Oahu’s North Shore: Shrimp Trucks and Shave Ice

9 Feb

Sunset over Kaena Point. No, there's no food in this photo.

Back to recapping my Hawai’i trip! 20 years ago, the North Shore of O’ahu wasn’t really on the tourist radar — there was the Turtle Bay Resort, the Polynesian Cultural Center, and all those surfers, but most visitors stuck to the Waikiki area. Then Hale’iwa started attracting Japanese tourists about 10 to 15 years ago.

And then Lost happened.

Lost was the first major network series to be filmed in Hawai’i in a long time. (The last one I remember is The Byrds of Paradise, which is mostly notable for having Jennifer Love Hewitt in the cast. The last one you all probably remember is Magnum P.I.) In fact, I started watching Lost because I was a little homesick and I liked playing “Hey! We’ve been there!” with the locations. (For example, the Others’ village? My 6th grade camp.) The show’s popularity meant a whole new influx of tourists, and the North Shore is a lot less sleepy than it used to be. (But it’s still only accessible by a two-lane highway.)

Some things haven’t changed though, like the shrimp trucks near Kahuku and the dueling shave ice stores in Hale’iwa. First, the shrimp trucks: Kahuku has been an aquaculture site since at least the ’70s, if not longer, so naturally, people started coming to buy fresh shrimp. And then they started coming to eat fresh shrimp. The shrimp trucks have gotten quite popular, as of late, and now they’ve even got a shrimp truck competition.

The Shrimp Shack

We stopped at the Shrimp Shack, because it was the first one we saw. Allegedly they get their shrimp from Kaua’i, not Kahuku. So much for eating local. (Though it’s better than getting the shrimp from Thailand.) They were also featured on the Food Network (not Anthony Bourdain’s show, alas) and got one of those people’s choice awards a while back. Tom got the extra spicy shrimp with mahi.

Butter with shrimp, with extra butter on the side

Living in Malaysia has skewed our sense of spicy, so I didn’t really feel the heat from the sauce, but it sure was tasty. It’s basically all the garlic and butter you can handle, with a touch (well, more than a touch, but manageable) of Sriracha for flavor. It was so tasty that we both finished our rice, which had been doused in the sauce.

And now for dessert: a trip to the North Shore wouldn’t be complete without stopping in Hale’iwa for shave ice. (Yes, it’s “shave ice,” not “shaved ice.” The former is a fluffy, delectable icy treat; the latter is a slushie.) Matsumoto’s is the famous one, and they’ve got a wall full of photos of Japanese celebrities to prove it. They’ve also got the line to prove it, so Tom and I usually go next door to Aoki’s. This time, though, we had the in-laws with us, so we settled in for the wait at Matsumoto’s.

60 years and counting

One major difference between shave ice in Hawaii and the ice-based desserts you get on the Mainland — besides the texture of the ice, which is ideally light and fluffy, and not a half-melted lump — is the variety of syrup flavors. On the Mainland, you have your choice of, say, red, blue, yellow, and green flavors. Behold the Matsumoto’s shave ice menu:

The extensive syrup and topping options. There's more scrawled under the printed sign.

The other big difference is that shave ice is usually served with ice cream and sweet azuki beans in the bottom of the cone. You can also add a “snow cap,” which is sweetened condensed milk poured on top. Sounds a lot like halo-halo, doesn’t it? Japan has a similar dessert as well, called anmitsu, that involves jelly, azuki beans, and fruit. Shave ice itself is a lot closer to Japanese kakigori (shaved ice) than to Western snow cones, so I’m pretty sure it came along with the Japanese immigrants who started arriving in Hawai’i in the late 19th century.

And with that bit of history, we bid the not-so-well-kept secret of O’ahu, North Shore, goodbye.


One Response to “Oahu’s North Shore: Shrimp Trucks and Shave Ice”


  1. Azuki-bean cured bacon?! « Straight Out of Kampung - March 4, 2011

    […] I’ve mentioned before, the Japanese like their beans for dessert, and azuki-bean paste is a common filling for things […]

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