I saw a sign that said “Yuca do it! 7 p.m.” when I went down the hall for breakfast this morning. Our day was jam packed, but I knew we would be back at the hotel in time for whatever it was I could do at 7:00.

We got back to the hotel at 6:30ish, so we went directly to where the sign was. A guy named Mr. Smith was standing there with a clipboard to sign in the participants. I put my name on the list, and he pointed me to the room next to the sign, which was set up like a classroom.
Mr. Smith entered the room, closed the door, and walked to the front, where there was a lone desk and chair. He sat on the table and gave us a lecture on the history and importance of cassava in Paraguay. Mr. Smith only talked for about twenty minutes, but I was captivated by his every word. I now feel it is my responsibility to educate you on the vegetable I learned about today. It has many names, but we know it best as cassava, and it grows in tropical areas. Paraguay is one of the places it grows the best, and it’s a must-have on every Paraguayan dinner table.

cassava

It’s hard to describe, so I’ll say it looks like a cross between a carrot and a sweet potato (with brown skin) but longer and wrinklier. On the inside, the cassava looks like a regular white potato. It grows on trees though. It’s not like the potato that comes out of the ground. Mr. Smith said this vegetable has been growing wild for 10,000 years, but the Incas and the Maya began to cultivate it in the centuries before Columbus. These peoples learned how to prepare it in different ways. Like they would grind it into flour or use some parts as medicine. The vegetable can actually be toxic if it’s not cooked properly. Scary huh?

OK, that’s a description and the history of cassava, but I bet you’re wondering how it tastes. OMG, it’s delicious. When Mr. Smith finished his lecture, a gang of servers came in with trays, each filled with a different way to prepare cassava. First, I tried the fried one. It looked like a potato wedge. It tasted like a French fry but with a smoother, creamier texture. . Second, I tried a piece of bread that was made from the cassava flour. Mr. Smith said this was very popular at the Paraguayan dinner table. It looked like a donut or a bagel. I would think they’d eat it at breakfast. Third, I tried the boiled version. I didn’t like it very much. It tasted too slimy to me. Finally, I tried it in a dessert. I thought I’d never say this, but I love tapioca pudding. Did you know tapioca was made with cassava?

cassava-plants

There was plenty more to try: cakes, candy, roasted cassava, cassava chips, cassava stew, empanada-looking things, and much more. I was getting full and I wanted to eat a meal with some meat. I shook Mr. Smith’s hand then went to find the rest of the group for dinner. I’m glad I found that great lesson in cassava, though!

Activities:

  1. What is cassava?
  2. What different dishes can be prepared using cassava as an ingredient?
  3. ¡A investigar! Cassava is very popular in Paraguay. Find Paraguay in Google maps (https://www.google.es/maps) and describe where the country is located. What is the name of the capital?