Oahu

Matsumoto Shave Ice - Famous Treats on North Shore

Monday, March 27th, 2017

Passing through North Shore on a Summer day, you can usually find people lined up at the world famous Matsumoto Grocery Store. What kind of treat can you expect to find in your white paper cone at Matsumoto Shave Ice? Well, shave ice – and notice, it’s not called shaved ice – is pretty much what it sounds like: ice that was shaved off an ice block. These delicate ice shavings are combined with unique syrup flavors to create a wonderful and refreshing dessert. At Matsumoto, you can order up to three flavors per shave ice treat. It is important to note that shave ice treats are different from snow cones, which are made with crushed ice.


The Origins of Shave Ice

The tradition of shave ice comes from Japan, where it’s called kakigōri. The treat has been around since at least the 12th century. During Japan’s hot months of the year, kakigōri is sold at coffee shops, restaurants, convenience stores, and festivals. Japanese immigrants who came to Hawaii brought their kakigōri recipes with them.

In Japan, kakigōri is often served with ice cream, azuki beans, or tapioca pearls. Azuki beans are red beans boiled in sugar, a traditional ingredient in East Asian desserts. These traditions have all migrated to Hawaii, along with the snow cap, which is sweetened condensed milk (or sometimes evaporated milk) poured over the top of the shave ice after the syrup.


Flavors of Shave Ice

Hawaiian Shave Ice Syrup

Shave ice syrup flavors often come in the local fruit flavors of Hawaii, such as coconut cream, guava, kiwi, li hing mui (pickled plum, which is known for its sweet, salty, and sour taste and commonly in powder form), lychee, mango, passion fruit (known locally as lilikoi), and pineapple. Another popular flavor is yuzu. Yuzu is a sour Japanese citrus fruit, and yuzu syrup is traditionally sweetened with honey. At Matsumoto Shave Ice, you can also order your shave ice with a syrup flavored like Ramune, a lemon-lime Japanese soda whose name is derived from "lemonade."

The classic Matsumoto flavor combination is lemon-pineapple-coconut. Another iconic favorite (one pictured on some of the shop's merchandise) is the rainbow combination, which tastes like strawberry, lemon, and pineapple.

"Shave ice" is the more common term, but on the Big Island of Hawaii, you might also hear it referred to as "ice shave."


History of Matsumoto Shave Ice

Matsumoto Shave Ice is a Hawaiian institution located at 66-011 Kamehameha Highway #605 in the Oahu North Shore village of Hale’iwa. The store is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day of the year except Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s Day.

The shave ice store began on February 13, 1951 as M. Matsumoto Grocery Store. Mamoru Matsumoto was born in Honomu, Hawaii in 1908 into a family that originally came from Hiroshima Prefecture in Japan. When Mamoru was a child, his family returned to Japan. He worked several odd jobs, but still found it difficult to make ends meet. Mamoru and his brother decided to go to Hawaii to find work.

Mamoru started out as an agricultural laborer on a plantation in Hawaii, but eventually he became a salesman for the Sakai Store. At night he took classes to learn math and English. He married Helen Momoyo Ogi, who was born in Hilo, Hawaii into a family that originally came from Yamaguchi Prefecture in Japan. Helen Momoyo worked as a seamstress.

With his experience as a salesman, Mamoru was eventually given the opportunity to buy the Tanaka Store from Mr. Kazuo Tanaka, and the M. Matsumoto Grocery Store was born. Helen Momoyo worked the counter (and occasionally did some of her sewing there) while Mamoru made delivers on his bicycle until he could afford a box truck. The couple’s business grew as they raised their children Glenn, Janice, and Stanley. Stanley joined his parents in the grocery business.

By that time, they had already decided to sell shave ice. They originally charged five cents for a small and ten cents for a large. The rise of surf culture in the early 1960s brought in waves of new tourists who gradually began to discover the pleasures of shave ice. Word of mouth spread the Matsumoto name far and wide until the store became a destination for travelers arriving on Oahu.

Helen Momoyo passed away in 1989 and Mamoru in 1994. Today, Stanley and his wife Noriko own and operate Matsumoto Shave Ice, which sells over a thousand shave ice treats a day. The store also sells t-shirts and other merchandise. In 1976, the Matsumotos had some t-shirts made up for family use. When customers kept asking to buy the t-shirts, they decided to sell them. Eventually, t-shirts and souvenir merchandise replaced the store’s canned goods and groceries. Matsumotos_shaved_ice_hale'iwa_oahu_hawaii_Photo_D_Ramey_Logan

Stanley and Noriko Matsumoto are often asked if they’d like to branch out and create a chain of Matsumoto Shave Ice franchises, but they’ve always declined. Matsumoto Shave Ice has also been a local-centered, family-run business, and it will likely always stay that way. If you want the authentic Matsumoto Shave Ice experience, you have to visit the one and only grocery store building at 66-011 Kamehameha Highway #605.

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Stanley and Noriko Matsumoto are often asked if they’d like to branch out and create a chain of Matsumoto Shave Ice franchises, but they’ve always declined. Matsumoto Shave Ice has also been a local-centered, family-run business, and it will likely always stay that way. If you want the authentic Matsumoto Shave Ice experience, you have to visit the one and only grocery store building at 66-011 Kamehameha Highway #605.

Things To Do In Hale’iwa

While eating your shave ice from Matsumoto, its always nice to check out the historic town of Hale’iwa. When you visit Hale’iwa, you’ll want to make a stop at Waimea Bay, the beach made famous on the mainland by the Beach Boys song “Surfin’ USA.” Non-surfers can enjoy snorkeling, swimming, sun bathing, and fishing, but be advised that if you visit in the winter you’re more likely to run into high waves and rough surf. The popular beach has a free parking lot, but arrive early if you want to get a spot.

If you’re looking for surfing, kite surfing, or wind surfing lessons and/or equipment to rent, you’ll have several options in Hale’iwa. North Shore Surf Girls Surf School and Uncle Bryan’s Sunset Suratt Surf School are two of the top-rated surf instructors on Oahu’s North Shore and conveniently located right in Hale’iwa. Surf N Sea offers scuba diving adventures, or try Rainbow Watersports Adventures to learn to stand-up paddle a waterboard (or sup, short for “stand up”).

While you’re in the Waimea Valley, it’s well worth your time to take the paved, easily accessible asphalt paths through the rain forest to see the waterfalls and swim in the lagoon at the end of the trail. Waimea Falls Park is renowned for its beautiful botanical gardens as well as the scenic hike. The trail is accessible with child strollers, and life guards are on duty at the lagoon, so this side trip is family-friendly. If you have an extra hour or two in Hale’iwa and appreciate the beauty of Hawaii’s trees and flowers, you’ll probably enjoy Waimea Falls Park.

Sunset Beach Park is another iconic Hale’iwa destination. As its name lets you know, it’s a beautiful spot to watch the sun sink into the Pacific. This public beach has relatively easy parking and is wheelchair-accessible, but can get crowded. If you want to watch surfers, work on your sun tan, or hang out and people-watch, this mellow beach is for you.

If you’re an animal lover, you’ll also want to stop at Laniakea Beach, the place to watch sea turtles. On the windy side of Oahu, this spot nicknamed Turtle Beach is where the giant green sea turtles come to rest. The volunteer beach staff who help keep the turtles safe can answer your questions about the magnificent reptiles. Parking is along the highway, and Laniakea Beach can also get crowded with humans as well as turtles, but it’s well worth it for nature lovers. The beach also offers stunning views in all directions and gorgeous sunrises. If you don’t happen to see any turtles on your first visit, just try again later.

Other animal-lover stops in Hale’iwa include the horseback riding tour offered by Happy Trails Hawaii and the shark diving tours offered by several of Oahu’s diving companies. You can also book catamaran and diving tours for whale and dolphin watching.

But if tasting Hawaiian cuisine is the main goal of your trip to Matsumoto Shave Ice and Hale’iwa Town, you won’t be disappointed. Haleiwa Joe’s is another North Shore icon, a seafood grill. Joe Lazar’s original location in Haleiwa overlooks the ocean and serves favorites made from fresh local fish cut daily as well as chicken and beef dishes and salads made with local greens. Café Haleiwa is a favorite breakfast and brunch spot (try the mahi mahi and eggs), and if you’re after the Hawaiian take on Thai food, you won’t want to miss Haleiwa Eats.


Helpful Tips for Visiting Matsumoto Shave Ice

When you visit Matsumoto Shave Ice, be prepared to stand in a long line in the hot sun. It’s part of the experience of a time-honored Oahu North Shore tradition.

Most of the shave ice treats at Matsumoto Shave Ice is safe for people with food allergies and people on special diets. If you can’t eat tree nuts or peanuts, you can still order shave ice with a syrup. The syrups and ices don’t contain any nuts and not processed on equipment that processes nuts. However, the ice creams and the azuki beans may contain nuts and/or be processed on equipment that does process nuts. For safety, the staff at Matsumoto recommend that customers with nut allergies not order ice cream or azuki beans with their shave ice.

If you’re vegan, you can order any shave ice treat that doesn’t contain ice cream, condensed milk, or the banana cream, coconut cream, or strawberry cream flavors. The cream-flavored syrups have condensed milk pre-mixed with them. If you’re avoiding foods with gluten in them, you can order any shave ice treat except the edible bowl that comes with the Ichiban Special. All the other shave ice products are gluten free. If you’re avoiding corn syrup, you can order any shave ice treat except vanilla ice cream and yuzu syrup. Most of the shave ice treats contain artificial flavors or colors, but if you’re trying to avoid these ingredients, you can order shave ice with mizore (simple syrup), lilikoi, and yuzu syrup.

No matter what your food preferences are, the staff of Matsumoto Shave Ice tries hard to have flavors to please every palate. If for some reason you aren't in the mood for a frozen treat, you can always visit Matsumoto Shave Ice to take home a souvenir t-shirt, hoodie, trucker hat, tote bag, or sticker.