Lunch Today: Grilled Shrimp Sugarcane Skewers at Xe Lua
So the real name of this dish on the Vietnamese restaurant Xe Lua is Banh Hoi Salad Voi Chao Tom Nuong ($12). If that doesn't quite roll off the tongue, how about this: finely ground spiced shrimp wrapped around sugar cane and cooked on the grill. It's served with little nests of rice noodles, herbs and pickled vegetables, rice paper sheets which you soften in a bowl of hot water, and lettuce. It's a slightly ridiculous table-hogging assortment of food, but it's also one of the best renditions of Vietnamese sugar cane-skewered meat I've had in New York.
Eat it as follows: remove the shrimp sausage from the cane. Chew on the cane (don't swallow!) to release all the sweet barbecue juices. As you do so, soften a rice paper sheet in the water for thirty seconds or so until it's pliant, then fill with rice noodles, shrimp, herbs, and pickled vegetables. Roll it up, then wrap that in a lettuce leaf, and dip in the nuoc cham dipping sauce.
This is somewhat cumbersome eating, but it's great fun all the same. The sweet, well-spiced shrimp is juicy, tender, and nicely grilled. With six or so different contrasting flavors and textures (crisp! meaty! sweet! salty! tangy! crunchy!), there's a lot to love about this dish. Just don't forget to munch on the sugar cane in between bites.
86 Mulberry Street, New York, NY 10013 (map)