Tapioca designated as Japan’s dish of 2019

Photo by Takahiro Takiguchi
Photo by Takahiro Takiguchi

Tapioca designated as Japan’s dish of 2019

Stripes Japan

It’s official — tapioca has been named Japan’s dish of 2019.

The tea drink with tapioca pearl balls has hit the country by storm, prompting Gurunavi Research Institute, a survey company, to select it for the designation.

In its press release, Gurunavi said tapioca serves as a “symbol of the times reflecting the year in Japanese society.”

Tapioca has been used for years in other drinks, shaved ice, sweets and puddings in Asia. Milk tea with tapioca pearls originated in the 80s in Taiwan and has since spread to other Southeast Asian countries, and now Japan.

It is definitely difficult to imagine a time where there wasn’t a tapioca tea shop on every corner in tourist and fashionable teen traps like Harajuku and Shibuya in Tokyo. It even had its own temporary pop-up “theme park,” Tokyo Tapioca Land, earlier this year in Harajuku. The pop-up brought fans from all over to enjoy different varieties of tapioca tea and to peruse the super-kawaii, life-size tapioca exhibits for social media-worthy photos.

The craze even earned it its own phrases like “tapi-ru,” meaning “to tapioca” and “tapi-katsu,” meaning “tapioca activities.”

Gurunavi said it chose tapioca because it went beyond fad to social phenomenon, the different ways in which it can be enjoyed (tapioca tea is but one of the many ways), the growing awareness of its consumers for proper ways of disposing of the empty tea cups and the fact that tapioca is gluten-free which the company expects will allow it to be incorporated in other ways into Japanese food culture.

Is tapioca here to stay? Or is the tapioca bubble about to burst? So far it seems it’s holding strong amongst Tokyo’s teens and curious tourists. Might be worth taking a tapi-ru break and seeing what the fuss is all about.

Learn some useful phrases for the next time you find yourself at a tapioca tea spot: https://japan.stripes.com/food-drink/speakin-japanese-tapioca-talk-1566881691

Visiting Korea? Tap into tasty tapioca on the peninsula: https://korea.stripes.com/food-drink/tap-tasty-tapioca-tea

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