If you are moving to Fortaleza or staying there for longer than a holiday, then you can find your way to a good quality of life starting from having long walks on the beach every morning and carrying on to discovering its local delicacies. One of the Fortaleza foods you can’t miss is the delicious and healthy tapioca. Boasting a wide range of health benefits and prepared with different flavours and ingredients, you can find tapioca pretty much everywhere in Fortaleza.
What is tapioca?
Both an ingredient and a dish.
Fundamentally, it is a starch made out of the finest manioc (cassava) flour. Here it’s called “goma”, and it has a chewy texture that makes the grains stick together when cooked.
What does the dish we find in restaurants or buy from street vendors consist of? It’s either a thin layer of starch heated and slightly grilled on a pan and filled with many different ingredients of your choice, from meat to cheese to chocolate, or a thicker layer steamed and quickly grilled on which, again, you can add any topping you like. I’ve seen the first kind of tapioca mainly for dinner or a mid-morning, mid-day snack, while the second style is more used for breakfast, so the toppings normally lean towards a sweet taste (I like to add coconut milk or fruit jam).
While it’s possible (but not very frequent) to find it in all Brazilian states, tapioca is mainly Northeastern pride. In Ceara it is, and it’s always been all the rage.
According to locals, tapioca is the name taken from the native tupí-guaraní language of a dish belonging to the gastronomic tradition of indigenous tribes belonging to this linguistic group. Mainly inhabiting Brazil’s eastern coast, still today they live according to their own culture, art, spirituality, language, costumes. Little by little, tapioca grew in popularity all over the North and the Northeast, up to being adopted as the main food of the slaves.
Still today, indigenous people produce the starch that, when cooked, forms a sort of pancake of neutral taste and highly nutritious. Replacing bread during meals, tapioca is possibly the most popular food here, so tapiocarias, or tapioca-places, are scattered everywhere both in Fortaleza and in all the other cities and towns around, each of them coming up with new tastes and tapioca-based products every day, both salty and sweet.
What are the health benefits of the tapioca?
The health benefits of this root/flour/starch are so many that after you’ll have finished reading this you’ll be even more conscious of how Mother Earth really takes care of everything.
A true energy boost and source of Omega 3 and 6, cassava is rich in amino acids, fibres, minerals such as calcium, iron and phosphorus, vitamins C and of the B complex and potassium. Highly digestive and gluten-free, it’s ideal for people suffering from celiac disease. Last but not least, this root helps increase serotonin production.
Due to all these nutritional properties, manioc is recommended to people with digestion and gastrointestinal problems, to recovering patients and for babies. In Italy, it’s often an ingredient in baby foods. Now, if you tuck into tapioca filled with Nutella, please don’t blame it on me that it has given you an upset stomach and/or made you gain weight: tapioca is healthy, Nutella is not!
So now that we unveiled tapioca‘s benefits, join me at the Centro das Tapioqueiras, in Avenida Washington Soares 10125, the area the city of Fortaleza devoted to this superfood. Here the young tapioqueira Vitoria, working at Luciana’s tapioqueira Recanto do Sertão, showed me how to make traditional tapioca with a filling of banana, fresh cheese and condensed milk and a topping of banana and cinnamon: one of my favourites!