Ultimate Guide to Chạo Tôm: Preparation, Cooking, and Storage Tips

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Written By Hot Thai Restaurant

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We’re diving into the vibrant world of Vietnamese cuisine with a dish that’s as fun to eat as it is to say: chạo tôm. This delightful delicacy wraps succulent shrimp paste around sugarcane sticks, creating a magical combination of sweet and savory that’s grilled to perfection. Originating from the royal kitchens of Huế, chạo tôm has a storied past, making it a dish rich in both flavor and history.


Diving into the culinary world of Vietnam, chạo tôm is a delightful dish that combines sweet, savory, and smoky flavors. Below, we detail the necessary ingredients required to bring this traditional delicacy to your table.

For the Shrimp Paste

  • 1 pound (450g) shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons cold water
  • 3 scallions, finely chopped

For the Sugar Cane Skewers

  • 8 sugar cane sticks, 6 inches long
  • Alternatively, if sugar cane sticks are not available, you can use 8 thick wooden skewers as a substitute.
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 red chili, finely sliced
  • 1 carrot, julienned (for garnish)

Gather these ingredients and let’s embark on the culinary journey of preparing chạo tôm, where flavors and traditions blend beautifully to create mouth-watering experiences.

Equipment Needed

Venturing into the delightful world of making chạo tôm requires a bit more than your standard kitchenware. Here’s a rundown of the essential equipment you’ll need to bring this traditional Vietnamese dish to life in your own kitchen.

Food Processor

A sturdy food processor is paramount for achieving the perfect consistency of your shrimp paste. It needs to be powerful enough to blend the shrimp, garlic, scallions, and seasonings into a smooth paste. This ensures that the paste sticks well to the sugarcane sticks during grilling.

Grill or Grill Pan

A good-quality grill or grill pan is crucial for cooking chạo tôm. If you have an outdoor grill, it’s perfect for adding that smoky flavor reminiscent of street food stalls in Vietnam. However, a grill pan works great too, especially for indoor cooking. It’s essential for achieving those beautiful char marks and the smoky aroma that are signature to chạo tôm.

Mortar and Pestle or Small Blender

For the dipping sauce, a mortar and pestle or a small blender come in handy. You’ll need it to crush or blend the chili, garlic, and other ingredients to create a smooth, flavorful sauce that complements the savory-sweetness of the shrimp paste.

Measuring Spoons and Cups

Precision is key in Vietnamese cooking, and chạo tôm is no exception. Measuring spoons and cups will ensure you get the right balance of sweetness, saltiness, and umami from the fish sauce, sugar, and other seasonings. Don’t eyeball it—measure out your ingredients to capture the authentic taste of this dish.

Bamboo Skewers or Sugarcane Sticks

Traditionally, chạo tôm is wrapped around sugarcane sticks, which not only serve as skewers but also imbue the shrimp paste with a subtle sweetness as they cook. However, if you can’t find sugarcane sticks, bamboo skewers soaked in water for 30 minutes can be a good substitute. They won’t add the same sweetness but will work well for grilling.

Mixing Bowls

A set of mixing bowls will be needed to mix the shrimp paste and prepare the marinade for the dipping sauce. Having a few sizes on hand makes it easier to handle the different components of the dish without making too much of a mess.

Preparing the Sugar Cane

After gathering all the necessary tools and ingredients for our chạo tôm, it’s time to focus on a component that truly sets this dish apart: the sugarcane. Sugar cane not only serves as the skewers but also adds a subtle sweetness to the dish as it grills. Here’s how we get our sugarcane sticks ready for wrapping the flavorful shrimp paste.

Selecting the Sugar Cane

First things first, we need to choose the right type of sugarcane. For chạo tôm, we prefer fresh sugarcane sticks that are about 1 to 2 inches in diameter. They should feel firm and be free of blemishes or soft spots. Fresh sugarcane will ensure that the sweetness is at its peak, enhancing the overall taste of our dish.

Prepping the Sticks

Let’s get our sugar cane sticks prepared. If you’ve managed to get your hands on whole sugarcane, the first step is to wash it thoroughly under cold running water. Using a sharp knife, we’ll carefully peel off the tough outer layer. This step requires a bit of patience and caution, but it’s worth it for that perfect blend of flavors.

Once peeled, we’ll cut the sugarcane into segments, about 5 to 6 inches long — the ideal size for our shrimp paste wraps. It’s important to make sure these are uniform in size for even cooking.

Shaping and Splitting

After cutting the sugarcane into segments, take each piece and gently split one end into four parts, about 1 inch deep. This little trick allows us to fan out the sugarcane slightly, creating a better surface for the shrimp paste to adhere to. Not only does it help in securing the paste, but it also maximizes the area that will infuse the shrimp with its delightful sweetness during grilling.

Final Touches

With our sugarcane sticks shaped and split, there’s just one last check before we begin wrapping them with the shrimp paste. Ensure that each piece is dry to the touch — a quick pat with a kitchen towel works wonders. Dry sugarcane sticks ensure that the shrimp paste sticks better and doesn’t slide off during grilling.

Making the Shrimp Paste

After preparing the sugarcane sticks, the next essential step in crafting our chạo tôm is preparing the shrimp paste. This rich, flavorful base will hug the sugarcane, ensuring each bite is moist and packed with savory goodness.

Preparing the Shrimp

For the shrimp paste, begin with:

  • 1 pound of large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • A quarter cup of ice water

First, ensure your shrimp are thoroughly cleaned, peeled, and deveined. We like to keep things tidy and efficient, so we recommend using a small bowl filled with ice water to rinse the shrimp after peeling. This not only cleans them but also keeps them firm. After cleaning, pat the shrimp dry with paper towels—moisture is our enemy in getting a smooth paste. Once dry, roughly chop the shrimp into chunks. This will make it easier for them to be processed into a fine paste.

Seasoning and Processing

Next, gather your seasoning ingredients:

  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of sugar
  • 2 teaspoons of fish sauce
  • A pinch of white pepper
  • 1 tablespoon of tapioca flour or cornstarch (for binding)

Transfer the chopped shrimp into a food processor. Add salt, sugar, fish sauce, and a pinch of white pepper to elevate the flavors. The addition of tapioca flour not only helps in binding the mixture together but also contributes to the paste’s springy texture upon cooking. Pulse the mixture in the food processor until it becomes finely minced and starts to turn pasty. You’re aiming for a sticky consistency that can easily mold around the sugarcane sticks. If the mixture looks too dry, feel free to add a tablespoon of ice water to help it along. Remember, the goal is a cohesive mixture that will stick to the sugarcane without dripping off.

Resting the Paste

After processing, let the shrimp paste rest. This step is crucial for two reasons:

  1. It allows the flavors to meld together, deepening the richness and savory notes of the paste.
  2. It gives the mixture time to firm up, making it easier to handle and wrap around the sugarcane sticks.

Cover the bowl of shrimp paste with plastic wrap and let it sit in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes. This brief rest period is the perfect time to preheat your grill or prepare any side dishes. When the paste is chilled and firm, it’s ready to be shaped and cooked to perfection.

Assembling the Chạo Tôm

Now that our shrimp paste has had time to rest and meld its flavors, we’re ready to move on to the fun part: assembling the chạo tôm. This is where our preparation pays off, turning the seasoned shrimp paste and sugarcane sticks into the iconic Vietnamese dish.

Attaching to Sugar Cane

First, take the sugarcane sticks you’ve previously prepared. Ensure they’re dry and uniform in size for even cooking. You’ll want to wet your hands slightly with water; this prevents the shrimp paste from sticking to your hands, making the process smoother.

Grab a generous portion of shrimp paste, about 2 tablespoons, and mold it around the top end of a sugarcane stick. Aim for a thickness of about 1/2 inch of paste around the stick. Then, gently shape the paste into a cylindrical form that adheres snugly around the sugarcane, ensuring an even layer. This not only helps in even cooking but also in achieving that perfect texture on the grill. The sugarcane acts as both a handle and a source of sweetness as it releases moisture into the shrimp paste while cooking, enhancing the flavor.

Shaping the Shrimp Paste

This step focuses on refining the shape of your chạo tôm to ensure they look as good as they’ll taste. After attaching the shrimp paste to the sugarcane stick, run your fingers along the length of the paste, smoothing out any imperfections and ensuring the paste is evenly distributed. You’ll want to create a uniform cylinder that will cook evenly on all sides.

If you notice the paste becoming too sticky, simply wet your hands again and continue shaping. The goal is to have a smooth, even layer surrounding the sugarcane, with a somewhat oval or cylindrical shape. This is also the perfect time to make any final adjustments to the thickness of the paste, ensuring that it’s not too thick (which would result in an undercooked center) or too thin (which could cause it to fall apart during cooking).

With your chạo tôm neatly assembled and shaped, you’re now ready to move on to the next exciting phase: cooking these delightful treats to perfection.

Cooking the Chạo Tôm

Now that our chạo tôm are expertly assembled, it’s time to cook these delightful treats. Achieving the perfect texture and flavor involves understanding the right techniques for grilling and exploring alternative cooking methods suited to your kitchen setup.

Grilling Instructions

We’ll start with what’s traditionally considered the best method to cook chạo tôm: grilling. This method highlights the smoky flavors and ensures a crispy exterior that complements the juicy sweetness of the sugarcane core.

  1. Preheat your grill: Aim for a medium-high heat, around 375°F to 400°F. A hot grill ensures the shrimp paste cooks evenly, achieving that desirable charred exterior without drying out the interior.
  2. Oil the grill grate: Lightly brush your grill with oil to prevent the chạo tôm from sticking. A high smoke point oil like canola or vegetable oil works best for this.
  3. Place the chạo tôm on the grill: Arrange the sugarcane sticks across the grill grates, leaving some space between each to ensure they cook evenly. Close the grill lid to trap the heat and smoke, which will infuse the chạo tôm with that distinctive grilled flavor.
  4. Grill with care: Cook for about 2-3 minutes on each side. The shrimp paste should reach a beautiful golden brown color with slight char marks. Be sure to turn the chạo tôm gently to avoid breaking the delicate shrimp paste from the sugarcane.
  5. Serve immediately: Once cooked, the chạo tôm are best enjoyed fresh off the grill. The exterior should be slightly crisp, giving way to the succulent and flavorful shrimp paste, with the sugarcane releasing its subtle sweetness when bitten into.

Alternative Cooking Methods

Not everyone has access to a grill, but that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying chạo tôm. Here are two alternative cooking methods that also yield delicious results:


  1. Preparation: Place the chạo tôm on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. This setup facilitates an easy cleanup. Preheat your broiler to high, positioning the oven rack so that the chạo tôm will be about 6 inches from the heat source.
  2. Broiling: Broil for 2-3 minutes on each side. Keep an eye on them to ensure they don’t burn. The high heat from the broiler mimics the grill’s direct flame, giving the shrimp paste a nicely browned exterior.


  1. Heat oil in a skillet: Add enough oil to coat the bottom of a large skillet or frying pan and heat it over medium-high heat.
  2. Cooking: Cook the chạo tôm for about 2-4 minutes on each side until golden brown. Make sure to flip them gently to cook evenly. Pan-frying offers a delightful crunch to every bite.

Preparing the Dipping Sauce

After mastering the art of shaping and cooking chạo tôm, complementing it with the perfect dipping sauce is crucial for capturing the essence of this Vietnamese delight. A harmonious blend of sweet, sour, salty, and spicy flavors, this dipping sauce, traditionally known as nước chấm, elevates the dish to new heights.

Ingredients for the Dipping Sauce

  1. 1/4 cup of fish sauce
  2. 1/4 cup of sugar
  3. 1/2 cup of warm water
  4. 2 tablespoons of fresh lime juice
  5. 1 clove of garlic, minced
  6. 1 small chili, finely chopped (adjust based on heat preference)
  7. 1 tablespoon of finely shredded carrot (optional, for garnish)
  1. Dissolve the Sugar: Begin by combining the warm water and sugar in a medium bowl. Stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Using warm water is essential as it helps to break down the sugar more efficiently, ensuring a smooth base for our dipping sauce.
  2. Add Fish Sauce & Lime Juice: Once the sugar is dissolved, incorporate the fish sauce and freshly squeezed lime juice into the mixture. These ingredients bring the quintessential umami and tartness to the sauce, laying the foundation for a complex flavor profile.
  3. Mix in Garlic and Chili: Add the minced garlic and finely chopped chili to the mixture. These elements introduce a layer of heat and aroma, making the sauce more dynamic. Depending on your tolerance for spice, feel free to adjust the amount of chili used.
  4. Garnish with Carrot: For an added touch of color and slight sweetness, sprinkle in the finely shredded carrot. This step is optional but recommended, as it adds visual appeal and a subtle sweetness that contrasts beautifully with the sauce’s tanginess.
  5. Let It Rest: Allow the sauce to sit for at least 10 minutes before serving. This resting period gives the flavors time to meld together, creating a more cohesive taste. Moreover, it softens the raw edge of the garlic, ensuring it doesn’t overpower the balance of flavors.
  6. Serve and Enjoy: Pair this vibrant dipping sauce with chạo tôm for a delightful experience. Its balanced flavors complement the savory sweetness of the shrimp perfectly. Remember, the longer it sits, the more developed the flavors become, so feel free to prepare it ahead of time!

Serving Suggestions

After mastering the preparation of chạo tôm and its accompanying nước chấm, let’s talk about how to serve this delightful dish to create an unforgettable dining experience. From plating to pairing, we bring you the best ways to savor chạo tôm.

Plating Chạo Tôm

Firstly, presentation matters. Arrange the grilled chạo tôm on a platter, leaving the sugarcane sticks exposed for a rustic and authentic look. Consider garnishing with slices of lime and sprigs of fresh herbs like cilantro or mint to add a pop of color and freshness. The sugarcane sticks are not only a cooking tool but also become a flavorful treat, enjoyed by chewing to extract the sweet juice infused with shrimp flavors.

Accompanying Dishes

Chạo tôm is versatile and pairs wonderfully with a variety of Vietnamese dishes. For a traditional spread, serve it alongside a platter of fresh greens and herbs, vermicelli rice noodles, and thin slices of pickled vegetables. Encourage diners to wrap chunks of chạo tôm and accompaniments in lettuce leaves, dipping them into the nước chấm for a harmonious blend of textures and flavors.

Beverage Pairings

To complement the richness of the shrimp and the tanginess of the dipping sauce, opt for light and refreshing beverages. A crisp white wine, such as a Sauvignon Blanc or a dry Riesling, pairs beautifully, cutting through the flavors with its acidity. For a non-alcoholic option, iced jasmine tea provides a floral aroma that enhances the dish’s sweetness and complexity.

Final Touch – Nước Chấm

Remember, the nước chấm is central to bringing together the flavors of chạo tôm. Ensure that each diner has a small bowl of the sauce. Its sweet, sour, salty, and spicy notes are what make each bite of chạo tôm wrapped in lettuce and herbs or served with vermicelli an explosion of flavor. Letting everyone personalize their dipping sauce with additional chili or lime juice can also be a fun way to engage your guests.

Make-Ahead and Storage Tips

Preparing chạo tôm can be a delightful experience, especially when you know how to manage your time and resources effectively. Let’s dive into some tips on making this dish ahead of time and storing it properly for future enjoyment.

Prepping Shrimp Paste in Advance

One of the best strategies for saving time is preparing the shrimp paste a day ahead. After mixing the paste and shaping it around the sugarcane sticks, you can cover them tightly and refrigerate overnight. This not only allows the flavors to meld together beautifully but also makes the cooking process more manageable, especially if you’re planning to serve chạo tôm at a gathering.

Freezing for Long-Term Storage

For those who like to meal prep or simply want to enjoy chạo tôm at a moment’s notice, freezing is an excellent option. Once you’ve assembled the shrimp paste on the sugarcane sticks, place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Freeze them until solid, then transfer to a freezer-safe bag or container. This method preserves their quality for up to two months. When you’re ready to cook, there’s no need to thaw; just adjust the cooking time accordingly.

Refrigerating Cooked Chạo Tôm

If you have leftover cooked chạo tôm, they can be stored in the refrigerator for up to three days. Ensure they’re cooled down to room temperature before placing them in an airtight container. This keeps them moist and ready to be reheated. For reheating, a quick session in the oven or on the grill works best to preserve the texture and flavor.

Maximizing Freshness of Ingredients

To ensure your chạo tôm tastes as fresh as possible, keep your ingredients, especially the shrimp, chilled until you’re ready to use them. Freshness is key to the dish’s success, so planning your shopping trip close to the cooking day is advisable.

By following these make-ahead and storage tips, we can enjoy the exquisite taste of chạo tôm without the last-minute rush. Plus, these techniques help in keeping the dish’s quality intact, ensuring that every bite is as good as it was freshly made.


We’ve walked through the delightful journey of making chạo tôm, from preparation to plating. It’s been a joy sharing how this Vietnamese classic can be a showstopper at your table with its unique blend of flavors and textures. Remember, the secret lies in the details—uniform shrimp paste, the right cooking method, and that irresistible nước chấm.

Don’t shy away from experimenting with make-ahead tips and storage techniques we’ve discussed. They’re real game-changers for busy days or when you’re planning a feast. Whether you’re a seasoned cook or a curious foodie, chạo tôm is a dish that promises to bring a bit of Vietnamese culinary magic right into your kitchen. So grab your sugarcane sticks and let’s make dining an adventure!

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