This is the only place on Maui we recommend you go to for shave ice. And you’re in luck, because it’s one of the best in Hawaii. With three locations — and a new one opening in Kihei in early 2012 — you really don’t have an excuse. If you’re visiting, make your first stop early in your stay, because you will want to come back at least twice before you leave. If you live on Maui, why aren’t you there right now?
Shave ice (not “shaved ice”), will remind you of a snow cone, but keep in mind that its legacy is east, not west — it came to Hawaii from Japan. The texture is flakier and lighter than an Italian ice or snow cone on the mainland. That said we still find most of the shops on Maui serve crinkly ice studded with chunks. Because they’re often using inferior syrups, the dominant taste is “sweet,” no matter what flavor you choose. Not exactly good eats.
Not so at Ululani’s. The texture of the ice — delicate flakes that nearly float down off the blade — is exactly like the fluffy, large-crystal snow that falls when winter sets in earnestly in colder climates. The ice melts instantly when it hits your tongue, sweeping the flavors you’ve chosen throughout your mouth. The pure water combined with the delicious homemade syrups make for a refreshing “sip” in every “bite.”
The syrups are made by hand and tested until the recipe is just right, and they are beautiful. When we watch the Guava poured on the ice, for instance, we can see the fruit puree. The syrups taste like what they are, because they are made from what they are. For example, lilikoi (passion fruit) is made from lilikoi. Coconut is made from coconut. Maui cane sugar is the sweetener (no corn syrup), and that makes a huge difference in the flavor of the sweetness.
After watching them make shave ice, we have realized that making good shave ice is a lot like making good espresso. Every step of the process represents an opportunity to refine technique. The amount of pressure exerted on the ice, the speed of the blade as it shaves off the paper-thin slices, the way the ice is mounted in the cup, the subtle hand pressure used to form the perfectly round ball of ice, the careful pouring of syrups so they don’t mix, but meet exactly … it’s just like watching an experienced, talented barista.
In addition to just ice and syrup, try a base of ice cream to give a different texture as you drill through layers of ice to the creamy layer below. Toppings include a drizzle of evaporated milk, which hits a nice smooth note right off the top. There are at least 30 flavors to choose from, but you can have many in combination on a single ice. The strongest seller — and with good reason — is a combination of coconut and dulce de leche that is decadent and unforgettable.
Co-owners Ululani and her husband, David, share a lovely story about growing up loving shave ice on Oahu, moving to the mainland, and missing it terribly. They opened their first place in Seattle with some retirement funds, and in 2008 moved back to Hawaii to open up their first Lahaina shop.
We’re so glad they brought their icy Aloha home to all of us. If you are looking for a taste of pure Hawaii that also is a delicious food on its own, Ululani’s is a must stop. If you are at the airport in the afternoon, you can make this your last (or first) taste of Maui.
Address: 819 Front Street, Lahaina, West Maui
Location: In the Old Poi Factory — near and on the same side of the street as Cheeseburger in Paradise.
Hours: Daily 11am-10pm
Address: 790 Front Street, Lahaina, West Maui
Location: On the other side of the street from Cheeseburger in Paradise!
Hours: Daily 11am-9pm
Address: 333 Dairy Road, Kahului, Central Maui
Location: in the same shopping plaza as Amigo’s, right across from McDonald’s
Hours: Daily, 11am-6pm
NEW SOUTH MAUI LOCATION OPENING SOMETIME IN 2012:
Address: S. Kihei Rd., Kihei, South Maui
Location: The official location has not been announced as of publication, but the likely location is where the Suda store once was, next to ABC Store in North Kihei. From Wailea/South Kihei take the beach road (N. Kihei Road) north and look for it on your righthand side. Check their website for an update.
Hours: Daily, 11am-6pm