Tuesday 14 July 2015

The Story Behind Tapioca

Tapioca. You might have tasted it before, but have you seen a tapioca plant before? Do you know that tapioca doesn’t grow like most fruits or vegetables? Instead, it is grown from the roots of a tapioca plant.

I was so glad to have the opportunity to follow my assigned lady, Tepuq Bulan, to visit her tapioca farm. To be honest, I had never seen a tapioca plant before until I visited Tepuq Bulan's farm.

Tapioca farm
Tapioca is best harvested when the plant is about 9-12 months grown. Because of this, it is planted annually.

We can identify the maturity of a tapioca plant by looking at its branches. If there are fruits on the tapioca plant, it means the tapioca is ready to be harvested. 

Tepuq Bulan harvesting tapioca using a hoe
Harvesting tapioca is a backbreaking job, especially for a 6-foot-tall guy like me. I had to bend down, continuously digging until I caught a glimpse of the tapioca. It was very challenging as you can't dig too fast or exert too much strength when digging, as you might damage the tapioca. Tepuq must have been watching with cold sweat while I was harvesting the tapioca, as she was worried I might destroy her hard work. Luckily, there was only a small cut on one of the tapioca roots.

“Be gentle” ”Do it softly” These were the words of advice Tepuq gave me before she left to collect tapioca leaves. By the time she had finished collecting one bag of tapioca leaves, I was still struggling to pull out tapioca from the same spot.

After harvesting, the stem cutting method was applied to plant a new tapioca plant, where the end of a stem is sharpened before inserted into the soil with a depth not exceeding 6 cm. The stem was cut to about 15cm long for it to grow.

Fried tapioca cake
"It's just ordinary fried tapioca cake, there's nothing special about it" was my first impression of the dish pictured above. But after I experienced the process of harvesting and planting tapioca, I started to appreciate it as I realised so much blood, sweat and tears were involved in harvesting the tapioca that we take for granted. There are a lot of things that we do not understand until we have experienced them. During my time in primary school, my teachers always reminded us not to waste rice as every grain of rice came from the hard work of a farmer. Now, I clearly understand that we should feel grateful and appreciate everything that we have even if it's just a cup of water, because we are living lives far more fortunate than many others.  

Wai Leong

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