Before the trip, mom asked if there was anything special I wanted to eat. I told her I wanted to find a particular snack we used to get at a small Thai grocer. It’s a tapioca ball stuffed with a sweet-savory filling of pork, pickled radish, palm sugar and chopped peanut. It’s been at least 15 years since I last had it. Mom did better than find it, she called in her friend who used to make and sell them to various grocers to demonstrate how to make them!
Here's the quick version:
Start with rehydrated tapioca balls. I didn't get to see the tapioca being prepared, but it sounded very involved. I wrote it all down, but I have a feeling it's going to take a few tries to get the right texture, which is very pliable and soft. It looks crumbly, but it's not at all.
I could never cut it as a photojournalist. With all the talking and photographing and notetaking, this turned out to be the shameful picture I got of the filling! The filling is brown in part from the caramelization of the palm sugar. Those light flecks are chopped peanuts. There's also pickled radish and fried ground pork. The filling is so uniform, that the only recognizable texture of the filling are the peanuts. If you overcook the filling it will be hard and dry. If it's undercooked it's going to be too wet. I have a feeling it's going to take a few tries with this too.
The filling is enclosed in the tapioca. Make sure none of the filling is showing. It needs to be completely covered, otherwise it will come out. Also, the tapioca cannot be too thick or else you'll just get a chewy, messy mass in your mouth.
Chopped garlic is fried in plenty of oil, then drained, reserving the oil. The oil is used to keep the balls from sticking and the fried garlic is sprinkled liberally on top. Don't try to cut corners and use the store-bought fried garlic. This needs to be made fresh every batch.
Ta-da! Tell me that doesn't look tempting. I won't mention how many of these bad boys I ate. Suffice it to say, it was a lot!
Easy, right? Let's see how long it's going to take me to get it right.