Scandinavian Shave Ice
After we booked our trip to Hawaii and I knew we’d be spending the first 4 days in Kona, I started my research on local tasty treats to enjoy during our time on the Big Island. One of the very first places I made notes on was Scandinavian Shave Ice. The more I read about them, and more I saw reviews, the more excited I was about going there. I think my husband got tired of hearing how much I wanted to try their shaved ice as he had the impression that shaved ice was just shaved ice. What could possibly make this better than any normal shaved ice? My plan had originally been for us to check out “Scandi’s,” as the locals call it, on the day we arrived on the Big Island – in fact it was supposed to be the first thing we did. It turned out that never happened for one reason or another although we probably went by the shop 4 times, so it wasn’t until Day 3 of our trip that we finally made it into Kailua Village and were able to see what everyone’s talking about.
According to their website, Scandinavian Shave Ice & Coffee Shop has been a local Kona landmark right at the heart of Kailua Village for over 20 years. Just a stone’s throw down from Kailua Pier it’s convenient for locals and tourists alike to visit this treat shop. And while famous for their shave ice, also serves up killer ice cream, coffee drinks and smoothies. There always seems to be a line out the door, but the people who work behind the counter are quick, knowledgeable and friendly, so the line moves pretty quickly. Besides, having a few people in front of you gives you a chance to figure out what they offer and how to order, which can be a tall order in and of itself if you’re not familiar with how shave ice works.
Luckily, for the uninitiated, when you walk into the small shop, you’re greeted by a digital sign board that basically gives you step-by-step instructions as to how to order. Step 1, you need to decide what size shave ice you want – small, medium, large or jumbo. Step 2, do you want to add ice cream or frozen yogurt to your shave ice. Step 3, choose 3 flavors of syrup for the shave ice. Step 4, almost there, do you want any toppings on top of the shave ice. It sounds so simple to do when you type it all out, but believe me, when you’re there in person, you’re bombarded with choices and options and it’s all a bit overwhelming. It’s not just a matter of making a few choices, but there’s so many steps and so many options for each choice. For instance, one of the first things you notice when you walk into the shop are all the bottles of flavored syrup that are hanging down from the syrup. The picture above is just a small sample of your choices. These bottles occupy the full length of another wall of the store. Just trying to choose a yummy combo of up to 3 different flavors for your shave ice is daunting.
Over the years, the people at Scandi’s have come up with a list of popular shave ice combinations with some very creative names to go with them. You’re welcome to choose a combination that’s already been put together, or choose from the long list of flavors to put together your own combination. Some of these popular combinations include: Rainbow with Blue Hawaii, banana and cherry; Hawaiian Sunset with mango, guava and passion fruit; Sweet-Tart with grape, orange and lemon-lime; Pink Lady with pink lemonade, pineapple and guava; Jungle Juice with fruit punch, mango and watermelon; Tropical Trio with guava, coconut and mango; Lava Flow with strawberry, pina colada, with an ice cream center and sno-cap drizzle; Tiger’s Blood with tiger’s blood flavor with an ice cream center and topped with azuki beans; and Hawaiian Pearl with coconut, lychee with an ice cream center and topped with tapioca pearls. If you choose to make your own combinations, flavors run the gamut from candy flavors, to fruit flavors, to uniquely Hawaiian flavors and everything in between. You can choose from apple, apricot, banana, banana colada, blackberry, black cherry, blueberry, Blue Hawaii, boysenberry, bubble gum in pink or blue, butterscotch, cantaloupe, cherry, cherry cola, chocolate, cinnamon, coconut, coffee, cotton candy, cream, daiquiri, dreamcicle, frutti, grape, green paradise, green tea, guava, haupia, Hawaiian punch, honeydew melon, horchata, kiwi, kola, lemon, lemon-lime, li hing mui, lime, lychee, mai tai, mango, margarita, melona, orange, papaya, passion fruit, passion orange, peach, pina colada, pineapple, pink lemonade, passion-orange-guava, raspberry in blue or red, red velvet cake, root beer, strawberry, tamarind, tangerine, tiger’s blood, watermelon, wedding cake and vanilla. If these options aren’t enough to make your head spin, the final decision you have to make in this whole shave ice process is whether or not you want a topping. Now, if you’re wondering what they mean by topping, well it’s what would go on top of the ball of shave ice you get after they’ve poured on the 3 flavor syrups you’ve chosen. The list of toppings you could add include: snow cap (which is a drizzle of sweetened condensed milk), coconut cream, gummy bears, azuki beans, boba pearls, coconut jellys, lychee jellys, popping pearls and mochi balls. As I said, some of these are uniquely Hawaiian items which heavily reflect an Asian influence. If you have to ask what a flavor or a topping is, you might as well be adventurous and give it a try because explaining it would probably take too much time.
Are you dizzy yet? We’re not done with your choices yet. Did you forget Step 2 that asked you to decide if you wanted ice cream or frozen yogurt in your shave ice? At first, it may sound a bit weird to add ice cream to your concoction of shave ice, or at least it did to me. But hey, when do I ever say no to ice cream? So, I had to go for it. But then here comes more options as to what flavor of ice cream do you want? Mango? Kona coffee? Oreo cookies? Volcano? Chocolate Decadence? Saddle Road? Macadamia Nut? Caramel Macadamia Nut? Chocolate Macadamia Nut?
After you’ve made all your decisions, you walk up to the counter and blurt out in one long sentence, without breathing, because you just want it get it all out before you forget something important, “I’d like a small-monkey business-with-Kona-coffee-ice cream-with a snow cap!” Whew, now you can pat yourself on the back for correctly putting in your order. It’s like taking a test! Step 1, choose a size. Check – I got the small. Step 2, do you want to add ice cream. Check – I went with Kona coffee ice cream. Step 3, choose up to 3 flavors. Check – I got the special monkey business combination. Step 4, do you want a topping. Check – I went with the snow cap! Yes, I passed my test. Now I can relax as the magic happens and my shave ice is created for me right in front of my eyes!
The process starts with shaving the ice. A huge block of pure, clear ice is added to a machine that shaves down the ice. The shave ice goes into a small plastic cup. Once the cup is about 1/2 to 3/4 full, the machine is turned off so that a scoop of ice cream, or frozen yogurt, of your flavor choice can be added, if you choose. The ice cream is added right over the shave ice and packed down.
Then the machine is started again and a huge mound of shave ice is added over the ice at the bottom of the cup and the ice cream in the middle. Even though I ordered a small, the amount of shave ice that is added to the bowl is makes it come out the size of a small ball, something bigger than a softball. If this is a small, I’d hate to see what a large looks like.
When the ice has been added to the cup, the syrup is then poured over the ice to flavor it. Look at the size of the ice ball in her hand! Here she’s adding the banana flavor syrup to my monkey business shave ice. The monkey business shave ice that I went for is a combination of banana syrup and root beer syrup, which when done should taste like a banana root beer float. The flavor is enhanced by adding ice cream in the shave ice to make it really have the taste of a root beer float. When all of the syrup has been poured over the ice, and believe me they add a generous amount, the person behind the counter takes their gloved hand and pats the ice down and flattens and smooths out the surface of the ice to make it a perfectly formed ball. At this point, if you asked for a topping, it’s added. If the topping is a liquid topping, it’s just drizzled over the top. If the topping is beans, mochi, or some other item more substantial, an indentation is made on the top of your ball of shave ice right at the center so it acts as a cup to hold your toppings.
Here is the my small monkey business shave ice with Kona coffee ice cream and topped with a snow cap, which is a drizzle of sweetened condensed milk. The white swirls over the top of the shave ice is the snow cap of condensed milk, which just adds flavor and makes the shave ice sweeter. It’s like adding whipped cream to a sundae. You can see underneath the two colors representing the two flavors of syrup added to my shave ice: banana is the yellow color and root beer is the dark brown cola color. And somewhere underneath all of that is a scoop of Kona coffee ice cream. The shave ice is served with a spoon so you can dig into it as well as a straw so that you can sip up any of the ice and syrup as it melts into the cup.
My husband ordered a small shave ice with Tahitian vanilla ice cream topped with guava, lychee and pineapple syrup and a snow cap. You can see in the picture above that the lady behind the counter is adding the guava syrup to my husband’s shave ice, and she has the pineapple (orange-ish bottle) and lychee (light pink bottle) ready to go.
Since the guava and the lychee were similar in color, the pineapple was added as a stripe down the middle so that it would be easier to distinguish the colors and flavors. Although, it doesn’t really matter as eventually everything melts together and the flavors all blend together. Look how pretty those colors are!
And here’s the final product. Underneath the snow cap, all I can really see is the yellow-orange of the pineapple syrup. The pink of the guava and lychee syrups kind of all blend in and get washed out by the snow cap. Again, remember this is just a small. It’s easily big enough for two people to share. The difficult part in sharing is finding 2 people who will agree on the same flavors and combos!
With our shave ice in hand, my husband and I walked to a nearby shaded area across the street to enjoy our concoctions as the store was packed and there wasn’t a table or bench to be found. Let me tell you, one spoonful of this magical shave ice and I was sold! I don’t think I’ve ever had anything so delicious and refreshing to incredible as this shave ice from Scandinavian. First off, if I didn’t know it was made from ice, there would be absolutely no way I’d ever be able to tell I was just eating a spoonful of ice with some flavor syrups and sweetened condensed milk. It didn’t have the texture, consistency or taste of ice whatsoever. It was so creamy and smooth you would have thought you were eating ice cream. As you dig deeper into your creation and you finally get to the ice cream hidden in the middle, you realize that the texture and flavor of this ice cream is different from the ice you had been eating. The ice cream is luscious and creamy and has a really vibrant flavor, so now you know you’re eating ice cream. But still, the whole time I devoured this shave ice, my mind couldn’t wrap itself around the idea that what I was eating was ice. How could it be ice? It didn’t taste like it, it didn’t have the texture of it. It was mind-blowing. The flavor of my monkey business was incredible. I love banana to begin with, and root beer floats are one of my favorite things, and to me, coffee flavor and banana go so well together, this combination of banana and root beer syrup and Kona coffee ice cream was magical. It was the perfect marriage of three really distinct flavors. As soon as I had a spoonful, the first thing I could think of was that I was enjoying a delicious root beer float on a hot summer day. This treat really hit the spot for me and I loved every single last bite of it. My husband too was blown away by his shave ice. Like me, he couldn’t believe that this was ice as it didn’t taste like ice at all. He could taste the guava and the pineapple and the lychee and thought that the 3 flavors melded together perfectly with the creamy Tahitian vanilla ice cream he got. For me, the snow cap of the sweetened condensed milk was the perfect topping that really brought all of the flavors together. These shave ice concoctions were so good it was almost like a race to see who could eat theirs fastest as we just couldn’t stop scooping them up into our mouths. There’s little these days in terms of food that I’m completely in awe of and blow away by, but I’ve got to say that Scandinavian Shave Ice did just that to me. To this day, I can stop looking at these pictures and smiling and thinking about our day in Kailua-Kona standing under those trees enjoying our shave ice and just being awestruck by how amazing and wonderful the shave ice was. The shave ice here at Scandinavian quickly moved into my top 10 list of best things I’ve ever eaten. If you find yourself in Kailua-Kona, you have to try the shave ice at Scandinavian, I know you’ll be blown away by it just like I was!