Despite the cost, the frills and the chocolate bacon candy, it wasn’t the most memorable eating experience we had on Kauai. That distinction goes to a Hawaiian treat called “shave ice” and a restaurant called “Chicken in a Barrel.”
Shave ice is often compared to what mainlanders call a “Snow Cone.” But one of our tour guides tried to explain the difference. “Snow cones are made from crushed ice,” she explained. “But shave ice is made by slicing very, very thin pieces off of a block of ice. The shave ice is light and fluffy and melts in your mouth, you don’t crunch it.”
So the first chance we got, we went to a shave ice stand. In this photo, you may notice coconuts for sale. They chop a hole in them, insert a straw, and you sip the sweet coconut water. In Panama, the cost for this treat is 50 cents. In Hawaii, it's $5. We decided to have shave ice instead.
The guy behind the counter shaves the ice on what is basically a stainless-steel turret lathe, shaping it into a plastic bowl with his hands. What he is making in this photo is a “children’s size.” It is enormous. They also come in “regular” and “large,” which probably requires a wheelbarrow.
You can get them with a scoop of ice cream on the bottom, but we chose not to do that. Most shave ice stands offer a gigantic array of flavors, which you can add in any combination (typical is one flavor on one side and another flavor on the other). Then, you can have an optional drizzle of sweetened condensed milk on top.
The two of us couldn't finish it. One girl at a shave ice stand told us that to some Hawaiians, “shave ice is their morning coffee.” But the interesting thing about shave ice is the texture. The tour guide was correct; it is nothing like a snow cone. But it is exactly like snow. My wife and I laughed about this, because the tour guide struggled with the description. She had probably never seen snow in her life, although it does snow on some of the higher mountains in Hawaii.
The next exotic flavor of Hawaii that we enjoyed was Chicken in a Barrel. Someone mentioned that name while we were in a group, and one native of Kauai moaned, rolled his eyes back into his head and said, “Oh God, it’s soooooo good!” When the sheer mention of a restaurant prompts an involuntary orgasm, you have to try it.
Chicken in a Barrel is just a shack on a main road. Tables outside, no dining room. The chicken is smoked in repurposed oil drums.
It comes out of the barrels tender, moist and smoky, served with beans and rice, and your choice of homemade barbecue sauces. Oh God it’s soooooo good.