Prepare the shrimp: shell and devein, leaving the tails attached to 8 of the shrimp. In a small bowl, combine the shrimp with tails on with the garlic and small amount of salt and black pepper and refrigerate. Cut the remaining 6 shrimp into fine pieces (do not reduce to a paste).
In a medium mixing bowl, combine the flour, corn starch, baking soda, turmeric and small amount of salt and black pepper. Make a well in the center and pour in ⅔ cup cold water, adding small amounts and stirring with a whisk until the consistency is smooth and thick. Add syrup and mix well.
Pare the sweet potatoes and slice into thin strands. Add the sweet potato and the cut-up shrimp into the batter, mixing well. This mixture will be split into 8 portions. Take a large spoon and scoop out a heaping spoonful of the mixture and pat flat on a plate, pressing a whole shrimp into the center.
In a 12-inch skillet (not teflon) heat a scant ½-inch oil on medium heat until hot but not smoking. Place half of the fritters shrimp side up in the oil for about 2 minutes, making sure to regulate the heat to avoid burning. Carefully flip, shrimp side down and cook for 1 more minute. When golden brown, remove from the oil and drain on a paper towel-lined plate. Keep warm while the remaining batch is being made.
Arrange the fritters, shrimp side up, on a platter. To eat, place a fritter on a leaf of lettuce, wrap up, and devour!
This is a recipe adapted from Nicole Routhier's The Foods of Vietnam (1989), a book that has inspired many a dish that I now consider part of my core repertoire. These fritters, called Banh Tom in Vietnamese, is typically eaten with crisp lettuce leaves with fresh herbs and dipped in prepared fish sauce. I have found that this is just as tasty without the dipping sauce and makes for a less messy finger food for parties.