I’d never tried Vietnamese food before I came to the United States. There was no Vietnamese restaurant in my hometown and Vietnamese cuisine had never crossed my mind. Then, Thai food was the only exotic food I knew.
I first tasted Vietnamese food when I was attending graduate school in the Midwest. Stuck in the middle-of-no-where AKA Fargoland, Vietnamese food was a treat to my taste buds. I loved the familiar southeast Asian flavors: the noodle dishes, the steaming hot pho, the rice plates, the fresh bean sprouts, herbs, mint leaves, and oh yeah, fish sauce. Vietnamese food reminded me of the tastes of home–well, not quite, but they were close. It was comfort food back then and I gradually fell in love with Vietnamese cuisine.
Chao tom, or Vietnamese sugar cane shrimp is one of the appetizer dishes that I absolutely adore. While I always order them at restaurants, I have never attempted to make chao tom at home until recently. I got myself some fresh sugar cane and adapted my recipe of tau hu ky (shrimp paste with bean curd skin) and deep-fried them. (The traditional way of making sugar cane shrimp or chao tom is grilling.)
The sweet thing about making these chao tom (sugar cane shrimp) at home was that I could wrap as much shrimp paste around the sugar cane as possible, so every bite was a mouthful of delicious and springy shrimp paste. Yum!
1 1/2 pound raw shrimp (smaller shrimp)
3 cloves garlic
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 tablespoon sugar
3 dashes fish sauce
1 egg white, beaten until frothy
2 dashes white pepper powder
2 teaspoons lard or cooking oil
Sugar cane (skin peeled and quartered into 5-inch length)
Rinse and devein the shrimp and pat dry the shrimp thoroughly with paper towels. Put the shrimp, garlic, white pepper, lard/cooking oil into a food processor and blend well to form a smooth paste. Transfer the shrimp paste into a bowl.
Beat the egg white with an electronic hand beater until frothy. Combine the shrimp paste with beaten egg white and blend well. Chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes and then divide the shrimp paste into four (4) equal portions.
Oil both hands and wrap the shrimp paste around the sugar cane. Shape them nicely and leave 1.5 inch of the sugar cane exposed. Heat up a wok of oil and deep fry the chao tom until golden brown. Serve immediately.
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