In In the Heights, Broadway superstar Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton) plays an unnamed piragüero, a street vendor who pushes a cart around the Washington Heights neighborhood selling piraguas, which is what shaved ice is called in Puerto Rico.
Although the word piragua is specific to Puerto Rican culture, there are several terms Latinos use for the frozen treats. For Dominicans, the term for a piragua is a frio frio or yun yun. In Mexico and some Spanish-speaking communities in the southwest United States, what a customer would order on a hot day is called a raspa or raspado, the latter of which is also said in Colombia, Panama, Nicaragua and Venezuela. In Cuba, the word is granizado, while in Bolivia the flavored ice is known as shikashika.
Other names for snow cones in Latin American countries are mermelada con hielo in central Chile, minutas in El Salvador, cremolada and raspadilla in Peru and raspadinha or raspa-raspa in Brazil. So, basically, a traveler won’t know what country they’re in until they order some shaved ice. Still, no matter where you’re at, it’s something that connects all Latinos.
“Guess what, we’re all eating the ice with sugar and we’re enjoying it,” actress Dascha Polanco told Remezcla during a recent interview. “It goes to show that it’s not so hard to understand the Latinx community and to relate to it. The shift in the lens doesn’t have to take away from it. It broadens it and opens it up to more.”
So, what are the go-to flavors for some of the In the Heights cast if they stopped a piragüero in the street to order a piragua? We got answers from Polanco, Miranda, Anthony Ramos and Corey Hawkins.
The Santo Domingo-born actress plays the role of Cuca in In the Heights. Since she’s from the Dominican Republic, Polanco usually refers to snow cones as frio frio or yun yun. “I like the vanilla and the orange cream,” Polanco tells Remezcla. “I like the frambuesa with a little bit of leche condensada (condensed milk). That’s the one I like. It’s raspberry.”
Born and raised in New York City, Ramos is of Puerto Rican descent. He plays the lead character, Usnavi de la Vega, in In the Heights. “Crema is my favorite flavor,” Ramos told Remezcla. “And tamarindo. Those are my two favorites. And then we’ve got something that’s similar that’s called limbes in Puerto Rico. It’s not exactly shaved ice but it is ice in a cup that’s already been frozen with the cream. They don’t have to pour it in. It’s so good!”
Hawkins might not be Latino, but he’s familiar with piraguas. He lived in Washington Heights while he was studying at the Juilliard School in New York City. Hawkins plays Benny in In the Heights. His piragua go-to order is simple, but he does like to mix flavors sometimes. “It would definitely be cherry,” Hawkins told Remezcla. “I don’t know how to say it in Spanish, but I love the cherry shaved ice. Mango is also really good. Also, they be mixin’ them and stuff like that. It just brings back memories of uptown.”
Miranda and Ramos have a lot in common—right down to their favorite piragua flavors. Both were born and raised in New York City and are of Puerto Rican descent. “It is the treat that has different names depending on the country,” Miranda told Remezcla. “I went with the Puerto Rican version. When we were writing Heights, I would do things by generation. Cubans first. Then, Puerto Ricans. Then, Dominicans. That’s kind of the wave of the 1940s, 1950s and 1970s.” As for his favorite flavors: “Tamarindo because you can’t get a tamarindo slushy. That’s really particular to us. And I also like crema if it’s good,” he says. When told that those are the same two flavors Ramos picked, he says, “There’s a reason he’s the perfect Usnavi.”