Growing up Mexican-American in San Antonio, my childhood memories are inextricably linked to the edible cultural staples that defined them. My maternal grandmother lived on Woodlawn, a couple block from the urban lake of the same name, and we spent many a weekend trotting down the block in search of the raspa truck that reliably parked itself next to the basketball courts on the lake’s shores. From the back of the truck came a dizzying array of choices, but I always stuck to old faithful: a blue coconut raspa, or shaved ice (from the Spanish word raspar, meaning “to scrape,” which was quite literally the process that took place when street vendors would hand-scrape large blocks of ice to produce crunchy, light piles of feathery ice).
Today, I delight in bringing these familiar flavors to my own children. While some families enjoy exploring different ice cream shops and doughnut joints on weekends, we take special joy in finding the most decadent fruterías, the fruit stands/snack meccas that offer up everything from shaved ice to corn in a cup. While each has its own specialties, they all serve up fresh-cut hunks of fruit piled high in an extra large Styrofoam cup and topped with whatever your heart desires—and a Mexican family nearly always chooses lime, chili, and chamoy, a bright red, pickled plum sauce that is irresistibly sweet and tangy, so much so that I can’t even type this sentence without my mouth beginning its Pavlovian drool reflex. Some other treats that you are likely to find at a legit frutería include:
Raspa: snow cone/shaved ice
Agua Fresca: juice made from fresh fruit, water, and sugar
Mangonada: drink typically made with chamoy sauce, mangos, lime juice, and chili powder and decorated with a tamarind straw
Corn in a Cup: exactly what it sounds like, but made more delicious with mayonnaise or cream, cheese, and chili
Strawberries in Cream: exactly what it sounds like
Jumbo pickles and/or peeled cucumbers with lime and salt
…and sometimes Mexican candy and food, nachos, and other snacks. Almost everything is sprinkled with chili, lime juice and chamoy.
Warning: If you think you may have stumbled upon such a store but don’t see oversized photos or paintings of fruit and snow cones covered in chili, you are not at an authentic Mexican frutería, and it’s best you keep going.
If any of the above-listed concoctions have piqued your interest, here is my list of guaranteed-to-satisfy fruterías to help you get through the rest of our long, hot South Texas summer:
Frutería La Mission (553 E. White, San Antonio, TX 78214 | (210) 922-2997)—Located catty-corner from the iconic Mission Drive-In, this incredibly affordable spot offers the largest fruit cups I have ever seen. They pile the chunks of pineapple, watermelon, coconut, and more so high that La Mission wraps the top in a saran wrap turban that’s at least five inches high. It’s ridiculous and wonderful and big enough for an entire family to share. They also boast an impressive array of aguas frescas to quench your thirst after a bike ride at the missions, or perhaps just after walking the 10 feet from the parking lot to the covered patio.
Las Nieves Fruit Cups and More (1118 W. Hildebrand, San Antonio, TX 78201, (210) 767-2694 | 4310 Blanco Rd., San Antonio, TX 78212, (210) 721-6852)—With two locations in San Antonio, this spot is conveniently just a five-minute drive from my kids’ school. The menu is huge, serving everything from fresh cucumbers with lime and chili to raspas to decadent oversized banana splits.
Chris & Kids Snow Cones (1127 S. General McMullen Dr., San Antonio, TX 78237 | (210) 843-2550)—Some of the best raspas in town, including the elusive Picadilly, which is basically a raspa gone wild, usually decorated with pickle chunks, Kool-Aid powder, chamoy, sour belts, and other crazy candies. The result is taste bud euphoria, and possibly a stomach ache.
El Kiosko Frutas y Helados SA (1427 SW Military Dr., San Antonio, TX 78221 | (210) 757-3666)—On SW Military near 1-35, this South Side spot has a huge menu with some special hard-to-find treats, including a delectable selection of fruit ice—kind of like sorbet, but made with fresh fruit. You can also get tortas and other quality Mexican street food here.
This list only scratches the surface of what’s available, as fruterias are as common on the West and South Sides as Starbucks on the North Side. Next time you are in the mood for something more adventurous than self-serve fro-yo, load up your kids and head to a fruteria for some delicious, authentic, and surprisingly affordable treats. You just might get hooked!,