Sugar Cane Prawns

Recipes | Barbecuing | Skewers | Vietnamese Food Makes 18 pieces Sugar Cane Prawns

One of the most popular dishes in Vietnamese cuisine, chao tom is traditionally grilled over a charcoal fire and is a popular snack at roadside and market stalls. It’s also eaten as part of a meal with the cooked prawn meat taken off the sugar cane and wrapped in moistened rice paper wrappers or lettuce leaves with vegetables, herbs and thin rice noodles. The prawn mixture can also be shaped into patties, omitting the sugarcane altogether, and pan-fried, or shaped into one large patty, pan-fried and cut into wedges.


1.5kg green Prawns, peeled and deveined
9 cloves garlic, finely diced
5 red shallots, finely diced (see notes)
4 stalks lemongrass, white part only, finely chopped
2 tablespoons palm sugar
2 tablespoons light fish sauce (see notes)
Freshly ground white pepper, to taste
Vegetable oil, for brushing
4 pieces canned sugar cane (see notes)
¼ iceberg lettuce
6 green onions, thinly sliced lengthwise
½ bunch coriander 
½ bunch Vietnamese mint 
2 Lebanese cucumbers, sliced into thick batons
1 cup bean sprouts, tailed

Nuoc Mam Cham
½ cup Vietnamese fish sauce (see notes)
½ cup water
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
2 tablespoons castor sugar
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 small red chilli, seeded and finely chopped
1 lime, juiced


Make Nuoc Mam Cham: combine fish sauce, water, sugar and vinegar over a low heat, stirring often, until sugar dissolves. Set aside to cool, then stir in garlic, chilli and lime juice.

Heat a barbecue or char-grill plate.

Process garlic, shallots, lemongrass, sugar and fish sauce in a food processor until well minced. Add prawns and white pepper and process until it forms a sticky mass.

Split sugar cane sticks lengthwise into 1cm thicknesses. Wet hands and mould a small handful of prawn paste around the end of each piece of cane. Brush prawn paste with vegetable oil and char-grill, turning frequently, until the paste is firm to the touch and cooked.

Meanwhile arrange lettuce leaves and whole sprigs of Vietnamese mint and coriander (still on stems) on a platter, arrange a mound of bean sprouts beside them and a pile each of green onions and cucumber batons. 

Serve the sugar cane sticks with vegetables platter and Nuoc Mam Cham dipping sauce.


If red shallots are unavailable, use 2 large golden shallots or 1 small red onion.

The light fish sauce used in this recipe is different to the more common darker sauce, and has a more subtle flavour, it is labelled nuoc mam nhi.

Alternative species:

Bugs, Marron, Rock Lobsters.

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