Mexicans have raspados, Koreans bingsu. The Taiwanese flavor their bao bing with palm sugar syrup. Cubans call their version granizados, Puerto Ricans name them piraguas because of the pyramid shape, and in the Dominican Republican they are known simply as frio-frio or cold-cold.
Americans have them as well. In Baltimore they're sky-blue and topped with marshmallows.
They're all versions of simple flavored shaved ice, the sophisticated adult version of the snow cone. (Sophisticated but down-to-earth. In a large enough city Indian street vendors sell golas and chuskis, which are flavored with rose, cardamom, orange and saffron.)
As Julia Moskin explained in The New York Times, the difference between the two forms of syrup and ice is profound.
[A] snow cone is usually a mound of crunchy hailstones sitting in a pool of synthetic sugar syrup. The ice is crushed into pellets that send shivers up into the brain, and the flavoring has no chance of being absorbed into the ice.
But there is another way. A way of scraping ice so that it falls softly into cups like a January snowfall, and soaks up flavor the way dry ground soaks up rain in July.
Apparently shaved ice will be the next Pinkberry. Eventually. Maybe. Unless you happen to be traveling or live in a city that is experimenting with these stores, though, you might be better off trying to make shaved ice concoptions at home. Moskin rated home machines.
Commercial ice-shaving machines cost thousands of dollars, but some low-tech home versions have recently come onto the market, for about $25 to $35. The two simplest, the Back to Basics (also called the Hawaiice) and the Hamilton Beach Snowman, both work well, if noisily, with ice cubes. The mechanics of these are simple: a plastic cup filled with ice has a blade on the bottom. A motor spins the ice while you press down, forcing it over the blade. It takes about a minute to shave enough heaps of dry, fluffy snow for four snow cones.
The machines work even better with the provided ice molds, though that requires some planning. The molds can be filled with plain water, or with mixtures of water, fruit purées and syrups to produce flavored snow (try making café con leche ice, then topping the snow with chocolate syrup). I plan to put some favorite sorbet, granita and cold-soup mixtures through the shaver, as the texture is so lovely and the process so simple.
A more complicated Hamilton Beach device, the Icy Treats, can supposedly be used to mix frozen cocktails as well as for shaved ice, but in my experience it didn’t do a good job of either.
You can find them at the usual online retailers or try a specialty service like Hawaiian Shaved Ice. Not surprisingly, the Hawaiians have been experimenting with ice and fruit for a long time.
Now the warning. People will put almost anything onto shaved ice, and that includes milk and cream. The New Orleans snoball, for example, comes in a regular and a "cream" variety.
If you have a milk allergy or want to stay strictly vegan, you should ask carefully for all the ingredients of what you're about to put into your mouth. To be sure, that always holds true. Just never more so when a new type of food comes onto the market.