By Chamoy City Limits

Keep your cool with San Antonio's raspa creations


A rainbow Picadilly raspa is pictured on Tuesday, July 1, 2014, at the Chamoy City Limits food truck at Lion's Field Park in San Antonio.Timothy Tai/San Antonio Express-News

SAN ANTONIO — A treat as rich in syrup as it is in history, raspas have created traditions passed on through generations and inspired creations. For example, the Piccadilly combines Kool-Aid, pickles and chamoy.

Variations of summer treats made of ice and syrup are found around the world, and cities throughout the country specialize in their own creations.

In Baltimore, a snowball is common theater fare, topped with a signature dollop of marshmallow cream. In New Orleans, the birthplace of the snoball, ice is distinctly fluffy and drowned in thick syrup. In South Texas, their crunchier, less syrupy cousin — snow cones — are popular.

But nothing matches the popularity of a traditional raspa. The name is adapted from the Spanish phrase, hielo raspado, meaning shaved ice. Raspas stand out among other ice treats because of the creativity of snow cone makers and the fans of the treat.

“I really like to draw from nostalgia and history, while really emphasizing the ingredients we use,” said Ana Fernandez, owner of Chamoy City Limits.

The raspa culture has traditionally held an element of competition, a snowball fight, if you will. Recipes are kept “in the family” and turf wars can ensue when rivals are in close proximity.“Sure, it's easier just to run out and buy stuff, but we have found that when you make your own using your own ingredients and recipes, the flavors come out stronger and the syrup is thicker,” said Frozen Friday's owner Jose Rodriguez.

“A lot of people assume it is just freezing water, but it is so much more than that. We use purified water and there is extra stuff that goes into the water before you freeze it to make it softer,” he said.

Frozen Friday's, 447 W. Hildebrand Ave., Suite 105, is a close-knit operation that is homegrown from start to finish. There are six employees and three family members who occasionally help out.

“In the 1950s, going to get ice cream was a fun family thing to do. We wanted to bring that classic ice cream parlor feeling back,” Rodriguez said.

Ana Fernandez's Chamoy City Limits is an ice cream parlor gone mobile. It operates out of The Institute of Chili food truck, offering traditional raspa flavors as well as other specialty items. House-made tamarind and chamoy raspas are fan favorites.

“Chamoy itself is Asian in heritage. It has four ingredients: pickled fruit, chili base, sugar and a citrus,” Fernandez said. “The chili base for our chamoy is the same one we make for our chili. It was a natural for us to get in to.”

There's something about the nostalgia flavors that makes adults continue to enjoy this childhood treat.

At O.P Schnabel Park, Genevieve Orozco happily waited for her turn to step up to the Chamoy City Limits window and revisit a favorite from when she was a kid. Recently, raspas have grown up a little, and the business model is benefitting from social media.

“I grew up where the raspa man would ride his bicycle around the neighborhood. Raspas have always been basic and good, but these are another level,” Orozco said. “One of our friends put a picture of a mangonada up on Facebook and I had to try it.”

The popular mangonada had sold out on an earlier visit. This time, Orozco arrived early, intent on snagging a sweet-and-sour treat.

Boasting 3,700 Facebook fans after only four months in business, Fernandez and her team use social media as a platform to connect with customers.

“I enjoy the whole process from designing to being in the truck to interacting with our fans,” Fernandez said.

With Facebook carrying the tradition of shaved ice into the 21st century, entrepreneurs such as Ernest Troy Morales, owner of Snowcone Addiction, 405 Gladstone, Bldg. 1, are able to reach new customers.

“I have a business page on Facebook. That is how I got all of my business,” he said. “It all started with people taking pictures of my product, sharing it and their friends asking where it was from.”

Morales' most popular, Gorilla Drank has inspired curiosity and fans in a way only the Internet could.

“It is a mixture of Kool-Aid that I used to drink when I was little,” Morales said. “People started sharing photos and now, it's gotten so popular we made T-shirts for it. They call me Mr. Drank.”

Morales delivered ice for Pure Party Ice for 18 years before deciding to go into business for himself. He still buys his ice from his former employer, citing the care it puts into the product.

“It takes them 24 hours to make each block,” of ice, Morales said. “If you don't have soft ice, you won't have repeat customers.”

Owners take pride in their product and are always looking to improve the customer's experience. That's what keeps people coming back.

“We focus on two things: customer service and quality,” Rodriguez said at Frozen Friday's. “It is never about how much money we could make.”