Brazilian Tapioca

When you see the word “tapioca”, what image comes to mind? Back in England we pronounce this word ‘tappy-OAK-a’ and it doesn’t have a great reputation – for many people it brings back memories of bad school dinners:

 

Frogspawn tapioca

Back in England, tapioca pudding is often compared to frogspawn. Ooh yummy!

 

In more recent times, these tapioca ‘pearls’ have become associated with Bubble Tea – a bit more trendy perhaps, but still quite weird and the resemblance to amphibian eggs is undeniable.

As is often the case, Brazil does things a little differently. Here we call it ‘tappy-OCK-a’ and it is a popular street food, prepared in little stalls on street corners and markets all over Brazil.

What is Tapioca?

Before we go any further we should probably take a closer look at this crazy stuff. Tapioca is starch that has been extracted from mandioca (AKA cassava, manioc, yuca, etc). Mandioca is native to Brazil, but has spread all over world and today is a hugely important international crop, providing basic sustenance to around 500 million people.

Cassava roots

Cassava roots, also known as mandioca, manioc, yuka, bankeye and many other names. Image

 

Looking at those chunky looking roots, it’s hard to imagine that they are related to the weird jelly balls isn’t it? Apparently the ‘pearls’ are created by passing the moistened starch through a sieve at high pressure (who came up with that idea?). Here in Brazil tapioca is most commonly sold as a flour.

 

Brazilian style Tapioca

OK, enough of those weird jelly balls. The Brazilian street food that I mentioned earlier is something like a pancake or tortilla. Tapioca starch is mixed with a little water, then passed through a sieve to give a fine, slightly moist powder. The powder is then put into a small frying pan (without any oil or butter) and cooked for several minutes. Once the powder has fused into a disk, the tapioca is flipped, pancake style, cooked for a little longer and then turned out onto a plate.

 

Preparing tapioca

This woman is making tapiocas. More of her later – she is a tapioca ninja!

 

This is when things start to get fun! Without any addition, tapioca would be rather a dull affair, but these things are versatile. The classic savoury filling is probably simply cheese. The classic sweet flavour (yes, of course there’s a sweet flavour – this is Brazil!) is condensed milk with grated coconut. But there are some other great combinations – ham and cheese, carne seca with catupiry (a salty cured beef with gooey creamy cheese) and many more.

So, do you want to see someone making these things? OK, here you go:

 

 She has seven on the go at one point – impressive right? Watch the assistant adding a ton of condensed milk at the 55 second mark – did I mention that (most) Brazilians love leite condensado? Also check out the carne seca, tomatoes and cheese at 1:25 – yum!

 

If you’d like to get a bit of a closer look at the way to make this delicious snack, then this is a rather more instructional video. Finally, let me leave you with some close-ups of the finished product. When’s lunch?!

 

tapioca com queijo

Classic – tapioca, a little bit of butter and then a nice generous helping of melty cheese. Image

 

 

tapioca-carne-seca

Tapioca with carne seca (cured beef that is cooked and then shredded) and catupiry (the gooiest cheese there is). Image

 

 

 

19 replies
  1. The Gritty Poet
    The Gritty Poet says:

    God I miss hard shell tacos. Someone must come up with a taquioca pronto (hard shell of course).

    Btw have you ever tried to make this Tapioca recipe? It looks yummy.

    Reply
    • tomlemes
      tomlemes says:

      Mmmm, I love queijo coalho! First time I bought it in a shop I didn’t know you were supposed to grill it. Having it cold in a sandwich isn’t very good! But grilled on the beach with a sprinkling of oregano? Yum!

      I haven’t had it with coconut in a tapioca though – next of my list of things to eat! 🙂

      Reply
  2. mhgonçalves
    mhgonçalves says:

    HI Tom.

    Na verdade a mais classica das tapiocas é a com manteiga da terra, colocada ainda quando a tapioca esta quente.

    Reply
    • tomlemes
      tomlemes says:

      Olá MHGonçalves! 🙂

      Muito obrigado por esta informação! Nunca ouvi desta coisa, manteiga de terra – é similar de manteiga da garrafa? Esta combinação parece muito autêntico – é típico de Nordeste?

      Reply
      • mhgonçalves
        mhgonçalves says:

        exato,,, mantega da terra é a mesma manteiga de garrafa,
        E sim, esta combinação é tipica do centro-norte-nordeste, ou se preferir, do sertão..

        Reply
    • tomlemes
      tomlemes says:

      I think you’re going to like it Alex! How are you getting along with the coxinhas? Do you know I think I overdid it with coxinhas at the start – somehow I never feel like them anymore… Hey-ho, plenty of other lanches at the lanchonette! 😀

      Reply
  3. Andrew Francis
    Andrew Francis says:

    There’s also a dessert in Brazil very similar to the British tapioca called sagu. It has some of the same properties you mentioned but at least it’s (sometimes) made with wine for flavoring. That makes it a tiny bit more interesting.

    Reply
    • tomlemes
      tomlemes says:

      Aha! We also have that – we call it Sago. Apparently Sago and Tapioca, though very similar in terms of end product, come from completely difference sources. Tapioca from Mandioca and Sago from core of the Sago Palm!

      Or do you think Sagu is actually made from tapioca and just picked up its name through some confusion back in time?

      Reply
    • tomlemes
      tomlemes says:

      I only heard about it after I wrote this post! Sounds like it might be rather nice (though not very much like caviar really). I’ve just been reading about fruit flavoured caviar too. Now I really want to try it! 🙂

      Reply
  4. Christopher Wright
    Christopher Wright says:

    Both tapioca and cured beef (corn beef in my case) bring back memories of horrendous school dinners – but this more than makes up for it 😉

    The best cured beef I had was from the Mexican state Sonora and we got it in a fantastic street stall selling tacos in Baja Califonia in the north of Mexico.

    Reply
    • tomlemes
      tomlemes says:

      Ah, I am dying to go back to Mexico. So much great food! Yes, I know what you’re saying about corned beef – that tinned stuff was awful wasn’t it? I gather that corned beef in the states is actually quite nice – closer to pastrami I think…

      Reply

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] Tapioca. Get a recipe at Eat Rio. […]

  2. […] Nevertheless, the prolonged holidays meant I got to take it easy. I used the time well: perfecting the art of tapioca. […]

  3. […] a little more about it , take a look at this post by Saskia in her blog A Taste of Brazil or this other one by Tom in his blog […]

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