Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Ice Ice Baby

As you can probably see from previous pictures in my blog, I love shave ice.  I have never really seen it anywhere other than in my travels to warm destinations or occasionally in fairs on hot summer days.  In Hawaii, shave ice is served with the same amount of pride as is Spam.  Indeed the competition for who makes the best shave ice on various Hawaiian islands is fiercely fought over and local media food critics frequently write columns featuring their favorite vendors.

Why do I like this simple concoction of ice and various flavored syrups?  Why is it any different from gabbing a Super Slurpee from the 7 Eleven down the block?  What makes it unique from all those blended lime margaritas I am often found imbibing?   The answers to these questions boils down to the location where it's served and recognition of the artistic pride and/or talent that goes into making it.  Getting the right shave, ice crystal density, and syrup distribution through the ice is different between establishments as is the selection of flavors.  Shave ice is refreshing and feels surprisingly light despite all the sugar there is in the syrups.   Eating ice cream does not feel the same.  Shave ice can be personalized in thousands (if not millions) of different flavor combinations.  It's also cheap.

Despite owning my own ice shaver (for those previously mentioned margaritas), I wouldn't attempt making shave ice at home.  The location would be all wrong and that would sour the experience.  I doubt I could get it right anyways and it only has two ingredients!

Perhaps the biggest reason I love shave ice is that I only have it on vacation.  It could be a simple matter of conditioning.  Eating shave ice triggers all the good time, relaxing, freedom feelings and memories.  Perhaps if it were readily available, it would lose its attraction....but it's not, so I can continue to look forward to many more shave ices in the future.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Maui à la carte

I am just back from a ten day trip to Maui with my family, my fourth trip to Hawaii.  The last time I visited Maui was sixteen years ago and the last time to Hawaii was two years ago which was a visit to the Big Island.  My family loves Hawaii.  I love the climate, playing in the ocean, the natural beauty, the geology, the beautiful Hawaiian people and culture, and all the fresh fruit.  Did I mention how much I love shave ice?  This keeps us coming back and indeed, we plan to visit Kauai in another two years.

Oahu never really appealed to me because of how busy Honolulu and Waikiki are.  It's just a little too crowded and the simple charm of a tropical paradise seems to get lost beneath all the hustle and bustle of a busy modern urban landscape.   You can be rewarded if you dig hard enough.  A good example of this would be visiting the Bishop Museum or Queen Emma's summer palace.  The big island of Hawaii on the other hand, is like the antithesis of Oahu.  It is a very relaxing place to visit where you can do as little or as much as you want without it being forced on you. The locals are more interested in living their own lives than intruding into yours.  This brings us to Maui.

The Maui of sixteen years past was like a good mix of Oahu and the Big Island.  It was busy but it didn't interfere with my rest, recreation, or simple enjoyment of island culture.  The island still had pineapple plantations and sugar cane was still sometimes(albeit rare) being cut by hand.  Parking anywhere was largely free and roads to some awesome spots, like Mekena Beach, were still dirt tracks so consequently less people were found there.  As expected after a long period between visits, things have changed.

The Maui of today is not only crowded and more developed, but it has become predatory to its tourists.  It felt like I was visiting Mexico rather than a mellow vacation spot in the USA. As a matter of fact, in a conversation with a fellow passenger on the flight back, he felt he''d rather stay in an all inclusive resort in Mexico than be continuously shelling out cash in Maui.  The pineapple plantations are almost all gone(the last surviving plantation now charges $65/person to tour it).  Many of the rustic  shops selling inexpensive souvenirs have been replaced by pretentious boutiques like Gucci or Louis Vuitton.  The island was filled with hustlers soliciting things I wasn't interested in.   Phrases like "buy two for half off the second?", "want to upgrade?", "get your *insert item here* for only $$ extra", and "that will cost you more" happened at almost every interaction.  They even pushed for me to add scoops of ice cream to the bottom of my beloved shave ice!  Things that were free before, now cost.  Parking for free was rare.  Often when I did pay "extra" for some service, it wasn't all it was cracked up to be, an example my family's intermittent and slow internet service.  Price gouging was rampant.  Rather than making me mad, all this swindling activity made me sad.  It is a shame seeing a jewel lose its luster.  I dispair in witnessing a place with a unique culture being transformed into another generic beach resort destination.

 Maui is a beautiful island with some truly beautiful locals.  Like Oahu, you now have to make an effort to find those quaint charming places and talk to some authentic happy local Hawaiians.  Take the time to enjoy the simple things like the ocean and the countryside.  Do some snorkeling at Olowalu Beach.  Buy some huli huli chicken and macaroni salad and go for a picnic.

Aloha A hui hou