Food on a Stick: Sugar Cane Skewered Shrimp

by Pamela

skewered shrimp, chao tom, food on a stick, sugar cane

What screams summer more than food on a stick?  Okay, besides lemonade, ice cream, vacations and going to the beach.  Food on a stick is a bit of an American tradition.  Think about it.  You’ve got corn dogs, candy/caramel apples, popsicles, lollipops, frozen bananas and not to mention all of the other foods that are now being served on a stick like: fried bacon, fried potatoes and frozen cheesecake.

Let’s face it, food on a stick is not only fun to eat, but makes even the most obscene culinary delights seem almost fiddle-dee-dee dainty.  Doesn’t it look more refined to take a bite of something held over a plate or napkin than trying to cram as much of said food item onto the tines of an impossibly small fork and jamming it into your mouth?  As the person standing or sitting opposite you when you do that – yes it does look much more polite and less like you’re trying to gorge yourself on the last bit of food left on Earth.

Sugar-Cane-Shrimp Sugar Can Shrimp (Chao Tom)

But what if we change up the “stick” that your food is clinging to?  What would you think about sugar cane skewered shrimp?  The Vietnamese dish Chao Tom is exactly that: sugar can skewered shrimp.  Well, technically that’s what the dish is, but the shrimp are not whole shrimp.  Sugar cane stalks are generally too thick to be used to skewer a whole shrimp, so the shrimp are ground into a paste and molded around the sugar cane.  And yes, said shrimp are blended with seasonings and other ingredients to make them oh so succulent and totally craveable.

Chao Tom (sugar cane skewered shrimp) is a traditional Vietnamese food that’s perfect to serve as an appetizer/finger food at your next party along with a well chilled adult beverage.  Chao Tom, is a well seasoned shrimp paste wrapped around a stick of sugarcane, briefly steamed and pan fried to finish.  Traditionally, the shrimp is then wrapped in lettuce, along with some herbs and dipped into a fish sauce based dipping sauce.  However, I decided just to serve the skewers as is, and offer up black vinegar (which is traditionally Chinese) and a sweet chili sauce (which is traditionally Thai) as the dipping sauces.  The sugar cane has 2 functions in this dish.  First, it’s a skewer that allows you to hold the food and second, it adds another touch of sweetness to the shrimp.  I suppose a third function of the sugar can should be addressed as well: it’s great to chew or suck on the sugar cane (once the shrimp has been eaten off) to taste some more of that sweet sugar can juice.


As for the sugar cane….I bought a 24″ piece at my local Asian grocery store.  I have also been able to find it at farmer’s markets.  You do have options if the fresh is not available.  You can use canned sugar cane or even lemon grass stalks (which are a bit easier to find).  I use the green top part of the lemon grass, since this is normally thrown away.  Just peel off the loose outer layer and use the stalk as you would the cane.  Or you could use the lower part of the lemon grass.  Just buy lemon grass that has a larger white part at the bottom.  Peel off the loose outer layer and cut a 4″-5″ piece then cut it in half lengthwise if it’s wider than 1/2″.

Sugar-Cane Fresh Sugar Cane

Here is a great tutorial on how to cut sugar cane if you are able to get your hands on it (which I highly recommend).

Relationship Advice

We haven’t talked about sex in a while and I thought that it was about time we did a little sexy time talking.  Don’t read between the lines here thinking that something went awry during my sexy time – it didn’t.  I just spent a lot of time on a plane this past weekend and it got me to thinking about sexy time no-no’s.

  • Adult Movie Tricks: If you’re planning on trying one of those weird stunts you’ve seen on some pay-per-view channel you were watching on that business trip to Kansas City, think again.  If we haven’t discussed it, you’re man bits are likely to get a surprise meeting with my foot.
  • The Wet Spot: Yes, there’s going to be a wet spot on the bed (if everyone’s on the same page), but just like you’re supposed to open the door for us ladies, it’s rude to expect us to sleep in the wet spot.  At least give us a clean towel to put between our skin and co-mingled pleasure pool.
  • Clean Bedding:  Speaking of clean…If you’ve got light colored sheets, doing the wild thing on linens that look like you walked all over them after building a road isn’t going to get you far.  If you’ve got dark colored sheets, and haven’t changed them since your last booty call – errr…we can see the tell-tale signs of that and we aren’t going to play along.  Just like we shave our legs before we go out with you, you need to change your sheets before going out with us.
  • Birth Control:  Leaving the birth control and disease prevention solely up to us is BS and you know you’re just being lazy.  No one’s falling for the line “I’ll pull out.”  And if you tell us you’re out of condoms, we’re going to know what a man whore you are….so just stock up.  Of course letting us see the Costco size box of condoms you have isn’t bound to turn us on either.
  • Farting: If you fart in bed, it’s game over.  I’ve got nothing else to say on the matter.


Recipe: Sugar Cane Skewered Shrimp (Chao Tom)


  • 2 Carrots (roughly chopped)
  • 2 Green Onions (roughly chopped)
  • 3 Sprigs of Cilantro (roughly chopped)
  • 2 Cloves of Garlic (finely minced)
  • 1 1/2 Pounds Shrimp (peeled and roughly chopped)
  • 1 Tablespoon Brown Sugar
  • 1/2 Tablespoon Lard (or vegetable oil)
  • 1 1/2 Teaspoons Fish Sauce (such as nuoc cham)
  • White Pepper
  • Kosher Salt
  • 1 Egg White
  • 18 Sugar Cane Sticks (or lemongrass stalks)*
  • Vegetable Oil (for frying)


  1. In the bowl of your food processor add the chopped carrots, green onions, cilantro and garlic and pulse until everything is in tiny pieces (don’t process it until it turns into mush).
  2. Add the shrimp, brown sugar, lard and fish sauce to the food processor.
  3. This time, you’ll pulse everything until the shrimp turns into a paste.
  4. Dump the shrimp mixture into a medium to large size bowl and add the salt, pepper and egg white. Stir to thoroughly combine the egg white into the mixture.
  5. Let the mixture sit for 20 minutes.
  6. Wet your hands and take 2 tablespoons of the shrimp mixture into the palm of one hand and lay the sugar cane (or lemon grass) skewer in the middle of the mixture. Form the mixture around the skewer.
  7. Once the mixture is formed, lay it on a piece of plastic wrap or waxed paper.
  8. Continue molding all of the shrimp and laying each piece on the wrap or paper. Do not let the pieces touch or they’ll stick to each other.
  9. Fit a steamer basket into a large pot and add water until the level comes just below the steamer basket.
  10. Bring water to rolling boil.
  11. Once the water is boiling, arrange the skewers in the basket so that they are standing up and not touching each other.
  12. Steam them until you see that bits of the shrimp turn an orange red color (just like shrimp do when you cook them) and then remove the from the steamer and set them aside. This will take around 5 – 7 minutes. You will need to do this in batches.  I loosely covered them with the lid for the pot.
  13. Once all of the shrimp have been steamed, you can ready the pan frying process.
  14. Add some vegetable oil to a large saute pan and heat over medium high heat.  (Be somewhat generous with the oil because the shrimp skewers will stick if there isn’t enough oil. But they don’t need to be swimming in oil.)
  15. Once the oil is hot, lay the shrimp skewers into the oil. Fry them on all sides until they are crisp. This will also need to be done in batches.
  16. Once they are all fried you can pile them onto a platter and serve with sweet Thai chili sauce and black vinegar.

Quick notes

Fish Sauce can be found in better grocery stores or Asian grocery stores.

When molding the shrimp paste around the skewer you can either leave both ends free or you can cover one end with the paste, it’s totally up to you.

* See above (in the post) to learn how to cut up fresh sugar cane.


Feel free to serve these with soy sauce or even a fruit salsa.

Preparation time:  30 Minutes

Cooking time:  20 Minutes

Diet tags: Gluten free

Number of servings (yield): 6

Culinary tradition: Vietnamese

My rating 5 stars:  ★★★★★ 1 review(s)


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The Duo Dishes June 30, 2011 at 10:20 pm

If only these were the kinds of foods on a stick that amusement parks served. We’d probably all eat there. There might even be sugar cane at some of the Filipino or Thai markets too.

Pamela July 1, 2011 at 12:06 pm

Definitely should be able to find sugar cane (in some form) at a Filipino or Thai market.

As for the amusement park food…check out the post I recently did on Universal Studios. It was a real eye openener, in a good way. They serve REAL food there.

Kazia Jankowski June 30, 2011 at 10:39 am

What a fun and unique recipe, I can’t want to try it!

Jennifer June 28, 2011 at 2:41 pm

Your skewers looks amazing. I want some RIGHT NOW! As for the sexy advice, so funny and all so true. Thanks!

Sippitysup June 28, 2011 at 8:19 am

Super creative, but where will I find sugarcane? GREG

Pamela June 28, 2011 at 8:34 am

I found the whole sugar cane at 99 Ranch Market. But I’ve also gotten at the Hollywood Farmer’s Market. You can get whole pieces from the sugar cane juice guys (if you’re nice to them 😉 ) and there’s one of the farmer’s that sells it in whole canes or in already peeled pieces.

Maureen June 27, 2011 at 10:17 pm

I’m wetting myself (and not in a good way) over the sexy time advice. LOL

These skewers are amazing. Who would have thought to whiz them up and squoosh them on a skewer. I’d have made smaller skewers but then I’d have been wrong!

Pamela June 28, 2011 at 8:35 am

I’m glad you like the advice Maureen. 🙂 The skewers are really delicious and a great “appetizer” for sexy time.

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