It constantly amazes me how much our culinary imaginations are influenced by cultural context. In our globalized world, the same ingredients often appear in different regions, but are used in completely different ways.
A great example of this is Tapioca, a starch derived from the manioc root.
In the United States, tapioca is nothing more than a pudding flavor (by "pudding" I mean a custard-like dessert). But in Brazil, it is a staple food, used in both sweet and savory dishes.
Here I've been blown away by the versatility of manioc as an ingredient. It shows up in stews (bobó), sides (pirão), breads (pão de queijo), barbecue toppings (farofa), desserts (too many to name), snacks (povilho, beiju), and all sorts of bar foods (escondidinho), including killer manioc fries. It's also one of my favorite flavors of ice cream.
Manioc also makes occasional appearances in Thai cuisine, usually in the form of tapioca pearls or flour. Since Southeast Asia shares a similar climate to northeastern Brazil they actually have a lot of agricultural products in common, but the flavors, preparation methods and presentation style are worlds apart.
Thai food happens to be one of my favorites, and lately I've been craving it. I knew that a couple of my Ozzie friends had been too, and thus, a dinner party idea was born: A menu displaying tapioca as the key ingredient, prepared with Southeast Asian flair.
If you've every had "boba" (Taiwanese milk tea), then you've chewed big round balls of tapioca. Here I made mango-mint cocktails and added tiny tapioca pearls.
In Thailand, small tapioca pearls are used to make dumplings. Tapioca flour is also used to make some types of noodles.
The dough can be really tricky to work with. Basia wowed everyone with her expert pierogi-making skills...
Ginger, shrimp and coconut-filled tapioca dumplings, fried garlic on top.