Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice

While I said I was done with the food entries from Maui, there actually is one dessert/snack entry remaining: Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice.


Andy’s wife Sugi (I can say “wife” now – yay!) enjoying her favorite shave ice. Since her mother is from Maui and Sugi spent her summers growing up on the island, I put great stock in her number-one rating for Ululani’s. After some so-so experiences with shave ice on Kauai last year, I was surprised at how good the dessert can be – if you go to the right place.


Shave ice, often confused by mainlanders with snow cones, is a local Hawaiian specialty. Unlike snow cones, which are made with crushed ice, shave ice is precisely that – shaved – with a texture akin to snow. (I know, it would seem that shave ice should really be called “snow cones,” right?) This is important because while a snow cone results in a big pool of flavored syrup sitting at the bottom of a cup of ice, shave ice absorbs the syrup, ensuring that each bite is full of goodness.


Ululani’s has four locations on Maui – two near each other in Lahaina, one in the island’s main town of Kahului, and the newest shop on the north side of Kihei. We went to the original location on Front Street in old town Lahaina.


Each of Ululani’s 40 flavored syrups is made in-house using fruit purees, extracts, filtered water, and pure cane sugar. Toppings are either home made or come from other Maui companies. This local approach is one of their secrets to success. Now, it is true that shave ice can be a sickeningly sweet dessert. The key is to choose favors that create complexity and contrast rather than just add one layer of sweetness on top of another. I chose a recommended combination – Ho’ike – which offers lilikoi (passionfruit), li hing mui (Chinese salted plum), and passion orange. The salted plum adds a tart and salty note that cuts the sweetness, making the shave ice refreshing. 


Another part of Ululani’s charm is their friendly employees. Sure, I’m a mainlander who barely knows my pu pu platter from my poke. But this young lady was patient, happy to answer every question with a smile, and chatted with us about our visit to Maui while preparing our shave ice. In this picture, she adds mochi (made by Maui Specialty Chocolates) to my shave ice.


The finished product! Yummy!


Food in Kauai: Puka Dog, Yumi’s, and Jo-Jo’s

A bit over two weeks after we left Kauai, I’m still trying to wrap up blog entries on the trip.  To make some progress, I’ll combine three eateries into a single entry: Puka Dog, home of the “Hawaiian style” hot dog; Yumi’s, a small cafe in Waimea; and Jo-Jo’s Anuenue, the “original” (kind of) Waimea shave ice shop.


First up was Puka Dog, the Kauai branch of this “Hawaiian style” hot dog shop featured in Anthony Bourdain’s show “No Reservations”.  (He visited the branch in Waikiki, on Oahu.)  The concept is staight-forward: polish sausages (or veggie dogs) served in a bun with secret sauce (mild, spicy, hot, or hot hot, none of which are particularly spicy) and topped with various tropical relishes (papaya, mango, coconut, banana, etc.).


“Puka” means “hole” in Hawaiian and so the buns, instead of being split along the side, are instead impaled on this medieval looking contraption above.  What is it?  A European style hot-dog bun roaster, of course.  That’s why it looks medieval!  The point (no pun intended) is that the interior of the bun is toasted.  Sauce and relish are pumped into the hole, serving as lubricant to help slide the sausage in.  Sorry, this blog entry may not be appropriate for all age groups. 


The puka dog is a bit hard to eat as when you bite it, the juices have nowhere to go but towards you.  As for the flavor, the relishes are all a bit sweet and so you get the salty, meaty sausage with very sweet relish, but there needs to be something to cut the flavor.  Maybe the spicy sauce is meant to do that but we ordered “hot hot” and it wasn’t spicy enough.  Maybe something like pickled hot peppers, fresh Maui onions, or else sauerkraut would have been enough?


After our puka dog we went next door to the ice cream parlor for some locally made Papalani gelato, available in all manner of tropical flavors.  This was pretty tasty.  I had a lichee sorbet and Tawn had a macadamia nut gelato.

. . .


Our final day in Kauai, the four of us drove to the extreme west of the island, going down several miles of an unpaved and badly rutted dirt road until we reached the beach at Polihale State Park.  Looking at the Google Map now, it appears there may have been a paved option that would have led us there, but the signage was not clear.  We bumped along for thirty minutes, driving v-e-r-y slowly, until we reached the beach.  It was clear that Tawn was not having a good time.


When we did reach the end of the road, though, we were rewarded with these spectacular views of the Na’Pali coast, the one section of Kauai’s coast that cannot be accessed by road.  The beach is very long, very wide, and almost completely deserted.  The cliffs loom over the water, the layers of lava laid down by subsequent eruptions clearly visible.


The face of a husband who was trying his best to maintain a sunny disposition after being bounced down the road like a rock tumbled in a clothes dryer.  He gets bonus points for patience.


On the way back to Poipu, we stopped at Yumi’s Restaurant, a small family run place located in the storefront of the art deco Waimea Theatre.


The place was deserted, thanks in part to the street construction that was going on directly in front of the shop.


This menu board gives you an idea of the range of local “grinds” – breakfast all day, plate lunches, and various sandwiches.


On special was futomaki, a catch-all term used to describe sushi rolled with seaweed wrappers on the outside, filled with various ingredients with complementary colors and flavors.  These had tuna, egg, green beans, and carrots – very basic.


Tawn ordered the chicken cutlet, which is basically katsu-style chicken (breaded with panko and fried) but instead of serving with a tonkatsu sauce, it was served with generic brown gravy.  This caused a bit of a disconnect between taste buds that were expecting the sweet flavors of tonkatsu sauce and the reality of a salty, savory gravy.


Longing for some breakfast, I had simple fried eggs, bacon (which was supposed to be Portuguese sausage, an oversight that was quickly corrected), and the ubiquitous rice.


My mother had a small portion of the “loco moco”, a typical Hawaiian breakfast dish with rice topped with hamburger patty, egg (scrambled in this case, usually fried, though), and gravy.  Definitely a heavy start to the day!


My father had a teriyaki beef burger that was pretty flat, both in terms of flavor as well as size.


One of Yumi’s specialties is apple turnover, so we ordered one of them to share.  The crust, made with lard, was flaky and flavorful.

All in all, given the prices, Yumi’s was a fair value.  The food, though, wasn’t very exciting and I don’t know that I would make it my highest priority to return.  There are some other places on the west side of the island, including Da Imu Hut Cafe in Hanapepe, which I’d like to try next time, based on positive recommendations from my cousins.

. . .


After lunch we walked across the street for some shave ice.  Waimea is famous for its rival shave ice shops: Jo-Jo’s Original Shave Ice and Jo-Jo’s Anuenue Shave Ice.  The story is a bit confusing, but my understanding of the story goes something like this:

In the ’90s, Aunty Jo-Jo sold her popular, seven-year old shave-ice shop on Kaumuali’i Highway in Waimea, called “Jo-Jo’s Clubhouse,” to another family, in order to finance her return to school.  The new owners didn’t do a very good job keeping up the reputation of the shop, possibly because Aunty Jo-Jo hadn’t given them all the recipes.  In 2007, Aunty Jo-Jo opened a new shop at a new location just around the corner under the name “Jo-Jo’s Anuenue Shave Ice.”  The owners of her original location were unable to produce the contract they claim contains a noncompete clause, so Aunty Jo-Jo has continued her business in the new location and the owners of the “original” Jo-Jo’s continue their business, too, under the name “Jo-Jo’s Original.”

Confused yet?


In all fairness, we didn’t take the time to go to both locations and do a proper comparison.  Instead, we just patronized Jo-Jo’s Anuenue Shave Ice, figuring that Aunty Jo-Jo is probably worth the visit.  The place is mighty modest inside and there’s no place to sit other than a bench and a few plastic chairs out front.  The young lady who was working (I told her she must be the single most photographed person on the island, to which she laughed) pulled together our orders with a practiced hand, mounding the ice high and pouring the neon syrups generously.

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My parents, setting their inner children free as they get a chance to sample Jo-Jo’s Shave Ice.  After three shave ices during the trip, I have to say that this is a treat that can get overwhelming very quickly.  Something about half the size would be enough.  Maybe two people just need to share one, right?

. . .

We drove back to the condo and Tawn and I had an hour to pack before we headed to the airport and our flight to Honolulu, where we would spend one evening and have dinner with Xangan Michael.  Unfortunately, Tawn and I both managed to have a serious lapse in attention and missed our flight.  We left the condo about 4:00 for our 5:40 flight, arriving at the airport around 4:40 or so.  There was almost nobody at ticketing or security, so proceeded through those quickly. 


Once inside the terminal, I glanced up at a wall of clocks that showed all the time zones in the world.  Unable to find Hawaii, I noticed the minute hand showing ten minutes after the hour so in my mind I thought it must be 4:10.   Of course it was 5:10, not 4:10.  We went to Starbucks and sat down with some coffee to write post cards.  The shop is air conditioned and enclosed from the open air portion of the terminal, so we didn’t hear the “final call” announcements.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a Hawaiian Airlines jet rolling down the runway and I thought, “That’s odd – the plane should be arriving about now, not taking off.”  And then I looked at my phone and realized that we had missed our flight.

Credit to Hawaiian Airlines for running a tight ship – that plane actually took off about two minutes before scheduled departure according to the time on my phone.   But we were late, missed the “be there ten minutes before departure” warning, and there’s no disputing that.  They were accommodating and put us on stand-by for the next flight, which left two hours later.  Unfortunately, that meant we had to miss dinner with Michael.

By about 9:00 we had finally made it to Waikiki and checked into our hotel for our final night in Hawai’i.  More about that in the next entry.