Our shave ice [sic] story from Kauai doesn’t just end with my previous post. I’ve since discovered intrigue and drama behind the aforementioned Jo-Jo’s Shave Ice. It’s probably fitting that I at least post this follow-up story, since just about the only search term that’s led to this blog so far is “shaved ice.”
As you recall, Jo-Jo’s Shave Ice is the legendary shave ice store in the little town of Waimea in southern Kauai. I say “legendary” because just about every Kauai tour book will tell you to visit it, including the much-lauded, otherwise superb Ultimate Guide to Kauai. And I say “legendary” in quotes since, as you know, I find shave ice to be one of the most overrated local foods in travel history. It’s billed as some sort of Kauai / Hawaii specialty, not to be missed, but really — it’s “not to be missed” in the same way that Good Humor or your neighborhood 7-Eleven ICEE is “not to be missed.”
Jo-Jo’s is supposedly the best that Kauai shave ice has to offer, a claim consistently reaffirmed by surveys, guidebooks, and locals. If that’s the best of shave ice, then I respectfully ask to be excused. I tried shave ice at several locations in Kauai, including Legendary Jo-Jo’s (more on that below!), and find the snack to fall far short of expectations. This, coming from a man who loves many other forms of frozen ice desserts: gelatos, Taiwanese shaved ice, Malaysian ice kachung, etc. When it comes to frozen desserts, you name it, I love it.
Except for shave ice, which I file in the same Joking Around category as Slurpees, ICEEs, and carnival sno-cones. In every shave ice stand I visited in Kauai, the dessert was served with fake syrups — artificial colors, artificial flavors. I have no idea why, on a tropical island known for its pineapple and sugar cane fields, you’d use fake pineapple syrup. But they do — every last shave ice stand in Kauai. No amount of quaint grammatical insistence on calling the dessert “shave ice” is going to rescue it from stark reality. It is a much-ballyhooed, much over-hyped tourist trap of the first order. My kudos to its marketer.
But that’s all beside the point. The real point is this: that the Jo-Jo’s I visited, the famous one, the self-declared “original,” was indeed the original in one sense: it was the original abandoned Jo-Jo’s. That’s right. Jo-Jo, the namesake and founder of Jo-Jo’s Shave Ice, operates a competing shave ice store no more than 50 yards from the original Jo-Jo’s location, just down a small alleyway. The nondescript new Jo-Jo’s, the one now operated by Jo-Jo herself, is somewhat spitefully named The Original Jo-Jo’s.
As I entered The-New-Location-Of-Jo-Jo’s-Shave-Ice-Shop-Yes-The-One-Still-Run-By-Jo-Jo-Herself (let’s call it “TNLJJSISYTOSRBJJH”), you could feel the tinge of hurt. Signs shouting “The Original,” “The Real One Voted as the Kauai Locals’ Favorite,” and numerous newspaper articles authenticating its claim plastered its walls interior and exterior. But nothing would change the fact that it was located off the main road, in a little alleyway, righteously declaring its originality to a world that wasn’t listening. I only happened to stumble upon it because I was on foot and got confused by the signs pointing various ways. Jo-Jo’s is HERE! No, the real one’s HERE! I’m Jo-Jo! Look! It’s me! TNLJJSISYTOSRBJJH!
The Original Jo-Jo’s (1) and TNLJJSISYTOSRBJJH (2)
But no matter. I’m going to let you in on something: it doesn’t matter which one you go to since it all tastes the same. It’s pretty hard to have a unique product when everyone uses artificially colored, artificially flavored syrups from the same bottles. I tell you, the first person to suggest, to even think, of using — brace yourself — real fruit in their shave ice syrups will rock Kauai. Jo-Jo’s, Jo-Jo’s, and even Jo-Jo herself, won’t know what hit ’em.
To be fair to Jo-Jo, she quit her original shave ice shop in order to teach at a local school. According to a newspaper article posted in TNLJJSISYTOSRBJJH, she taught school for eight years and then decided that too many of her students were quitting school in order to work. So she opened TNLJJSISYTOSRBJJH in an effort to keep them gainfully employed in local industry without needing to quit school. All in all, an inspiring story for such a hugely disappointing dessert.
If you make it to Waimea, go ahead and visit the Colorful Jo-Jo’s (pictured at the bottom of my original post). Then, walk down the nearest alleyway to its west to try TNLJJSISYTOSRBJJH. You can high five some of Jo-Jo’s students as you ponder the mystery of shave ice.