These amazing prawn and sweet potato fritters called banh tom (translates to prawn cake) are one of my favourite Vietnamese appetizers! These little bad boys are basically a prawn nestled in a basket of golden sweet potato strips and then deep fried until crispy. It is traditionally served with fresh lettuce, herbs and a traditional Vietnamese dipping sauce called nuoc mam cham. They are perfect when you want something a little different for the family or guests at a dinner party.
A few days ago I was skimming through the news when I read that an Australian teenager was part of a team that won “The International”. For those of you who don’t know, this is the worlds biggest e-sports (video games) event with a total prize pool of $25.5 million! I have never told you guys this but for the longest time I have always wanted to be a professional gamer.
I still to this day sometimes imagine myself on the big stage, in front of a massive crowd of crazy nerds, playing games. To me it would have been an absolutely glorious way to live. However, no surprises here…. Steph AKA “The Fun Police” destroyed any hopes of that becoming a reality. Of course she didn’t do it alone. She had overwhelming support from family and friends. These days, every time I strike the keyboard, it is not to destroy my enemies but to key in recipes and stories for you guys to enjoy. Ahhhh it is funny how much things have changed over the years…
Ok back to reality! My family’s recipe for these fritters is admittedly different to the authentic version. The main difference is that we add minced dried shrimp to the batter. This came about when mum did not have any fresh prawns and used dried shrimp as a substitute. After that we experimented a bit and found the combination of dried and fresh shrimp dramatically increased the prawn flavour throughout the fritter. Since then we have not looked back.
Our family usually serve these fritters with some lettuce leaves and nuoc mam dipping sauce. I usually add a few herbs like coriander and Thai basil for a little variety but these are completely optional (see picture above).
Tips for Success
- Traditionally school prawns are used since they are smaller and give a better crunch! Unfortunately, they are also hard to find.
- Don’t overcrowd the pan when frying. The danger here is cooling the oil too much and the fritters don’t develop a good crunch.
- Tailor the fritter to your liking. If you seriously don’t like prawn heads or leaving the shell on, then take them off.
- I strongly suggest you serve these fritters immediately to ensure that they are crunchy at the time of eating. If you can’t, then put them under the grill to maintain the crunch.
Making the Fritters in Pictures
These fritters are always a winner at my house and I highly recommend you try it out. I promise you won’t be disappointed!
Vietnamese Prawn and Potato Fritters - Banh Tom
A prawn nestled in a basket of golden sweet potato strips and then deep fried until crispy. It is traditionally served with fresh lettuce, herbs and a traditional Vietnamese dipping sauce called nuoc mam cham.
- 30 gm dried shrimp (optional but recommended and available at Asian grocery)
- 1.5 cups boiling water
- 350 gm sweet potato, peeled and cut into strips
- 1 small onion, thinly sliced
- 12 -15 raw prawns with shell on
- Vegetable oil for deep frying
- 1/3 cup self raising flour
- 1/3 cup glutinous rice flour
- 1/3 cup rice flour
- 1/2 tsp turmeric power
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 cup reserved dried shrimp water or tap water
- 1 head of butter lettuce or your choice
- Nuoc mam dipping sauce (please see the link in the instructions)
- Thai basil optional
- coriander optional
If using dried shrimp, wash them thoroughly in warm water and then soak in a bowl with 1.5 cups of boiling water for 20 minutes.
Prep all vegetables and make nuoc mam dipping sauce. Skip making the dipping sauce if you prefer to have it on its own.
After 20 minutes, remove the soaking shrimp from the bowl with a spoon and save the water. After all the shrimp is removed let the water settle so that any impurities will sink to the bottom. Carefully pour the shrimp water into the measuring cup leaving the impurities behind in the bowl.
Pound the soaked shrimp in a mortar and pestle or blitz for 10 seconds in a small blender until it is a mince.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients, shrimp mince and the reserved shrimp water. Combine well. (Note 1)
Add the sweet potato strips and onions to the mixing bowl and gently stir. Leave aside.
Prepare the prawns to your liking. We leave the prawn whole with the shell and head on. (Note 2).
Fill a deep pan on medium heat with 3-4 cm of vegetable oil. If you have a cooking thermometer, bring the oil temperature to roughly 175°C (347°F).
Before making a fritter, stir the mixture. With tongs, place the fritter mixture on a spatula or a big spoon and flatten it out.
Coat one side of the prawn in the batter and place it on top of the fritter.
Slide the fritter off the spatula / spoon and into the oil. I recommend frying no more than 2 -3 fritters at a time, so the oil temperature does not drop too low. (Note 3)
Cook each fritter for 2 mins on each side, or until golden and crisp (Note 4).
Remove the fritter and drain on a cooling rack. Do not let them cool on top or too close to each other to maintain crispiness.
- If you have accidentally thrown out the shrimp water (I have done this on a few occasions), just use tap water.
- We use the whole prawn because it looks more striking. We figure anyone who's not comfortable with eating the heads or any other part can just pick it off.
- Do not overcrowd the pan with fritters. This is because the temperature of the oil will drop significantly and the fritters will absorb oil instead of developing that crunch.
- Increasing the cooking time will give you a better crunch on the fritter. Be careful though as sweet potato contains high amounts of sugar which can burn easily.