Tapioca, the new bread

Far from “bubble teas” and other gelatinous desserts, this starch originating in Amazonia will soon appear in the pantheon of the globalized “health food”. In Geneva, a trio of women entrepreneurs made it their livelihood (gluten free) (as a bonus: the recipe of the Spanish Lullaby pancake, Wild Girls Deli)

When it comes to food, what do you think of tapioca? A sweet reminiscence of childhood, the pudding of your grandmother? You’re in luck. In our region, many of us have a sticky memory of cassava starch, modified tapioca starch, this thickener for (bad) school canteen soup.

Asian cuisine has a long history of warming relations between the general public and tapioca, including delicious Japanese pearl desserts (tapioca balls) or, more recently, the popular bubble tea, a Taiwanese dessert-based dessert. tea base and gelatinous balls. Naturally gluten-free and lactose-free, tapioca in all its forms is gaining interest from people with celiac disease, but also from culinary bloggers and other aficionados of intestinal well-being.

Wild tapioca

In Geneva, a trio of foodistas could definitely reconcile us with tapioca. At Wild Girls Deli, the health food restaurant they opened last February on the 6th floor of Bongénie in Geneva, Mira, Mona and Laura are proud to present their flagship product, tapioca crepe (or tapioca), a Popular Brazilian dish they reinterpret with savory fillings inspired by culinary traditions from around the world.

Order was placed for Stromboli Stroll, creamy white bean crêpe with basil, virgin tomato sauce and green onions. First surprise, the cake is pink, “colored with beet juice,” we are told. Second surprise, it crunch. Because yes, the tapioca flour can crack under the tooth! Inside, the texture is not sticky but slightly elastic, soft. “For us, it’s like a dish with which we have fun,” enthuses Laura. This 28-year-old Brazilian-Swiss is passionate about tapioca during a two-year stay in São Paulo. “With the fashion of gluten-free, the big cities of Brazil are invaded by food trucks and stalls offering tapiocas. The most classic fillings are cheese-ham or condensed coconut milk. For two years now, more and more young entrepreneurs have been offering healthier versions. Tapioca is the new bread! “

The idea that tapioca crepe can replace bread in our dietary fibre sounds delightfully ironic. Let’s go back in time to the beginning of the 16th century, far from the restaurant-truck and the gluten-free mania. At the time, the Portuguese discovered the northeast of present-day Brazil, from which they took illico possession. But the colonists do not support the tropical climate of this new land, also unsuited to the cultivation of many European cereals such as wheat.

As the anthropologist Kaori O’Connor explains in an exciting article *, the Portuguese must turn to the food of the Tupis, an indigenous people occupying the Atlantic coast and several parts of the Amazon rainforest. While eating grasshoppers and snakes does not delight them, Europeans are particularly wary of cassava, the food base of Tupis who, poorly cooked, can produce deadly cyanide. “This root reflected the colonial experience; a potential source of abundance whose heart contained bitterness and poison, “says Kaori O’Connor.