As we thaw out from what seemed like the longest winter ever, warm weather foods are reemerging from hibernation, and that means that piragua vendors are heading out to peddle their Puerto Rican-style shaved ice and syrup concoctions from festive carts all over the city. The carts’ big shiny blocks of ice, multicolored syrups and jaunty umbrellas make me happy just to look at them. In fact, last year, a Puerto Rican-born Brooklyn artist created an art installation out of a piragua cart; the piece was called called Pimp my Piragua.
Shaved ice and syrup treats are very common all over the world–in Mexico, they’re called raspados, in Cuba, granizado; in much of the US, they’re called snow cones, but in Louisiana they’re called snowballs, and in Hawaii, shave ice. There are regional variations in the texture of the ice–some are more coarsely shaved and grainy, some are finely shaved and fluffy, like snow. The flavors of the syrups vary as well. In New York, any corner close to a Latin American neighborhood is likely to host a piragua cart offering fruity and tropical flavored ices on hot and sunny days. The word “piragua” comes from “agua” and “piramide,” hence the pointy top.
I stopped by a piragua cart yesterday, and ordered a small cup flavored with pineapple syrup for $1. The young man grated the block of ice with a small metal implement that holds the shaved ice in its hollow interior. He pressed the ice into a plastic cup and poured a generous amount of syrup over the top. The ice was pebbly; the pineapple syrup tasted sweet, tart and full, like really good pineapple juice jolted with sugar. I can’t think of anything more refreshing. Here’s hoping for many piragua-worthy days this summer.