On my very first trip to Salvador, on my very first morning, I had my very first beiju (pron: bay-ju). And from that moment on, I was hooked. As someone who went gluten-free before it was even a thing, breakfast while traveling was (and still is) a challenge.
Referred to as beiju in Salvador, and tapioca everywhere else in Brazil, you can think of them as the Brazilian version of a crepe. They are filled with either sweet or savory goodness, folded over, and then eaten like a soft-shell taco. A well-prepared tapioca should be, in my opinion, just slightly crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside.
The tapioca shell is made from, as you would guess, tapioca. On my first trip to Brazil, my only knowledge of tapioca was really bad pudding from my childhood and tapioca balls in bubble tea. So, I had some catching up to do.
A quick food chemistry lesson because I find this fascinating, and tapioca is a really important food here in Brazil.
Tapioca comes from manioc root (also known as cassava or aipim), which if improperly prepared is toxic as it contains cyanide. But, it is easy to grow and relatively high in calories and carbohydrate energy, so it’s a popular root vegetable in spite of that whole toxicity thing. Tapioca is created when the manioc root is dried and you end up with a fine powder.
But, fortunately for you, you don’t have to worry about any of that, as there are a number of places where you can buy tasty, tasty tapioca all ready to eat!
The best part about beijus are that what you can put in them is only limited by your imagination. Both sweet and savory fillings are very popular.
To give you just a few ideas:
- Mozzarella, tomato, oregano, and basil
- Shrimp, mozzarella, and pumpkin
- Tuna, mozzarella, olives, and capers
- Carne do sol, salty cheese (quiejo coelho), and plantains
- Nutella and banana
- Coconut, condensed milk, and dried plums
- Mozzarella, banana, cinnamon, and sugar
- Romeo & Juliet — a classic Brazilian combination made with goiaba jelly and Minas cheese (a fresh, semi-soft cheese)
Where to Find Tapioca (Beiju)
While not as easy to find as acarajé and coxinhas, tapioca is a quite popular street food. There are any number of street vendors that sell it as well as dedicated tapiocarias. In my experience, any place where you find people drinking until late at night, you’ll also find tapioca!
Of the neighborhoods I’m most familiar with, here are your go-to locations:
- Barra: There are a handful of shops between the Farol and the Cristo. There is also a hand truck that shows up near the Itau on the boardwalk most nights during the summer that is the hands-down favorite of the locals. The line can easily be 15-deep and we oftentimes see the police stop by as well.
- Rio Vermelho: Both Praca da Dinha and Largo da Mariquita have stands.
- Pelourinho: I’m sad to say that tapioca shops tend not to stick around in the Pelourinho, and I don’t know why. As I type this, there is currently one stand in Praça da Sé.
Have you had a tapioca (beiju)? What is your favorite combination? Tell me in the comments belwo. I’m always looking for new flavor combinations to experiment with!