is a Puerto Rican
frozen treat, shaped like a pyramid, made of shaved ice and covered with fruit flavored syrup which are sold by venders in small colorful pushcarts
. Piraguas are not only sold in Puerto Rico, they can be found in the United States
in areas such as New York
, where there is a large community of Puerto Rican migrants.
In most Spanish-speaking countries, the word piragua
(pi·ra·gua) means Pirogue
, a small, flat-bottomed boat. In Puerto Rico however, the word piragua
refers to a frozen treat made of shaved ice and covered with fruit flavored syrup. Unlike the American snow cone
which is round and resembles a snowball
, the piragua is pointy and shaped like a pyramid. The word piragua
is derived from the combination of the Spanish
words "Piramide" (pyramid
) and "Agua" (water). In Latin America, frozen treats similar to the piragua are known by many different names.
Piragua and the piragüeros
The piragua vendor is known as the "Piragüero". Most Piragüeros sell their product from a colorful wooden pushcart that carries an umbrella, instead of selling them in fixed stands or kiosks. The Piragüero buys a block of solid ice, which he places inside the cart. He then prepares the mixture of the fruit-flavored syrups for his piraguas. The tropical syrup flavors vary from lemon and strawberry to passion fruit and guava. Once the syrups are ready, the Piragüero will go to his place of business, which in Puerto Rico is usually close to the town plaza, while in the United States it is usually close to the public parks near Hispanic neighborhoods, to sell his product.
In the process of preparing a piragua, the piragüero shaves the ice from the block of ice with a Hand Ice Shaver. He then pours the shaved ice into a cup and uses a funnel shaped object to give it its unique pyramid shape. The Piragüero finishes making the piragua after he pours the desired flavored syrup. Unlike the typical American snow cone, which is often eaten with a spoon, the piragua is eaten directly by the customer or is sipped through a straw. Piragüeros are only out on hot, sunny days, because those are the only days when they can expect good business.
The more common flavored syrups used in the "piraguas" are the following:
Note: There are certain terms used in Puerto Rico that are not common in other Spanish speaking countries. Among those terms used are the flavors China, which in most Spanish speaking countries is referred to as Naranja and Melon which is referred to as Sandia.
Piraguas in the United States
In the 1940s, during the Puerto Rican Great Migration
in which large numbers of Puerto Ricans moved to New York, they took with them their customs, traditions and their piraguas. According to Holding Aloft the Banner of Ethiopia:
by Winston James, piraguas were introduced in New York by Puerto Ricans as early as 1926. In his book, he describes the presence of piragua pushcarts during the Harlem Riots
against the Puerto Rican migrants in July 1926. Author Miguel Melendez, who moved from New York City to Chicago in the late 1950s, expresses in his book "We Took the Streets: Fighting for Latino Rights" the following:
"For me, as a Puerto Rican born and raised in New York, a piragua pushcart vender is a very special person. He represents an important part of our culture. Those shaved-ice cones filled with Caribbean tropical syrups, not only ease the body during the hot summers, their sweet goodness reminds of us of who we are and where we come from, without words."
The following newspaper articles have also made references to the piragua:
- "There are also pushcarts serving "piragua" (shaved ice with your choice of syrup poured over it), and others selling balloons." - 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.
- "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." — 30 July 1969, New York (NY) Times, "Venders Profits From Universal Taste" by Bernard Weinraub, pg. 41.
- "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." - 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.
The piragua has even been referred to in a report by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) which deals with the quality of water. The agency's reference to the piragua is in a report titled "What is in your piragua?" of August 2007, and states the following:
" As this commitment (new water treatment plant) is fulfilled, the water will just get cleaner and cleaner whether it is coming out of a tap or is served in a piragua (no, not a canoe, but a Puerto Rican snow cone) - regardless of the weather".
Piragua vending is not limited to Puerto Rico and New York, piragüeros with their Piragua pushcarts can be found in Hispanic neighborhoods in Bridgeport, Chicago, Jersey City, Miami, Newark, Philadelphia and elsewhere.
The Puerto Rican piragua has been the subject of a painting and a book. The painting "Carrito de Piraguas" ("Piragua Cart") is a mixed media piece by an unknown artist, on exhibit at El Museo del Barrio in New York.
In the book "Luisito and the Piragua", the author tells the story of Luisito, a little Puerto Rican boy who has recently moved to the United States, and who misses his friends and his afternoon treat, a piragua. The happy ending is that one day, while on an errand for his mother, Luisito sees a piragüeros making piraguas, and is happy to find that he can buy piraguas once more.
Excerpts about the Puerto Rican piragua and its influence in Puerto Rican culture are also mentioned and can be found in the following books:
- "Moon Puerto Rico"; by Suzanne Van Atten; page 34
- "Puerto Rico (Regional Guide)"; by Ginger Otis; page 68
- "Lonely Planet Puerto Rico"; by Randall Peffer; page 93
- "Puerto Rico (Regional Guide)"; by Brendan Sainsbury; page 59
- "Insight Guide Puerto Rico (Insight Guides)"; by Barbara Balletto; page 86
- "Puerto Rico arte e identidad / Puerto Rico Art & Identity"; by Hermandad de artistas graficos de Puerto Rico; page 355
- "America's Colony: The Political and Cultural Conflict between the United States and Puerto Rico (Critical America)"; by Pedro Malavet; page 108
- "Adventure Guide to Puerto Rico", Fourth Edition by Kurt Pitzer and Tara Stevens; page 10
- "A Cruising Guide to Puerto Rico: Including the Spanish Virgin Islands" by Stephen J. Pavlidis; page 64
- "Abc De Puerto Rico/abc Of Puerto Rico"; by Paola Nogueras; page 28
- "Los Santos de Puerto Rico. Estudio de la imaginería popular"; by Doreen Colon; page 125
- "When I Was Puerto Rican"; by Esmeralda Santiago; page 38
- "The Near Northwest Side Story: Migration, Displacement, and Puerto Rican Families"; by Gina Perez; page 131
- "Rafi and Rosi (I Can Read Book 3)"; by Lulu Delacre
A song titled "Piragua" can be found in the Broadway musical "In The Heights."
- "The Columbia History of Latinos in the United States Since 1960"; By David Gregory Gutiérrez; Published 2004 by Columbia University Press; ISBN:0231118082
- "Holding Aloft the Banner of Ethiopia"; By Winston James; Published 1998 by Verso; ISBN:1859841406
- "Luisito and the Piragua", ERIC #: ED209026, Author: Toro, Leonor, Publisher: New Haven Migratory Children's Program, Hamden-New Haven Cooperative Education Center