Place of origin
Region or state
|Water, fruit flavored syrups|
A Piragua // is a Puerto Rican shaved ice dessert, shaped like a pyramid, consisting of shaved ice and covered with fruit flavored syrup. Piragua are sold by vendors, known as piragüeros, in small colorful pushcarts. Piragüas are not only sold in Puerto Rico; they can be found in the United States mainland in areas such as New York, where there is a large Puerto Rican community.
In most Spanish-speaking countries, the word piragua (pi·ra·gua) means pirogue, a small, flat-bottomed boat. 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 "pirámide" (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 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.
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 when 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.
The word "piragua" is composed of two words: "pira" from pyramid which explains the conical pyramid shape paper cup used mostly in Puerto Rico and "agua" Spanish for water, the solid water ice that it is made from.
The more common flavored syrups used in the "piraguas" are the following:
- Ajonjolí (Sesame seed)
- Anis (Anise)
- Cereza (Cherry)
- China (Orange)
- Coco (Coconut)
- Crema (Cream)
- Frambuesa (Red raspberry)
- Fresa (Strawberry)
- Limón (Lemon)
- Melao (syrup from the Sugar cane)
- Melón (Watermelon)
- Parcha (Passion fruit)
- Piña (Pineapple)
- Tamarindo (Tamarind)
- Uva (Grape)
Note: There are certain terms used in Puerto Rico that are not common in other Spanish speaking places. Among those terms used are the flavors china, which in most other Spanish speaking locales is referred to as naranja, and melón, whose correct name is sandía. The Puerto Rican "china" is much sweeter than the "naranja" customarily eaten or drunk elsewhere and which could even be more bitter in taste, whereas "melón" is an Anglicism, the word coming from the English "watermelon".
Piraguas in the United States mainland
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 Meléndez, 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 vendor 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 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 paintings and a book. The painting "Carrito de Piraguas" ("Piragua Pushcart") is a mixed media piece by an unknown artist, on exhibit at El Museo del Barrio in New York. Puerto Rican artist Iván Moura Limardo created various paintings related to the piragua. Among them are "Piragüero 5" and "Piragüero 10," which are on display in the Siena Art Gallery in San Juan. The town of Coamo commissioned the creation of a monument in the honor of the piragüeros. The statue which is called "Monumento al Piragüero" is located in the town plaza.
In the book "Luisito and the Piragüa", the author tells the story of Luisito, a little Puerto Rican boy who has recently moved to the United States and 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 piragüero making piraguas, and is happy to find that he can buy piraguas once more.
In the 2008 Broadway production of Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical In The Heights, there are songs entitled "Piragua" and "Piragua (Reprise)" in which a local piragüero in Washington Heights (known in the play as the Piragua Guy) sings about his life and trade. This character became the basis for a web-based reality-show parody Legally Brown: The Search for the Next Piragua Guy, which featured several well-known Broadway actors competing to take over the role.
- "The Columbia History of Latinos in the United States Since 1960"; By David Gregory Gutiérrez; Published 2004 by Columbia University Press; ISBN 0-231-11808-2
- "Holding Aloft the Banner of Ethiopia"; By Winston James; Published 1998 by Verso; ISBN 1-85984-140-6
- "Luisito and the Piragua", ERIC #: ED209026, Author: Toro, Leonor, Publisher: New Haven Migratory Children's Program, Hamden-New Haven Cooperative Education Center
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 Gráficos 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 Colón; 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 Pérez; page 131
- "Rafi and Rosi (I Can Read Book 3)"; by Lulu Delacre
- Yun Yun - Dominican shaved ice with fruit syrup.
- Grattachecca - Italian shaved ice with fruit syrup.
- Halo halo - Filipino shaved ice
- Italian ice
- Kakigori - Japanese shaved ice
- Patbingsu - Korean shaved ice
- Raspado - (Mexico).Mexican shaved ice drink
- Slurpee, Slush puppie - shaved ice drinks
- Shave ice - Hawaii shaved ice dessert
- Snow cone - American shaved ice drink
- Ais kacang - Southeast Asia shaved ice dessert
- Los Chinos de Ponce - Puerto Rican ice cream store opened by Chinese immigrants
- Dictionary, Retrieved June 19, 2008
-  Setting sail, Retrieved June 19, 2008
- "Luisito and the Piragua", Page 12, Author: Toro, Leonor, Publisher: New Haven Migratory Children's Program, Hamden-New Haven Cooperative Education Center; ERIC #: ED209026; Retrieved July 14, 2008
- Puerto Rico Herald
- Puerto Rico Food and drink, Retrieved June 19, 2008
- Piragua, Retrieved June 19, 2008
- History of Snow Cones, Retrieved June 19, 2008
- Language of the Puerto Rican street: A slang dictionary with English cross-references; by Cristino Gallo (Author); Publisher: Gallo: distributed in Puerto Rico by Book Service of Puerto Rico (1980); ISBN 0-9604174-0-0; ISBN 978-0-9604174-0-7
- "The Columbia History of Latinos in the United States Since 1960"; By David Gregory Gutiérrez; pg. 98; Published 2004 by Columbia University Press; ISBN 0-231-11808-2
- "Holding Aloft the Banner of Ethiopia"; By Winston James; page 226; Published 1998 by Verso; ISBN 1-85984-140-6
- Great Depressions of the Twentieth Century, edited by T. J. Kehoe and E. C. Prescott
- "We Took the Streets: Fighting for Latino Rights"; By Miguel Meléndez; Published 2003 Macmillan; ISBN 0-312-26701-0
- "We Took the Streets: Fighting for Latino Rights"; By Miguel Melendez; Published 2003 Macmillan; ISBN 0-312-26701-0, Retrieved June 19, 2008
- What is in your piragua?
- 6 July 1984, New York (NY) Times, “Art: In Museo del Barrio, Influences on a Culture” by Vivien Raynor, pg. C22, Retrieved June 19, 2008
- Siena Gallery
- De Paseo por la Plaza de Coamo
- "Luisito and the Piragua", ERIC #: ED209026, Author: Toro, Leonor, Publisher: New Haven Migratory Children's Program, Hamden-New Haven Cooperative Education Center. Retrieved June 19, 2008
- Official site