"Piraguas” are “snow cones” that are popular in Puerto Rican areas of New York City, such as East Harlem. Ices are flavored with coconut, lemon, strawberry, passion fruit, tamarind, and other flavors. “Piragua” is cited in print from 1968, but a New York photo (cited below) appears to be dated to the 1920s. “Piragua” or “pirogue” is Spanish for “small boat.”
Other Hispanic names for the same item include raspadillas (South America), raspaos (Venezuela), granizados (Cuba), and frio frio (Dominican Republic).
Puerto Rico Culture: Food and Drinks
Piraguas: A shaved ice cone covered with syrup of fruity flavors such as: rasberry, pineapple, coconut, guava or tamarind, among others. Those who sells “piraguas” are known as piragüeros. You can find them near plazas in small carts creatively painted with bright colors.
About Puerto Rico...Recipes
Piragua: Puerto Rican snow cone
In most other Spanish-speaking countries, when you ask for a piragua, you get a canoe. Not in Puerto Rico, though. If you order a piragua in Puerto Rico, you will be presented with a great antidote for the Puerto Rican sun. On the island, piragua is a snow cone similar to those illustrated at left.
Interestingly, I could not find the word piragua in any Spanish dictionary, just as I could not find a Spanish translation for “snow cone”. It may be that piragua, meaning snow cone, is a strictly Puerto Rican meaning for that word. I have also seen it used in East Harlem (El Barrio), where piraguas are sold in street corners in carts much like those which were prevalent in Puerto Rico years ago.
Piraguas are shaved ice, in a cone or -more recently- plastic cup, doused liberally with snow cone syrups. There is a wide variety of flavors, mostly tropical in nature. Some of the favorites are strawberry (frambuesa), tamarind, lemon, coconut, vanilla, passion fruit (parcha).
2 September 1968, Bridgeport (CT) Telegram, “‘La Marqueta’ Offers a Slice of Puerto Rico in New York” by Amei Wallach (UPI) pg. 34, col. 1:
There are also pushcarts serving “piragua” (shaved ice with your choice of syrup poured over it), and others selling balloons.
30 July 1969, New York (NY) Times, “Venders Profits From Universal Taste” by Bernard Weinraub, pg. 41:
Piraguas and Knishes
It’s the season for the 25-cent hot dog, the 20-cent sundae, the 15-cent pretzel (two for a quarter) and an assortment of ethnic delicacies that range from piraguas (scraped ice with syrup) to potato knishes.
13 November 1977, New York (NY) Times, “Old San Juan: Vibrant City Life With a Style That’s High and Low” by Robert Friedman, pg. XX14:
Piraguas (snow cones) are shaved from blocks of ice inside colorful carts, and offered with sweet syrups poured over them for 30 cents a scoop.
6 July 1984, New York (NY) Times, “Art: In Museo del Barrio, Influences on a Culture” by Vivien Raynor, pg. C22 photo caption:
“Carrito de Paraguas” ("Snow Cone Cart"), a mixed media piece by an unknown artist, on view at El Museo del Barrio.
New York (NY) Daily News
FLOATS, FOOD AND FUN - & PUERTO RICAN PRIDE
By RAFAEL A. OLMEDA
Monday, August 3th 1998, 2:05AM
Yellow rice, beans, pernil (roast pork) and other staples of the Puerto Rican diet were easy to find, but Lucia Arizaga ran into a little bit of trouble selling “snow cones” in the park.
“Unfortunately, the ice machine we bought says ‘snow cones.’ “ said Arizaga, 38, who was Puerto Rican for a day but is Ecuadoran the rest of the year. “Thankfully, most of the people here know these are piraguas.”
Pioneros: Puerto Ricans in New York City 1896-1948
by Felix V. Matos-Rodriguez and Pedro Juan Hernandez
Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing
A HISPANIC NEIGHBORHOOD STORE, c. 1920s.
Shown here is a vendor selling piraguas, shaved-ice flavored with fruit syrups. They are sold in most town places in Puerto Rico.
Entertaining with Style and Sass
by Carolina Buia and Isabel Gonzalez
New York, NY: HarperCollins
Whether you are in Puerto Rico, Cuba, Venezuela, or any other Caribbean country, you’ll likely run into street vendors selling these tropical fruit-flavored ices. They have different names, depending where you are. In Puerto Rico, they’re piraguas; in Venezuela, raspaos; and in Cuba, granizados.
12 June 2006, Washington (DC) Post, “Alexandria Celebration Is a Pan-Latin Event” by Theresa Vargas, pg. B2:
A booth advertising “snow cones” for Americans, “raspadillas “ for South Americans, “ piraguas “ for Puerto Ricans or “frio frio “ for Dominicans.
New York City • Food/Drink • (3) Comments • Saturday, May 10, 2008 • Permalink
In Nicaragua, and at Nicaraguan venues in Miami, they’re called raspados…
...but I don’t know that the name is used anywhere in New York.
The word piragua is indeed found in the only Spanish dictionary that should be consulted, La Real Academia Española, www.rae.es, where it not only gives its meaning as “boat” but also mentions the meaning of “snow cone” in Puerto Rico: http://buscon.rae.es/draeI/SrvltConsulta?TIPO_BUS=3&LEMA=piragua
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