One of the most refreshing ways to flavor up the summer in Tucson is with a raspado, the Mexican version of a snow cone. This icy delicacy gets its name from the Spanish word raspar, meaning “to scrape,” from the days a vendor would scrape or shave ice from a block.
Sonoran Sno-Cones, a business with two Tucson locations, specializes in Sonoran-style raspados, which means they’re served with chunks of fresh fruit such as piña (pineapple), fresa (strawberry), durazno (peach), mango, coco (coconut), or ciruela (dried plum), and usually include chile, lime, and chamoy, a savory sauce made from pickled fruit (usually tamarind, plum, mango, or apricot).
The flavor of chamoy is salty, sweet, sour, and spicy. Raspados made with chamoy are called given the name chamoyada. Sonoran style raspados also can be served with ice cream or lechera, a sweet condensed milk.
“Raspados are something very traditional in Sonora,” said Mia Robles, 26, owner of Sonoran Sno-Cones. “We eat them instead of ice cream. They cool you down on a hot evening.”
Mia learned about raspados and other Mexican treats from her parents, Monce and Ramon Robles, who opened the restaurant Sonoran Delights on West Congress Avenue in 1998, three years after migrating from Obregon, Sonora. The restaurant serves aguas frescas and other Sonoran specialties such as tacos de cabeza, chicarron, and adobada.
Mia remembers being very young in Ciudad Obregón and hearing the bells of the mobile raspado vendors roaming the streets. “I want to open a mobile cart now, too,” she says.
Mia serves up the raspados like parfaits, alternating layers of ice, fruit syrups and chunks, chamoy, and lime. “We don’t just pour the fruit on top like some places,” she says.
The raspados can be topped with peanuts, saladitos (dried salted plums) or fruit gummy candies called rielito and serpentina, made of tamarind or Mexican hawthorne pulp and coated with chile powder.
The afternoon BorderLore visited the shop, Mia’s friend Lilany Hernandez was there with her son Jacob, 5. Both were eating raspados of their favorite flavor, mangoyada, mango with chamoy and lime.
Lilany and Mia are high school friends. Lilany remembers, “After school we’d always go and grab a raspado.”
She said Jacob recently introduced his paternal grandfather to the cold sweet treat. “They were always asking us, ‘What are raspados?’ Finally we made grandpa go. He loved it!”
A piña raspado was ordered with chamoy, lime, and rielito and serpentina. It was cold, sweet, spicy, and sour all at once!
Sonoran Sno-Cones also offers Sonoran-style snacks, including the famous “Tosti” snacks–a bag of Tostitos tortilla chips served with fresh salsa made of fruits or vegetable, and topped, of course, with the ubiquitous chamoy and lime.
“Tosti-Tropical” is a bag of tortilla chips topped with pineapple, mango, jicama, chamoy and lime.
“Tosti-Verdura” comes with cabbage, cucumber, chamoy, and lime.
Another popular snack is “Pepihuates,” or peanuts in a cup, topped with cucumber, clamato, chamoy, lime, and rielito, similar to a ceviche. Pepihuates are made with “Japanese peanuts,” essentially peanuts are peanuts coated with a crunchy wheat flour shell flavored with soy sauce. According to Wikipedia, these Japanese peanuts were invented by a Japanese immigrant in Mexico in the mid-20th century.
Pepihuates are an Obregon specialty, Mia said. “The fresh vegetables and sauce give it a splash of freshness.”
Such snacks are popular for their spiciness and their convenience, Mia says. “They come in a little bag, so it’s easy to fit in your hand. And you eat them right from the bag. You can squish the bag and all the flavors come together. It satisfies a craving, if you like that flavor.”
Mia considers raspados an important part of street culture. “They’re such a part of life over there [in Mexico.] They’re so mobile. You’d be downtown or at the market shopping for your produce and you’d see raspados and you just gotta grab one.”
Mia has served Sonoran Sno-Cones at Tucson Meet Yourself for the past six years and will return again this year, Oct. 7-9, in downtown Tucson.