice in a pleasant outdoor seating area.
Matsumoto’s is a well-run machine with a nice staff who will take your order, make your Shave Ice, take your money and get you out into the courtyard as efficiently as possible. They have thirty-eight flavors including watermelon, guava, lime, pineapple, coconut cream, peach and a new flavor, Ramune, named for a Japanese soda pop which was originally lemon-lime flavored (Ramune is the Japanese language version of the English word “lemonade.”) Matsumoto’s version of Uji Kintoki is called Ichiban (“number one,” in Japanese.) This imposing concoction is served in an edible tray, actually a crunchy, flat bottomed, rimmed oval waffle designed to keep the melting ice and ice cream from dripping out onto your lap as you slurp with your tiny straw and shovel as quickly as possible with your little flat wooden spoon. Like the Uji Kintoki, the Ichiban contains Shave Ice, ice cream, sweetened azuki beans and mochi balls, but the customer gets to choose his or her own flavor for the Shave Ice. In a recent visit, I chose coconut cream, which to my surprise, turned out to be pink, and my husband Wayne chose Ramune, which was a startling blue color. Wayne remembers drinking Ramune as a child, but he thought Matsumoto’s version tasted like another Japanese soda, the yogurt flavored Calpico.
Another form of Shave Ice available in Hawaii, and one that I must not omit, is the stunning and visually over the top Filipino dessert known as Halo Halo, (“mix mix” in Tagalog.) This complex treat is indeed a mixture of many dramatically combined elements, including Shave Ice, purple yam ice cream, a little square of the Spanish-inspired leche flan (baked caramel custard,) a dab of purple jam, fresh fruit, small colorful gelatin cubes, sweetened beans and a topping of sweetened condensed milk. If you order Halo Halo at Max’s of Manila, our go-to spot for good Filipino food and desserts, it will arrive bursting over the rim of a beautiful stemmed clear glass bowl and topped with a colorful little paper umbrella. You will feel that you are re-living the best birthday of your childhood, or perhaps wiping out that painful memory of a long ago birthday when the grownups forgot to get you a cake.
The “mix mix” concept comes into play when eating your Halo Halo too. Your stemmed bowl will rest on a small plate which itself is covered with a napkin, an acknowledgment that some spillage could occur as you dig in to enjoy this astounding melding of colors, textures and flavors. We have observed experienced Filipino diners stirring the entire contents of the bowl into an almost homogeneous purple mélange. However you choose to eat your Halo Halo, focusing on each individual element or enjoying the sum of its parts, you will have entered a new and gorgeous room in the Palace of Desserts.
If all this talk of Shave Ice inspires you to book your next (or first) trip to Hawaii, you can do your homework on the subject of Hawaiian food in general by reviewing our Hawaiian Tea menu in the World of Tea Parties section of myteaplanner.com. Even better, host a Hawaiian Tea before your trip to get into the Aloha spirit. Meanwhile, you can make your own Green Tea Granita by following the procedure for the Pineapple Coconut Granita in our Hawaiian Tea Menu. I offer the Granita recipe for those of you who do not own ice shaving machines and are willing to live with the grainy texture of Granita. This icy refresher can be served over vanilla ice cream for an almost Uji Kintoki Sundae, which you might want to eat with some nice little macadamia nut shortbread cookies or Green Tea Madeleines. For the adventurous souls among you, I recommend going to a Japanese market and buying canned sweetened azuki beans to make a real Uji Kintoki Sundae.
Green Tea Granita
4 tablespoons matcha (green tea powder)
1 cup sugar
1 cup water, room temperature
1 cup ice water
Vanilla ice cream for serving
Special equipment: small saucepan or 1-quart glass measuring cup, shallow flat-bottomed pan such as a metal 8” x 8” cake pan, fork, plastic wrap
Makes: 4-6 servings of Granita
- Mix the green tea powder and sugar thoroughly in a microwaveable measuring cup or small saucepan. Add 1 cup of tap water and stir to combine.
- Microwave or heat in a saucepan until very warm but not boiling.
- Add 1 cup of ice water to the syrup and stir. Pour into a shallow flat-bottomed pan and refrigerate until cold. Transfer to the freezer.
- Stir with a fork every hour for at least 4-5 hours. Do not allow the mixture to freeze completely. The Granita should have a granular texture. Stir again and cover with plastic wrap if not serving immediately. To serve, divide among four to six small bowls of vanilla ice cream and enjoy immediately.
My niece and co-author, Kathleen Pedulla, and I recently completed a comprehensive book on Afternoon Tea entitled Sharing Tea: The Road Back to Civilization. This creation of ours currently lives as the website: myteaplanner.com. We ask you to take a look and experience for yourselves our love and enthusiasm for every aspect of Afternoon Tea.
Our purpose in writing this book was to share our passion for the tea ceremony as it is celebrated all over the world. We want to encourage and support those who are already familiar with the tea ritual and to provide continuing education, ideas, menus and recipes. We also hope to inspire readers who may know nothing about Afternoon Tea but would like to learn about this ancient international form of hospitality.
In our little corner of cyber space, we intend to construct a safe, cozy, warm and comfortable place, a bit like a Hobbit’s den or an ivy covered cottage where a roaring fire wards off the cold of a winter afternoon and friends share steaming cups of tea and hot buttered scones in a gentle setting where kindness and trust prevail.
We will share Kona coffee shortbread and dark chocolate macadamia nut truffles as the trade winds waft through the coconut palms on a secluded beach on the east shore of Oahu. We will bend our heads in humility as we enter an ancient Japanese tea house in a leafy green garden where the maples are just turning a deep sunset red. There we will sip green tea and speak in quiet voices of our exquisite joy, tinged with sweet melancholy, as summer slips into autumn.
How did Kathleen and I find these lovely places? How did we come to our knowledge of Afternoon Tea? Our lives have lead us here. We have had our share of sadness, disappointment, conflict and loss. But we choose not to spend our days talking obsessively about ourselves and dwelling in darkness. Afternoon Tea, after all, is the opposite of narcissism, and our upbringings and life experiences have taught us that generous sharing is the antidote to all of life’s sorrows.
Kathleen will tell you about herself in her blog, Cakes and Tea. My earlier career focused on education. I taught college English, literature, poetry and creative writing in San Jose, California, for many years. Upon my retirement, I was drafted to teach adult religious education and to coordinate spiritual activities for adults in my local parish. During both of my careers, I traveled extensively and engaged in creative writing and poetry, keeping travel journals and enjoying Afternoon Tea in every culture I visited.
Now I am here in rural Oahu where my husband Wayne and I have decided to retire again. We can watch the sunrise over the ocean every morning from our bed. It is never cold here, and the local food fills Wayne’s heart with happy memories of his childhood in Japan. We continue to travel, and I hope to share in this blog our many adventures with foods of the world, tea and the precious gifts we have received from our interactions with people of other cultures.
It is also here in Hawaii that I wrote Sharing Tea: The Road Back to Civilization with Kathleen through the convenience of email. Kathleen, who lives in northern California, is responsible for many of the menus and recipes in our book while I focused on the research, background information and editing. Since we both love to write, we will continue to communicate with our readers through our blogs. Both can be accessed through our website: myteaplanner.com.
To conclude my first blog, I would like to share an essay, “Eating with Immigrants,” which I wrote many years ago at the request of my colleague and friend, J. Sterling Warner, co-author of the college English textbook, Visions Across the Americas. An entire generation of college students has read this essay, but I believe that its message affirming the value of authentic, culture-based foods still resonates today. This is the philosophy that inspired me and Kathleen to write Sharing Tea: The Road Back to Civilization.
Eating with Immigrants
My husband and I share a hobby—eating. Clearly this is not an unusual activity, but we like to specialize. Our interest is in eating in immigrant restaurants, more particularly, places where the owners, cooks, serving staff and customers are all first generation Americans. Why do we like immigrant restaurants? First of all, the food is good. Real people who grew up eating the food they are cooking prepare it. This is not fast food or food based on chain restaurant formulas. Immigrant food has real ingredients, like fresh ginger, fresh vegetables that didn’t come out of a plastic freezer bag and nutritious elements like tofu, bean sprouts and yogurt. Secondly, immigrant restaurants are sensible. The prices are reasonable, and there is no silly pretentiousness. Immigrants are busy people who do not have time to put on airs. Snobbishness is for people who have been in this country for at least two generations. And finally, immigrant restaurants are happy places. Immigrants have hope. They have come to America believing that their lives can be better, and they’ve brought their families along with them on the greatest, bravest and riskiest adventure of their lives. Along with a good meal, a person who eats in an immigrant restaurant can receive a refresher course in the positive effects that traditional cultures can have on life in America.
Last Saturday, while we were eating dim sum at a Chinese immigrant restaurant, my husband and I got a pleasant reminder of the importance of family values and intergenerational respect. As we were nibbling on our fresh broccoli and turnip cakes, a glance around the huge room revealed not a single person eating alone. We noticed large family groups seated together at round tables sharing food from the lazy Susan in the center. Elderly grandparents sat next to young children who refilled the old folks’ teacups without being told to do so. Even teenagers seemed unembarrassed by being seen in public with their parents. Attentive family members assisted senior citizens into and out of the restaurant. And children were allowed to be themselves. Babies got to cry and toddlers got to run around under the tables, and no one got angry if the kids spilled their noodles. And there was no “children’s menu” nonsense. Everybody ate the same food.
There was plenty of evidence of the good old-fashioned work ethic at the dim sum restaurant too. The large staff of hostesses, waiters and waitresses, busboys, women pushing the carts filled with food, cooks and cashiers worked together like bees in a hive. Although each had a specific task to perform, I noticed that they automatically helped each other out when the need arose. When the restaurant got busy, the host himself helped bus tables and set them up for the next customers. When she came to our table with our bill, the cashier noticed that we had leftover food and quickly brought us some boxes rather than waiting for our server to get them. Not one employee was goofing off or adopting a “that’s not my job attitude.” What a painful contrast with some of America’s fast food restaurants where the poorly trained help are so busy talking to each other that they can hardly be bothered to wait on a customer.
Whether we’re eating sushi and soybeans at a little Japanese place where no one speaks English, enjoying freshly made larb at our favorite Thai restaurant or snacking on kim chee and bibim bap at a Korean tofu house, we like to dine with immigrants because of the upbeat ambience. There is no room for boredom and cynicism among first generation Americans. The woman who cooks the fabulous meals at our favorite Indian restaurant always comes out of the kitchen and asks us if we are enjoying the food, and she is genuinely pleased that we are. The owner of our local taqueria calls us “amigos,” and actually means it. Immigrants have come from difficult circumstances believing that life is still worth living. They have traveled long distances, suffered culture shock and financial deprivation, and they have observed some of the truths of life along the way. Immigrants know that disrespect and self-centered egotism will not help them succeed. The traditional emphasis on community, combined with excellence in individual effort, treasured historically by both the Native Americans and the founders of the U.S. Constitution, is brought back to us through our immigrants as a reminder of what we once valued before selfishness, arrogance and greed became the norm.
I sigh with sadness when I read the predictable letters to the editor of my local newspaper blaming immigrants for such social ills as lack of affordable housing, the deterioration of our educational system and even terrorism. I wish that the people who write these letters would go down to the neighborhood Vietnamese pho shop for a simple bowl of noodles elegantly garnished with fresh basil and limes and served with courtesy and respect by a man who suffered horribly in his previous life yet loves his new country and hopes for a better life for his children. Somehow, tea tastes better among people who have left bitterness behind, and food is more nourishing eaten in community.