Shaved ice is razor-thin shavings of ice, usually made with a device specially made for the purpose.
In North America, shaved ice has been used to create cheap and cold desserts. “Snowballs” or “snowcones” were small paper cones filled with Shaved Ice and drizzled with a flavoured syrup. Popular flavourings over the years have included banana, blueberry, cherry, lemon, lime, orange, bubblegum, and cotton candy.
Their popularity waxes and wanes over time. At one time, they’d be sold from small vendor carts at amusement parks or beaches, or made from kits available at department stores that included a hand-cranked machine to shave the ice.
In Japan, however, shaved ice is a bigger deal, and a more permanent fixture in their dessert repertoire. There are shaved ice stores in Japan, just as we have ice cream stores. Being made of shaved ice, though, doesn’t mean that these desserts are cheap: they can cost up to $10 US (2004 prices) for a small bowl, depending on the toppings you pick.
In Hawaii, shaved ice desserts are also popular. There they are called “Shave Ice” instead of “Shaved Ice.”
Ice shaving machines are often carried at South Asian stores. Some machines are hand-cranked, some are electric. Some will work with any ice cubes, some require you to make the ice first in specially shaped moulds. They are actually not as expensive as you might imagine; they are quite cheap. The only problem is that they really are single-purpose tools that many people that buy them find them years later in the back of their cupboards.
If you have purchased a home ice shaver machine, they tend to work better if you let your ice first sit 5 to 10 minutes out of the freezer before starting. This will turn out a shaved ice that is less chunky and crystalline, and more silky and snow-like. The shaved ice can be used for both Japanese style desserts, and for Western “snow cones”.
Start with crushed ice, and whiz in a blender by pulsing it until it gets as fine as it is going to. The smaller the pieces of ice you start with the better your results will be, though you won’t get it as fine as you would with an actual ice shaver.
Hand-cranked ice shaving machines become popular in the late 1800s, especially in Japan.
Shaved ice is “kaki gori” in Japanese.