Whenever we go to Vietnamese restaurants, this is one of my Dad’s favorite dishes to order. He doesn’t make it too often at home, and I think part of it has to do with the lack of fresh sugarcane in the grocery stores. Granted, you could probably make it without the sugarcane or even substitute it with something else, but I think munching on the sweet sugarcane at the end is my favorite part of the meal (and his too, I like to think)!

Well, after chopping up my own stalk of sugarcane, I did in fact have fresh sugarcane for this recipe. If it’s not available in your area, you can always used canned sugarcane too.

Vietnamese Sugarcane Shrimp (Chao Tom)
Serves 2 as a meal or 4 for appetizer (accompanied with rice paper and all the fixings)

Instead of chopping the shrimp by hand, you can also use a food processor to make the whole process faster. Even if you use a food processor though, take it out at the end and whack it in a bowl a few times to help make the mixture more springy.

1 lb. shrimp
3 slices bacon, fat only
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 beaten egg white
2 Tbsp. corn starch
1/4 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. fish sauce
1 Tbsp. oil
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
dash of white pepper

1. Remove the fat from the bacon. Set aside the meat for another use. Mince and save the fat for the shrimp mixture.

2. Chop up the shrimp and keep chopping until the mixture turns into a smooth paste. This is usually done with a butcher knife and at the point where your chopping is no longer doing any good, use the flat side of the knife to mash the shrimp a few times.

3. Add in the garlic, corn starch, fish sauce, oil, salt, sugar, pepper, and bacon fat. Beat the egg white until frothy and add that in as well. Mix until everything is well incorporated. Pick up the whole mixture in your hand and throw it back into the bowl with a forceful motion several times. This helps add springiness to the mixture.

4. Pound the sugarcane sticks with the flat end of your knife a few times to help the sticks release their juices.

5. Separate your shrimp paste mixture into 12 sections. Grab one section and form an oblong ball with it. Place the sugarcane stick in the center. Press it into the ball and enclose the sugarcane with the mixture. Reform it into a smooth football shape.

6. Place the shrimp sticks into a steamer and steam for 8-10 minutes, until the shrimp turns opaque.

7. Meanwhile, heat up a small amount of oil in a pan. When shrimp is done being steamed, you can dry them off and fry them lightly in the oil to brown the outside.

8. Serve with lettuce, Vietnamese herbs, rice paper, rice noodles, and nuoc cham dipping sauce. For wraps, you can cut the shrimp balls into quarters so they lie nicely in the rice paper.