British kids stuck in boarding school commonly know it as ‘frog spawn’. That’s right! The questionable-looking tapioca dessert like the pudding is making a comeback if top chefs from around the world have their way. Said to be the perfect blank canvas with its capacity to hold various colours, and the ability to absorb plenty of flavours, it’s no wonder chefs love tapioca. Today we’ll look at the classic tapioca pudding in a number of forms before we wade through the miraculous world of bubble tea. Why? It’s National Tapioca Pudding Day.
As if frog spawn wasn’t enough, other nicknames for tapioca pudding include fish eyes and eyeball pudding. Funnily, these keep the company of ‘cat sick’ and ‘bullets’ – other foods adults try to torture kids with. Cat sick is code for vanilla pudding or custard. Meanwhile, bullets are those green balls marketed as peas that are good for you. The name of something can definitely make or break the action of one’s first spoonful. But really, the taste actually ain’t so bad when mixed with the right ingredients.
The pudding itself, derived from the cassava root, is generally made with milk or cream and sweetened with sugar. These can then be brought to the consistency smooth enough to roll off a spoon, or thick enough to stab with a fork. A consistency somewhere in the middle is what the boarding school kids used to complain about. This is fair enough if you’re stir crazy and looking for tricks to play on your peers!
While we searched for sweet reinventions of the chameleon ingredient, we took some savoury detours. The French Laundry in California serves tapioca with oysters. London’s Le Gavroche prefers their tapioca with squid ink and calamari. Considering the fact that this tapioca dessert originated in Brazil though, our favourite savoury dish has to be from Alex Atala’s São Paulo restaurant, D.O.M. Here, they serve tapioca and tucupi, an extract of cassava, with a river fish native to the Amazon.
But before you stop to think about the nicknames kids might come up with for tapioca in black squid ink, spare a thought for the delicious lod chong jellies found in South-East Asian countries like Singapore, Vietnam, and Thailand. Lod chong, translating to ‘through’ and ‘hole’, refers to the process of squeezing the pandan green pudding through a sieve or colander-type device. This creates bright green shapes not unlike worms – a perfect Halloween sleepover dessert dish, if you ask us! Here’s a great recipe with pictures so you can see the intriguing step-by-step process.
Kind of reminds us of one of our favourite tea drinks… Yep. That’s right. It’s time to talk about bubble tea – the sweet Taiwanese creation made complete by bouncy tapioca pearls. These dance in the bottom of your cup before travelling up through an oversized straw and into your chomping mouth! The bubble tea craze began in the 80s, and combines nothing but tea and boba. The boba, this is what we call the little tapioca pearls at the bottom, can sometimes have green tea or even seaweed inside. Jelly versions are available in cube or star shapes with popular flavours like lychee, strawberry, and coconut. Popping boba are the next-level version spheres, which are filled with fruit juices and syrups that explode with flavour when you bite down into them.
Imagine giving bubble tea to a pack of boarding school kids. They’d drive their headmasters looney as they bounced off the walls, trying to make their best friends ill, claiming them to be the real fish eyes, frog spawn, and eyeball puddings! Until next time, enjoy a tapioca dessert on this National Tapioca Pudding Day.