A Vietnamese Apéro

29 06 2009

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.

Box containing magical shrimp chips

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.

The tasty opposite of Shrinky-Dinks

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.

Frying Shrimp Chips, elapsed time, maybe 10 seconds.

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.

Golden fried shrimp chips

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.




10 responses

29 06 2009

These are really popular in the UK, over here we call them prawn crackers and they’re often given away free when you order a takeaway. I love making my own too, it’s fun watching them puff up in the pan!

30 06 2009
Marc @ NoRecipes

Wow, that’s cool that you actually fry them yourself. I may have to look for these next time I’m in Chinatown. I think many asian cultures take food queues from the French. For instance bread in Japanese and Korean is “pan”.

30 06 2009

We had those on our honeymoon ten years ago at a Vietnamese restaurant, and have never forgotten how good they were. I’d love to be able to find them in the US.

30 06 2009

Sam – I agree, they’re lots of fun to make! 🙂

Marc – That’s interesting about “pan” – thanks for indulging my word-nerdiness! And definitely search these out. They’re totally worth it.

Katharine – You could try Asian markets and Chinatowns, as Marc suggested above. Good luck!

30 06 2009

Long live language nerds, Camille! You had a very pork heavy trip to the US–wondering where you were.

Shrimp chips sound like they have Possibilities:)

3 07 2009
Ann @ Cooking the Books

We call these shrimp chips too, and I used to eat them when I was a kid. They would come dyed in different colors — pink, green, blue. I loved the way they sort of sizzled on my tongue. They do seem fun to make — except I’m afraid of deep frying!

3 07 2009

pastrychef – Thanks! We were actually on the West Coast – all over the West Coast, from the Bay Area to Seattle to SoCal.

Ann – The only think not to love about deep frying is the thin layer of oil that inevitably ends up all over the stove. As you can see, I did tiny batches (very large quantities of hot oil scare me, too) in a 1-liter pot. It’s quick and easy enough for a weeknight snack. 🙂

4 07 2009

Just popped in while in search of delicious food blogs to add to my search engine. I hope you don’t mind, I’m “stealing” your link. Such tasty postings just need to be shared.

I’m going to Chinatown tomorrow. Guess what I’m buying???

Thanks for sharing…

5 07 2009

Your descriptions certainly create an inviting image. As do your photos. In contemplating where to find Beignets de Crevettes, will I find them in a Vietnamese restaurant included among the appetizers? And if I did find them there, would they be freshly prepared as you did, or are they just as tasty after sitting awhile?

6 07 2009

louise – No problem at all. It’s my pleasure.

mom – Yes, they would be in the appetizer section, and they would most likely be fried in large batches once a day or so. Although they take about 5 seconds, and require much less storage space before they’re cooked, so maybe they’d be done to order. Let me know if you find them!

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