Though this tasty treat has spread now throughout the world, tapioca once was found only in Brazil. It’s a product of the cassava — a tuber native to the nordeste (northeast) of my country. Tapioca is the starch which comes from its bitter root, and was discovered before European explorers arrived.
This recipe for cuscuz de tapioca (tapioca couscous) is much appreciated by Brazilians during the winter holiday season, especially in the month of June. This is when we have the Festa Juninha (June Festival) to celebrate the patron saints of the nordeste: Saint John the Baptist, Saint Anthony, and Saint Peter.
By the way, if you visit places like Olinda — a historic city in Pernambuco just north of Recife — you’ll find tapioca served in a different manner than you see here. There it’s made in a skillet, much more like a French crepe. In fact, we put different fillings inside as well: from butter to cheese or meat.
the Origin of Tapioca Couscous
The story behind tapioca couscous reflects the diverse heritage of Brazil. Though tapioca was originally processed by the Tupí (an indigenous people of Brazil), they didn’t have milk or sugar — both of which were brought over later by Europeans. Ultimately, it took the creativity of African slaves to develop this delicious dish.
During the era of slavery in Brazil, women slaves did most of the domestic work. So, whether in the home or in the market square, they were responsible for cooking. It was the resourcefulness of African cuisine that mixed the starchiness of tapioca with the sweetness of sugar and milk to make couscous.
It’s really an easy and inexpensive recipe; just follow the steps below. I live in Rio de Janeiro, and you’ll see tapioca couscous sold by vendors walking along the beach. They always cover this little treat with consensed milk before serving — a delight that fills my eyes and makes my mouth salivate!
If you’re using a bag of shredded coconut, you can mix a bit of water into the flakes (especially if you’re eating it at the beach). At home, you might want to use half water and half whole milk instead. Experiment to see what suits your taste. Please enjoy, and tell me if you liked it in the Comments.
Tapioca Couscous • Cuscuz de Tapioca
- 500 g of tapioca
- 2 cups of sugar
- 400 g of grated coconut
- 1 can of condensed milk
- 500 ml water
- 500 ml milk
- 1 pinch of salt
- Boil the water. Mix with the tapioca and sugar.
- Then add 300 g of grated coconut, a pinch of salt, and milk.
- Mix well. Place on a platter and let cool for at least 2 hours.
- Sprinkle the rest of the shredded coconut as decoration.
- Add condensed milk on top, as you wish.
Photos: Public domain and Laura