Thai Tapioca Recovery Plan


A friend talked me into trying tapioca for the first time at Thai Bistro some years back.

Until then, I'd turned up my nose at tapioca. I couldn't shake the image of that little red box of Kraft Quick Cooking Minute Tapioca, which always struck me as a Southern gramma's food. Pablum-like geriatric rice pudding. Ick.

I've since learned that tapioca comes from a root, and is formed into tiny starch balls.

Starch balls. What's not to love about that?

It took a few tentative bites of tapioca at the Thai Bistro for me to get beyond the dessert's translucent, slightly chewy beads.

It helped that the tapioca was served hot with a huge scoop of vanilla ice cream in the middle.

I moved on to sample and adore other Thai tapiocas, such as those from the Thai Cafe (a place that has killer coconut ice cream). But I kept returning to Thai Bistro's tapioca. In fact, you might say I have a bit of an obsession with its tapioca. (I also love Thai Bistro's fresh veggie spring rolls.)

I love Thai Bistro's tapioca so much that I often think I should just skip the meal and move straight to the tapioca.

Not to digress too much, but I could now kick myself that I didn't take the opportunity during July's Cooking at the Cascade event to ask Naj Phutsangdee, Thai Bistro chef and owner, the secret to his delicious tapioca. He could have shared it with all of us then while he was on stage demonstrating Golden Pouches.

Twice I've pressed him for tapioca details, and each time he patiently explains the process: Put the tapioca beads in water, stir over medium heat, stirring, stirring the whole time. The beads should become somewhat clear. Make a lot and it'll be at the ready whenever a tapioca craving hits. That's when you add coconut milk and/or a scoop of vanilla ice cream to it, if you want. (And who wouldn't?)

Sounds easy enough, doesn't it?

A word about tapioca pearls. The tapioca used in this recipe below is called "pearl tapioca" and it's found in Asian stores, such as the Lao Market in Redding at 2660 South Market Street (next to Racha Noodle, across South Market Street from Kanya Garden Thai Cuisine).


An aside, I love that Redding has the Lao Market. This is the coolest store, filled with all kinds of interesting foods and baskets and cookware and ethnic sauces and pastes and seasonings. It's where I bought some adorable small, yellow candles that I put on my sister's beehive cake.


But if you do buy tapioca in the baking aisle of your local, white-bread grocery store, expect the red-boxed minute-tapioca variety, which is a far cry from the Asian market options. For example, there are the traditional "seed" tapiocas.


And there are even colored tapioca shreds - for lack of a better term.


I didn't love my first attempts at making tapioca. It look unappetizing, like a glue product.


But I discovered that's quickly remedied with coconut milk, and/or ice cream.

After that, it looks just as it's intended: terrific tapioca.

I now realize that tapioca is an acquired texture -- and that not everyone appreciates its mouth-feel - like caviar from a gummy sturgeon.

In fact, my non-scientific observation is that many people don't care for tapioca. For example, friends Kelly and Steve, and husband Bruce and sister Shelly all actually hate tapioca.

No extra spoons for sharing. Oh darn.

I tried a few tapioca recipes from ones I found online, and created the adaptation, below. (No maple or corn syrup, for example, but if you want it, go for it.)


1/2 cup seed tapioca beads (found at Asian markets)
1 can coconut milk
4 T. sugar
1/4 t. salt
Ice cream to top, if you want - or fruit, like mango

Cover the tapioca with tepid water for about 15-20 minutes, or until the beads have softened and bloated a bit. Drain through a sieve. 
In a saucepan over medium high heat place the soaked tapioca with the salt and about 2 cups of water, stirring until it boils.

Still stirring, reduce the heat to medium and simmer for about 10 minutes, adding more water if it looks like it's cooking off too fast, popping or cooking too hot.

Keep cooking and stirring until most of the beads are slightly translucent and soft. (Don't freak if they're not translucent.)

Add the coconut milk and the sugar to the tapioca and blend well.

Serve either hot with a scoop of ice cream, or at room temperature, or even cold, with mango or other favorite fruit.

Serves 4

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
Comment Policy: We welcome your comments, with some caveats: Please keep your comments positive and civilized. If your comment is critical, please make it constructive. If your comment is rude, we will delete it. If you are constantly negative or a general pest, troll, or hater, we will ban you from the site forever. The definition of terms is left solely up to us. Comments are disabled on articles older than 90 days. Thank you. Carry on.

8 Responses

  1. Canda says:

    I've always been one of those Tapioca haters, but I do trust your palate, and might just try this, or at least try the one at Thai Bistro. We love that place! Anything with coconut milk appeals to me, maybe even Tapioca.

  2. Sally Marbry says:

    Years ago (in the 90's) in Hong Kong, "Sago" bars starting springing up….small little open shops that served huge pearl (tapioca) drinks. All flavors. You would sit there and poke your straw at the sinking tapioca bombs and YUMMMM. I am sure Starbucks have since then taken over.

  3. Kathleen G. Patton says:

    Dear Doni: My family loved tapioca pudding, and it was a special treat while growing up. We did use the red and white boxed tapioca. But the special, most yummy part was that the recipe inculded egg whites whipped into clouds, and then folded into the rest of the pudding. It was flavored with vanilla. We loved it warm or refrigerated. I introduced it to my high-school friends, and often at slumber parties tapioca making was a welcomed ritual.

    • Doni Greenberg Doni Greenberg says:

      You know, I've seen those tapioca recipes with beaten egg whites and wondered how they'd taste. OK, that's it. I'll try it.

  4. Melinda Van Doren says:

    The next time you are in Dunsmuir you have to try the tapioca at Senthong's. Very yummy and coconutty!

    Also, Moore's Flour Mill sells tapioca and the recipe on the package is more like Kathleen mentioned in the last post. Try substituting coconut milk for the milk.
    You will love it. I bet the other nay-sayers will like it too.

  5. Laura says:

    Try the Kheer (tapioca pudding) at Priya on Churn Creek at Hartnell. Indian tapioca is thinner and often has pistachios, vermicelli, and cardamom. A different, yummy taste and texture. Delicious!

  6. Melissa says:

    Oh, Doni, really, you must give that little red box a second try. It holds marvels of winter comfort. I go through a box a season. I use the standard recipe on the side but have learned that you really must be patient with it. For example, no turning the heat up to high to cook it faster. Nope, won't work. The result will be runny. And set the timer when letting it set for 5 minutes before turning on the heat. Again, impatience will cause a runny result.

    And those tapioca drinks Sally wrote of are really double YUMM. Every trip to the Bay Area offers an opportunity to imbibe. A perfectly good reason to risk crossing the Bay Bridge.

  7. cars says:

    Buying a used car can be tricky, no matter how much you already know about cars.

    There are lots of different things to consider so that

    you don't end up buying a piece of junk that breaks down right away. Use some great tips of the trade in the following article to help you make your next car choice.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *