Piragua

A piragua is a Puerto Rican frozen treat, shaped like a pyramid, made of shaved ice and covered with fruit flavored syrup which are sold by vendors, known as piragüeros, 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 Puerto Rican community.

In Puerto Rico 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

Piragua Puerto Rico Piragua
Piragua Cart and Piraguero

The piragua vendor is known as the “Piragüero”. Most Piragüeros sell their product from a colorful wooden pushcart that carries an umbrella, instead of from a fixed stand or kiosk. The Piragüero makes the treats from shavings off a block of solid ice inside his cart and mixtures of fruit-flavored syrups. 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.

Piragua Hand Ice Shaver
Piragua Hand Ice Shaver

 

type of Hand Ice Shaver used by the Piragüero

Puerto Rico Piragua

In the process of preparing a piragua, the piragüero shaves the ice from the block of ice with a Hand Ice Shaver. He then puts the shaved ice into a cup and uses a funnel shaped tool to give it the distinctive 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 straight out of the cup 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.

Syrups

Piragua Puerto Rico Piragua
Puerto Rico Piragua Syrups

Piraguas in the United States

“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.”

  • “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.

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.

Piraguas in Old San Juan Puerto Rico

Piragua Supplies

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