Posted on Tue, March 27, 2012 by Slow Food USA
0 Comments | Categories: Biodiversity,
Written by Sara Franklin, independent writer, multi-media producer, co-author of the forthcoming book, The Manioc Route: Exploring the Foundations of Brazilian Cuisine with Teresa Corção
Maybe you’ve had stewed yuca in a Cuban restaurant or pounded fufu in a West African joint. Tapioca—you’ve seen it in gluten-free breads, in the pearls in your bubble tea, or, of course, in pudding (the molecular gastronomy crowd can’t get enough of the stuff and its magical stabilizing powers!). And if you’ve been to Brazil (or a Brazilian restaurant, for that matter), you have, no doubt, come across pão de queijo—those chewy little cheese breads—and sprinkled farofa on your meat, fish, rice and beans. But did you know that all of these foods come from a single plant?
Manioc root—also commonly known as cassava, yuca and tapioca—is originally from the Amazon region of Brazil, and today is the fifth most important staple crop in the world (maize, rice, wheat and potatoes are ahead on the list).
When I found out about this ubiquitous and remarkably versatile (not to mention delicious) root during my first trip to Brazil in 2010, I knew I had stumbled upon something remarkable. How was it that as a food writer and farmer I knew nothing about this plant? But when I began to dig around to learn more, I found little outside of literature from the international aid community— manioc’s reputation is as a food of the world’s poor.
What I wasn’t able to find was any sort of culinary tribute to the root and its gastronomic importance. Nothing spoke to the versatility of the plant (both its roots and leaves are edible) in the kitchen or its incredible traditions of artisanal production.
Nothing, that is, until I stumbled across a website for Instituto Maniva, a non-profit organization founded by the Rio de Janeiro-based chef, restaurateur and (agri)cultural activist, Teresa Corção.
I wrote to Teresa (right) while in Brazil the first time, and met her on my second trip when she invited me to lunch at her renowned downtown restaurant, O Navegador (The Navigator).
As it turned out, we both were geekily obsessed with food’s role in history and identity, and devoted to foods grown and produced in both culturally and environmentally sustainable ways. And both of us were dismayed at the lack of culinary literature about manioc (just imagine if there wasn’t a single cookbook about the other global staple crops mentioned above).
Before we knew it, we had decided to begin to fill that void, and began work on a print and mixed-media cookbook documenting and celebrating manioc, those who produce it and its many roles in Brazil’s diverse cuisines. We decided, too, to touch on manioc around the world—Nigeria is now the world’s leading producer of cassava root, Vietnam is the largest exporter of tapioca starch, and chefs the likes of José Andrés.
The book should hit the shelves the summer of 2014 (right around the time of the Brazilian World Cup), but in the meantime, we, along with our photographer, have got some traveling to do to interview and take photos for the project.
Please take a look at our Facebook page to read more about the project, watch two of the films Teresa has co-produced, and learn how you can help.