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Tantalizing tapioca

You’ve had it in your calendar all year — well, maybe you haven’t — but now it’s here; Saturday is National Tapioca Day.

Angela Botzer June 25th, 2014

Your grandmother probably made tapioca pudding, an old-fashioned comfort food, for dessert and also had a few boxes tucked away in her pantry. Now slightly more difficult to find, tapioca pudding has fallen a bit out of popularity.

A watermelon bubble tea at Cafe Oasis is made with tapioca and is a fresh way to celebrate National Tapioca Day.
Photo: Shannon Cornman

However, other forms of tapioca are now becoming mainstream. Included is the popular bubble tea invented in Taichung, Taiwan during the 1980s and found throughout the metro area today.

Saturday is National Tapioca Day, so try some modern versions of this classic, slightly sweet treat.

Tapioca is a starch extracted from Manihot esculenta, the manioc root (also called cassava). It was originally native to Brazil, and its popularity spread quickly to South America. Subsequently, Spanish and Portuguese explorers brought the plant to the West Indies, Asia and Africa, where it was cultivated worldwide and quickly adopted into regional cuisines.

The word tipi’óka in the Tupí language, a native language spoken by the indigenous Tupí people of Brazil, refers to the process by which the manioc starch is made edible.

In Venezuela, arepas, a traditional flatbread, is made using tapioca flour fried on a griddle. In Brazil, sagu — a dessert made with tapioca pearls cooked in red wine, cinnamon and cloves — is common.

The beloved spicy pepper pot soup of the West Indies includes beef, pork, hot peppers and diced manioc root.

In Sri Lanka, tapioca cooked with coconut, onions, chili peppers, turmeric, mustard seeds and other spices is a common breakfast food.

Sabudana khichdi (spicy tapioca) is a breakfast favorite in India, and with tapioca, peas, hot peppers and curry spices, it’s sure to be a morning eye-opener.

Boba is another name for the tapioca pearls commonly found in bubble teas; pressing the starch through a sieve under pressure makes the pearls. Bubble tea and tapioca pudding are both made with pearled tapioca, which forms into slightly chewy balls when cooked. Small pearls are better for pudding, and large ones preferred in bubble teas.

So, where do you go to celebrate this long-anticipated National Tapioca Day holiday in style?

Cafe Oasis, 1135 NW 25th St., offers a sumptuous array of bubble teas. Try the kiwi black tea or the lychee black milk tea. There’s also taro green milk tea and mango black milk tea. Accompany these with crunchy vegetable egg rolls.

Saturdays and Sundays are made for dim sum at Grand House Asian Bistro, 2701 N. Classen Blvd. After polishing off a dazzling array of dim sum delectables, order the tapioca milk pudding dim sum. It’s a creamy pudding topped with honeydew melon chunks and melon juice.

At the colorful Teapioca Lounge, 1101 NW 23rd St., order the jasmine green bubble tea and settle back in the comfy lounge with a book so you can sip and relax. Among the wide selection of bubble teas offered is a cooling tapioca cream tea and a more exotic herbal jelly cream tea.

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