The snowcone. A combination of shaved ice, sickly sweet syrup and sweetened condensed milk. It's been part of my food landscape all my life. It was always my Dad who used to take my sister and I round the savannah for a snowcone. Guava syrup, pine syrup, milk, and if we were lucky, the vendor would put two little ears on either side of our snowcone globe. It was pure happiness: the first few sucks on the straw brought the sweetest, most concentrated mouthfulls of syrup. Then, as the ice melted, we would dig our straws down into our cups, trying to force the syrup into the ice to make the sweetness last longer. Saffrey, I think, was gifted at making the syrup last right to the very end - just like she was the only one at the table who would save her meat for last! Of course, me, with my inability to delay gratification, would always end up with a half-cup of bland and flavourless ice having sucked all the sweetness out of it. (For the first time in my life, I actually managed to keep a lot of my syrup for last, when I had a tamarind snowcone round the savannah last week. That's when I discovered that I preferred my way of doing it - sucking the ice dry of syrup. Because for me, the triumph of the syrup in the bottom of the cup was kind of ruined by the fact that I felt a little sick and there was no ice chaser left to balance off the sugar! Go figure, the grass is always greener...)
When I went to Costa Rica in June, my friend Rachel and I were amazed (although why we were, I'm not sure) to come across a snowcone vendor at one of the pretty green squares in San Jose. He didn't have a machine for shaving the ice. He used a little metal scraper attached to a box to catch the shaved ice. It was a pretty labour intensive activity for him. But the end result was much the same. A beautiful, sweet pleasure that makes you smile and never fails to remind you of simpler times, when a styrofoam cup of shaved ice with syrup and a trip to the savannah were such a source of happiness.
Here's Rachel just before she tucked into hers...
My favourite snowcone spot (and I'm sure it's predictable) Is Lil Prince on the western side of the savannah. And tamarind is my syrup of choice!