7 San Antonio shops selling great raspas, for those who love snow cones and all things shaved ice – San Antonio Express-News

When you reach for a raspa this summer — and you know you will, because it’s hotter than the devil in a sweater out there — you have one man to thank for the countless stores across San Antonio selling those frosty treats.

Big blocks of ice first became available in the 1850s, which paved the way for vendors selling shaved ice desserts. But making those treats was a grueling job, as the name, derived from the Spanish word “raspar” meaning “to scrape,” implies.

“In Texas they were hand-shaved by raspadoras on the street. It was a very physical endeavor,” said Ana Fernandez, owner of Chamoy City Limits, a popular raspa spot.

Enter Samuel Bert, known to many as King Sammie. This Dallas entrepreneur started selling snow cones at the State Fair of Texas in 1919. Realizing he could work smarter, not harder, he developed the world’s first powered ice-shaving and ice-crushing machine, and patented the device in 1928. It’s thanks to King Sammie that we now have a snow cone on every corner.

Raspas, unlike Italian ice, mangonadas and other treats made from water frozen with sugar and other flavors, begin as nothing more than plain ice with a lot of history. As far back as 27 B.C., Roman Emperor Nero enjoyed shaved ice desserts made from fruit, honey and snow gathered by slaves from nearby mountains. In Japan, kakigori, or treats made from shaved ice and condensed milk, date back a thousand years.

Those historic desserts were simply flavored with minimal ingredients. But we do things differently in South Texas. Here, raspas take on the big, bold flavors of Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine, frequently topped with fiery chile powders, tart pickles and pungent chamoy sauce. More elaborate versions may sport gummy bears, sour belt candy, slices of fresh fruit and more.

Big Daddy’s Treats: The ice in the raspas was the lightest and fluffiest of all the shops sampled.

Big Daddy’s Treats: The ice in the raspas was the lightest and fluffiest of all the shops sampled.

Paul Stephen / Staff

“It’s the spicier notes that make it more unique and makes it specific to Texas,” Fernandez said.

And people get quite particular when it comes to how they like that ice ground. Some raspa fans will seek out shops where the ice is coarse and crunchy, while others flock to vendors who serve light and fluffy ice almost like snow.

At Big Daddy’s Treats, a popular spot for a wide variety of frozen delights near Southtown and the Blue Star Arts Complex, the ice is shaved so finely that it turns to a snowy slush almost immediately under the Texas sun. The venerable Las Nieves Fruit Cups & More, on the other hand, serves raspas made with ice ground into coarse pebbles that crunch with every bite.

Fernandez provides both. Part of her rabid following is drawn to her unique approach, which places coarse ice in the bottom of the cup and light, finely shaved ice on top. The layering does a better job of keeping the flavorful syrups evenly distributed at the top of the cup, allowing them to slowly melt into the coarser ice below.

When Fernandez was a child in Corpus Christi in the 1970s, raspas were a simple affair akin to the snow cones found in other parts of the country, just ice and syrup. By the time she moved to San Antonio in 2009, raspas had morphed into the elaborate centerpieces topped with swizzles of colorful chamoy sauce, sweet and sour candies, and more found on countless Instagram posts today.

The innovation has not stopped.

Amigos Snacks and More: This shop has a vast selection.

Amigos Snacks and More: This shop has a vast selection.

Paul Stephen / Staff

At Amigos Snacks and More, a sign hangs over the counter promoting the newly introduced Selena Flower. The tribute to Texas’ favorite singer and her hit song “Como la Flor” features shaved ice topped with a bouquet of cucumber slices arranged like flower petals and coiled sour belts bunched in the center, all doused with electric green chamoy sauce.

The Ocean Snow Cone at Ice Ice Baby — the shop’s name pays tribute to Vanilla Ice’s 1990 hit song — has a flavorful blend of tropical syrups topped with a sour belt threaded onto a skewer and plunged into the center of the ice. Sitting on top of that spike is a gummy shark to ward off anyone who might be inclined to steal a bite.

However you like them, now’s the time to chill out with a raspa.

pstephen@express-news.net | Twitter: @pjbites

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