Some snow cone vendors in Chicago are ditching the traditional rainbow syrups and taking a more organic approach.
Since the year 2000, Guadalupe Pérez has made a living from his raspas—Mexican snow cones—in the Little Village neighborhood. He says he was one of the first Chicago street vendors to introduce natural fruit nectars to the shaved-ice business.
“It’s natural,” Pérez said. “It does have sugar, but artificial syrup has chemicals. This doesn’t.”
He says vendors used to just buy gallons of artificial syrup and pre-crush the ice.
“But when people noticed that we were scraping the ice by hand, the cars would slow down and people walking by would stop to watch me,” he said. “That’s how we began getting our customer base.”
Pérez brings his creativity from Veracruz, Mexico, where natural fruit and icy desserts have been sold on the street for centuries.
His technique is to buy fresh fruit, boil it and reduce it to a sap.
“We have tamarind, strawberry, pineapple, the Mexican berry grosella, vanilla with eggnog—a favorite,” Pérez said. “Mango, guava, coconut, coffee… plus two artificial flavors because kids still ask for them.”
He’s noticing more raspa vendors who are adopting his style popping up in the West and Southwest sides. But Pérez doesn’t mind the competition. He’s expanding his business too. He’s setting up raspa carts in other parts of the city.
Interview with Pérez translated from Spanish.