Mia: Shaken Not Stirred


The true life stories of a NYC female.

Monday, July 31, 2006

El Piraguero


Recently on a disgustingly hot day Nora’s aunt and her friend came over to the house for a visit piraguas in hand. Nora’s aunt Jo had never had a piragua before. As soon as they got into The Bronx her friend Grace a local girl gone to live in the ‘burbs made sure she treated Jo to one. The look on Jo’s face was one of pure joy. She was one with her piragua on this broiling saturday afternoon. Jo looked kind of sad when she dribbled the last of the coconut infused ice shavings onto her tongue.

A piragua for those who do not know is what we Latinos call a snow cone. For Boriquas piraguas are a part of our culture. Embedded deep within our hearts and taste buds. Just the sight of a Piraguero is enough to make a Boriqua smile. The viejos are taken back to their childhood and the young ones anticipate the cold treat. In Puerto Rico piragueros work all year long thanks to the tropical weather. Here in Los Estados Unidos the piraguero starts venturing out in the spring and hibernate for the winter.



The Piraguero (snow cone vendor) pushes a block of ice around on a wooden cart. Sometimes the ice is enclosed ,other times it has an umbrella over it but more often than not the block of ice sits with a garbage bag under it and a white towel draped over it .





Piragueros have strong arms and great upper body strength thanks to the work out they get from shaving the ice. El Piraguero's body leans in as his arms work up and down the block of ice with a metal shaver. He taps the shavings into a cone shaped paper cup then puts a metal cone shaped cup over it to give it its shape. Now a days most piragueros have gone high tech preferring plastic beverage cups over the paper cones. As a kid we'd suck and chew on the paper cones to extract every little bit of goodness once our piraguas were finished.



After your piragua has been shaped you pick out the syrup that will give flavor to the piragua. The syrups are stored on the sides of the piragua cart in glass bottles with spouts on them. Sometimes the spouts are made of colorful plastic and other times they are made of metal. The Piraguero is very liberal with the pouring of the syrup so that it comes up to the edge of your cup, spilling a little on your hand. Sticky fingers and a freshly made piragua are a childhood rite of passage. The piraguero often supplies the customer with a little plastic straw to sip the melted portion of the piragua. In my hood those straws are for wussies. We sip our piragua juice straight out of the cup.



There’s countless tropical flavors like coco, pineapple, tamarindo, guanabana, and the gringo standards of grape, cherry, cotton candy, and a blue concoction that I always liked. I forgot now what it is. Alone the syrups are way too sweet and thick but on a snow cone. Ay Dios Santo! They are a slice of heaven on a hot day.



I leave you with a taste of my beloved Borinquen and a song called "El Piraguero" an ode to those hardworking Gods of Boriqua childhood.

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