Taoca: an authentic taste of Brazil
Mention Brazilian food to just about anyone and tantalising images of churrasco – juicy grilled meat – will most likely come to mind. For Brazilian-born vegan Renata Santoniero, founder of tapioca crepe business Taoca, this means she often has to explain herself.
“People ask, ‘How come you’re a vegan if Brazilians only eat meat?’” she says. “But that’s not true! We eat other things too, but most people think Brazilian food is all about meat.”
As a vegan who wanted to share the different nuances of the Brazilian food she loves, Santoniero started Taoca with her partner Bruno Homero in 2019. They wanted to showcase Brazilian food other than meat and make it healthy. Taoca crepes are vegan, non-GMO, gluten-free, cholesterol-free, with no artificial flavours or colours. For Santoniero and Homero, the idea was to share more than the surface level of what Brazilian food truly is while busting the myth that it’s all about meat.
Planting the seed
Originally from Sao Paulo, Santoniero came to Sydney in 2012 after graduating with a Bachelor of Architecture. Her stay was only meant to last a few months. However, she chose to stay on and continue working in Sydney. This is where her fascination with food began.
“I never really needed to learn how to cook anything until I moved here and had to live by myself,” she says. “Soon I found myself immersed in the art.”
This was also when she consciously began understanding what was going into her stomach. She decided to turn to vegetarianism, which later evolved into veganism.
“I became passionate about healthy food,” she says. “After going vegan, you start thinking about everything in your food. You just start reading about it and you’re like, oh, all the poor choices I’ve been making my whole life!”
Tapioca is a traditional Brazilian food that’s been used in the indigenous Brazilian diet for centuries. Tapioca crepes are a popular street food – they’re made with cassava starch and used to be found predominantly in specific areas of north and northeast Brazil. However, in the past eight to 10 years, they’ve become much more mainstream.
The crepes are cooked by sifting hydrated tapioca power onto a hot pan or skillet, then waiting for it to melt to form a crepe, which takes around two minutes. A sweet or savoury filling of choice is then added on one side of the crepe, and the other side is folded on top.
“I discovered tapioca crepes when I travelled to the north of Brazil,” Santoniero says. “I thought it was fascinating how the powder sticks together and becomes a crepe. Then I tried one… I was like, oh, my god, this is amazing!”
Making amazing even better
Santoniero and Homero thought that this might be something they could bring to Sydney, but with healthier, vegan ingredients. They started experimenting to create a twist on traditional flavours like cheese and tomato or guava and cheese. They then expanded to create coloured tapioca crepe powders, made using beetroot juice, paprika, spinach juice and other natural ingredients. The crepes themselves are an excellent source of energy, and there are ways to make them even more nutritious by adding healthy fillings and toppings.
For Santoniero, she has different favourite crepe recipes for different times of the day.
“For breakfast, we love an avocado, mushroom and spinach filling,” she says. “But if it’s lunch, our best-seller is pulled ‘pork’, which is made from jackfruit, with Brazilian slaw and cashew nuts. For dessert, there’s our nutty chocolate spread and strawberries.”
The nutty chocolate spread is one of Taoca’s best-selling crepe additions, They make it in-house, and it’s now available to buy online. Made from 70 percent Belgian chocolate, with Taoca’s own almond butter, hazelnut butter and peanut butter, it contains no added sugar.
From architect to food entrepreneur
“At first, even before we created the product, we were interested in having a side-hustle,” Santoniero says. “Not just to put our time into something that was ours, but also to not just be thinking about the construction industry all the time.”
Santoniero and Homero took inspiration from businesses in Brazil that were doing similar things. Following business models from Brazil, the pair adapted them to the street market culture of Sydney. They then mixed Brazilian and Australian flavours to create their recipes.
For Santoniero, architecture is the other love of her life. She has always been interested in trying her hand at the many different areas of the industry, and often thinks about the relationship between being a food entrepreneur and an architect.
“Design and project management – both jobs involve these elements, whether you’re thinking about beautiful spaces or beautiful food, managing architecture projects or talking to suppliers,” she says. “I’ve learnt things in each that I can apply to the other.”
Taoca crepes are available online or at Buddha Bowl Cafe, Newtown; Bossa Nova Cafe, Melbourne; and Go Vita Jamison, Canberra. Taoca also runs a stall at the Sydney Vegan Market. This article was written by Abhati Tarkunde, digital content creator at food business incubator FoodLab Sydney. Renata Santoniero is one of the mentors on the program.