Food of the Day: Tamarind Piragua in Old San Juan

This Puerto Rican shaved ice is refreshing and perfectly sweet

Elsa Saatela
Today’s food of the day is the refreshing Puerto Rican shaved ice, piragua, flavoured with tamarind syrup.

Maybe it is the longing for summer that made me crave a cold cup of shaved ice in the middle of December. Whatever the reason was, I found myself day-dreaming of the sweet and tangy tamarind-flavoured piragua I had (more than once) when visiting Old San Juan in Puerto Rico.

Piragua, Puerto Rico’s version of shaved ice, is a delicious way to cool down on a hot and sunny day. Sold from small push-carts on street corners and even the beach, piragua can be had in a range of flavors — most of the piragua carts I encountered offered assortment of more than 15 different flavoured syrups, from more common ones like strawberry and lemon, to the more unusual flavours like tamarind and even chile.

To make a piragua, the shaved ice is dumped into a little cup, and the syrup of choice is poured on to give it flavor. Though I first was slightly hesitant to trust the quality of the ice (getting sick on the first day of my trip was not exactly what I was hoping for), I could not resist the idea of a cool, refreshing, and sweet ice cone. When it came to the choice of syrup — which was anything but easy — I decided to go with something I couldn’t get in my bodega ice-cream isle back in New York. As I also had tasted tamarind in the form of a sweet soda before, I thought that would make for a good piragua. Final verdict: It was delicious. And no, I did not get sick, even after five piraguas I squeezed in to my three-day trip to Puerto Rico. Next time I visit, I will definitely have one again.


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