I know I’ve been a bit of an internet hermit lately. Chalk it up to three and a half weeks in the USA, never in the same place more than four days. It went by in a blur of smoked pork (no less than five pork shoulders and two whole roast pigs), friends, and family. So I apologize for the sparse posting of late, and I promise to get back on track now that I’m home in Paris.
You may recall that June is the month for French colonial-inspired food here on Croque-Camille. Aside from North Africa, Vietnam is one of the most influential former colonies in contemporary France, especially in the culinary arena. Doubtlessly, the cuisine of Vietnam shows some distinct French influences. I understand that the best baguettes in the world outside France are to be found in Vietnam and Vietnamese bakeries around the world. (One of these days I’ll have to go test that hypothesis personally.) It can also be argued that much of the Vietnamese culinary vocabulary derives from French. I’ve participated in discussions on whether or not pho, the classic Vietnamese soup is named for pot-au-feu, the classic French one-pot meal; whether the Vietnamese word for beef, bo, could possibly have come from the French boeuf; or if the French pain may have inspired the Vietnamese banh (this one being the most likely as I am unsure of any bread-making tradition in Vietnam before the French arrived). These discussions are rarely conclusive, but seeing as I am a language nerd, I enjoy them anyway.
Having already lauded the merits of banh mi and pho, I thought I’d highlight one of my favorite easy apéro snacks: Beignets de Crevettes. Or, as they’re known in our house, Shrimp Chips. I buy the ones from Vietnam at the Asian market, which are made from manioc (aka cassava, yucca, or sometimes tapioca) – there are some imitation ones with filler like potato available in regular grocery stores, but I haven’t tried them. Why, when the real thing is cheaper? Anyway, look at these. I never cease to be amazed by these things. Above, I’m holding six in my hand (please ignore the pallid, pre-vacation skin) to give you an idea of their size before frying. The way they puff up in the hot oil is a source of endless fascination for me.
They seem to be made up of thousands of tiny air pockets, just waiting for the chance to expand. In the oil, they fold and wriggle until they double or triple in size and flatten out into crispy, lightly golden chips. I like to eat them in two or three bites, savoring the way the bubbles dissolve on my tongue. They taste vaguely of shrimp, but mostly it’s the salty crunch I enjoy.
Just because I have to buy them at the Asian market, though, doesn’t mean that these are considered at all exotic in modern-day Paris. The bar around the corner from my apartment serves them at happy hour, which is a welcome change from the more standard peanuts or pretzels. Why these haven’t caught on in the United States, I have no idea.
Originally published on Croque-Camille.