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Jul 26, 2011 10:30 AM

ISO Boston Shave Ice

Last summer, I spent a week in a little town in the middle of Kansas (Emporia). It gets hot and sticky there in summer, and in the middle of town there was a little shave ice stand. (I always think it should be called "shaved" ice, but am told that the dropped "d" is deliberate.) They shave the ice off of a big circular block, powder fine, pack it firmly into a cup, and douse it with whatever combination of flavored syrups one requests. They had 50 or 80 flavors, so the combinations really were almost infinite. I usually end up leaning toward tropical flavors -- mango, guava, pineapple, and coconut -- but sometimes cherry/lime is just the thing.

So, my question is, is there anyplace in Boston or surrounding areas that sells real shave ice -- freshly shaved ice, powder fine, with lots of flavored syrups to chose from? (While I love Korean shaved ice with the red bean paste, fruit cocktail, and Fruity Pebbles and all, and even the rough crushed Mexican raspados and snowcones, those are all really different animals.) Any suggestions?

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  1. Shave Ice is a Hawaiian phenom -

    If you're up to a bit of a drive, I've seen it on the boardwalk at Hampton Beach, recently. Alternatively, hop on the next flight to Kona.


    1. Well, there are lots of Taiwanese shaved ice options around. The best two are right next to each other --- Blue Asia Cafe and Jo Jo Taipei. In addition to the most common "eight treasure" types with condensed milk, grass jelly, sweet beans and nuts, they offer more fruity and tropical flavors as well. Blue Asia gets my vote for the overall best shaved ice.

      YoMa, the Burmese restaurant down the street, also has a very nice shaved ice dessert with different toppings --- a bit different than the Taiwanese versions, with a coarser ice. This is also a little different than the Malaysian style shaved ice (ABC) at Penang or Bubor Chacha, with combines more of the coarse texture with a greater variety of toppings more like the Taiwanese style.

      Dolce Fredo in Methuen has Italian-style almond slush. The bubble tea places, like Lollicup and Boston Tea Stop, also do various flavored slushes (including with tropical flavors) which are much better than that awful Richie's Italian Ice. Lollicup also does mango shaved ice topped with fresh mango (that you eat with a spoon, not slurp from a straw).

      I have never been to Spadaforo's in Malden but I hear they have good Italian style slush as well. I doubt it, but it is possible that Richie's slush is better when purchased right from the source in Everett. I have always found it much too sweet and has an unattractively sticky mouth-feel.

      I've also heard that Highland Creamery, way out on the Cape, does hand-shaved ices, but I've never made it out there. I would call first!

      Finally, a shaved ice maker can be purchased on-line for less than $25, and you can use any syrup you'd like --- whether from a bottle or made at home yourself. If you search for "vintage ice shaver" you can find the metal tools that you draw across a large block of ice yourself. Although you can buy large blocks of ice from Brookline Ice & Coal, you can also take a large baking tray full of water and place it in your freezer overnight. Drawing a vintage ice shaver over the block just a few times makes a nice serving of ice.

      Boston Tea Stop
      114 Mt Auburn St, Cambridge, MA 02138

      JoJo Tai Pei Restaurant
      103 Brighton Ave, Boston, MA 02134

      1095 Commonwealth Ave, Boston, MA 02215

      Blue Asia Cafe
      113 Brighton Ave, Boston, MA 02134

      5 Replies
      1. re: lipoff

        could you describe the shaved ice at yoma? what are the toppings? is it only available during the summer?

        1. re: galangatron

          I've attached a picture below. It's a small but dense bowl of coarsely shaved ice topped with lots of ground nuts, a few dollops of sweet bean, and larger nodules of grass jelly. There's some dark sugar syrup running through it, but no condensed milk. It's on their dessert menu, which is a table-card. I don't recall exactly, but I believe it's offered year-round. This photo is from fairly recently.

          1. re: lipoff


            is the dessert menu new? i haven't been to yoma in several months but i thought the only dessert was sanwinmakin (semolina cake)

            1. re: galangatron

              Honestly, I don't recall if it's new or not. I hadn't been there for maybe a year or more, until a couple of (excellent) visits recently. I believe the type face of the regular menu is new (to me anyway) and the soft drinks and desserts are now on a table-card. In addition to those two desserts, they still offer the SaNwinMaKin, which I have tried, and have to admit I don't like. I would like to march them down to Garlic 'N Lemons for a namoura/basbousa to show what good semolina cake can be!

        2. re: lipoff

          You can also get Bao Bin, taiwanese shave ice, at Fomosa Taipei in Lexington. Shave Ice topped with condensed milk, syrup, candied fruits and red beans, in various combinations.

        3. I just saw a sign for shave ice on Salem St in the North End. I think it was at Lulu's, but I'm not positive. It was between the Greenway and Boston Common Coffee Co. No idea how fine the ice is.

          1. I think the shaved ice dessert at Yo Ma is called Ice Cream Salad!

            5 Replies
            1. re: nachovegas

              Haha, not quite. There is "Ice Cream Salad" on their dessert menu, but that's mango and vanilla ice cream with jelly, nuts and dried fruit. The shaved ice dessert there is called "Snow Garden" and is described as a "snow cone" with roasted crushed peanuts, jelly, nuts, dried fruit, and syrups.

                1. re: lipoff

                  what a disappointment

                  a group of us had lunch at yoma on saturday. we finished the meal with the snow garden and ice cream salad. i don't know which one was worse. miniscule portions, hardly any shaved ice or ice cream, nuts ground into a powder, small slivers of grass jelly, and a few flecks of dried fruit. there are way better shaved ice desserts in the area

                  1. re: galangatron

                    The salads were as awesome as ever, though!

                    1. re: Jenny Ondioline

                      And refreshing on such a hot day. The coconut rice was as good as ever.

              1. Penang has Ais Kacang or ABC.