The dish at the next table looked enticing. Shrimp paste grilled on thick slices of sugar cane.
Much of the raw sugar that we eat comes from sugar cane. It is an important crop in the USA. But it is surprising how infrequently we see the actual cane in stores or on menus.
I have enjoyed chewing sugar cane ever since I wandered down a road in Kumming, a city in south-western China, and saw a young man on a bicycle selling five foot lengths. The cane was heavy with syrup and delightful to eat. It was so sweet to be cloying but its flavour was as sweet as fine maple syrup
Sugar cane is soft. It mashes up easily as it is chewed. And there is something quite fun and childish about walking down the street chomping on a long, thin chunk of woodans spitting out pulp.
Staves of sugar cane are often available in West Indian and Asian food stores in the Montreal area. Make sure the cane feels heavy and dense. These stores may also have cans of sugar cane sticks about the length and width of a middle finger. These are the ones used in Vietnamese restaurants for dishes like Barbecued Shrimp Paste on Sugar Cane (Chao Tom) and Duck with Sugar Cane (Vit Tiem Mia).
This summer I plan to use them for chicken and vegetable kebabs too. Its an ideal way to cook: bar-be-cue that lets you munch on the skewer too.