Gelato travels: Honolulu, Hawaii

By our guest writer Benny

What is one of the best ways to survive Melbourne’s icy winter? Escape to a tropical paradise! And one of the many pursuits available in Hawaii? Searching for great gelato!

But finding artisanal gelateria in Honolulu proved to be a lot more difficult than you might expect. The local frozen dessert market is dominated by something called ‘shave ice’ – very finely shaved ice drizzled with brightly coloured syrups, often formed into a rainbow pattern. You can’t walk 100m in the famous beach area of Waikiki without going past at least one place serving shave ice. Is it any good? Shave ice is ok and certainly refreshing, but it has none of the great subtleties of artisanal gelato. After all, it’s just ice and syrup.

Thank goodness for the Internet. Targets were identified and I managed to visit two of them – Aloha Gelato and Via Gelato.

Aloha Gelato - cone in a cup
For all those people who can’t decide between a cone and a cup, you can have both at Aloha Gelato.  My medium cup has three flavours: lilikoi, coconut and Hawaiian mix.

Aloha Gelato has a permanent market stall on the third floor of the iconic Ala Moana open-air shopping centre, about a 20-minute bus ride from Waikiki. There is plenty of natural light and lots of seating at small outdoor tables. The 16 flavours range from the traditional (macadamia nut) to the tropical (dragonfruit sorbetto), plus some US favourites (peanut butter choc chip). Tastings were being actively touted, and I sampled strawberry, lilikoi (passionfruit), coconut sorbetto, and Hawaiian mix (a mixture of tropical fruits) before opting for a medium cup – served in a bowl-shaped waffle cone with three ice-cream-style scoops – of lilikoi, coconut and Hawaiian mix.

Friendly servers at the counter at Aloha Gelato
Friendly servers at the counter at Aloha Gelato.

In the heat and humidity of the tropics, a single gelato indulgence is rarely enough. A 20-minute stroll from Aloha Gelato brings you to Via Gelato, a small shop with a street frontage at the Ward Center – a smaller shopping strip not far from Ala Moana. A couple of tropical-style cane couches out the front invite you to relax. Inside a few blond timber tables, bench seats, and some bright blue chairs, make for a cheery atmosphere. A short but never clearing queue leads to a lone server – friendly but clearly frazzled – presiding over a selection of a dozen flavours. Tastings were available on request but given the queue I tasted only enough to make my selection – once again a tub, this time filled to the brim and then levelled off. No waffle cone. My chosen flavours: lilikoi, fierce chocolate, and pineapple whip.

There are three scoops in the cup from Via Gelato - lilikoi, fierce chocolate, and pineapple whip.
There are three scoops of gelato in my cup from Via Gelato: lilikoi, fierce chocolate, and pineapple whip. And then the contents are levelled off by the friendly server.

The verdict? More sophisticated than shave ice, but even the fruit flavours were not really refreshing, being a bit too sweet for my taste. I suspect that liberal use was being made of nut pastes and fruit concentrates, even though fresh tropical fruit was in plentiful supply. The waffle cone at Aloha was thicker and tougher than you get in Melbourne, plus it was overcooked, with a slight burnt overtone.

The gelato from Via was marginally better than Aloha’s, but in comparison to Melbourne standards neither place excelled. The gelato, and especially the sorbetto, were all a bit too icy, lacking the luxurious creaminess of the best fresh-made gelato. It is possibly influenced by the local taste for the icy texture of shave ice.

Our rating: goodA luxuriant alternative to the ubiquitous Hawaiian shave ice.

Via Gelato
Ward Center
1200 Ala Moana Boulevard
Honolulu, Hawaii

T: +1 808 732 2800

Aloha Gelato
Level 3, Ala Moana Center
1450 Ala Moana Boulevard
Honolulu, Hawaii

T: +1 808 947 1760

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