Dear passengers, we have been nearly half way through the journey to Hanoi, Vietnam. After visiting the ponds of fragant lotus flowers and gazing the beauty of Vietnamese women in Ao Dai, let’s take a break to replenish our energy by enjoying a special dish of Hanoian, Cha ca la vong or the Hanoi Tumeric Fish with Dill.
The Hanoians from the past to nowadays have enjoyed cooking and eating delicious, fresh foods. This art form has become a unique cultural attraction for tourists visiting Hanoi from the first time. It is hard to define the things that make Hanoi cuisine so special as it can be seen not only in the processing, but also in the hearts of people who cook the dishes. All of the Hanoi dishes have different aromatic flavors and form a major part of Vietnamese society and lifestyle. The most favorite specialities are: Pho (beef soup noodle), Bun cha (vermicelli with grilled pork), Nem (spring rolls), Bun thang (Noodle soup with chicken, fried egg, mushroom). Each of these has its own specific characteristics leaving a profound impression on those who eat them.
Today, I would like to introduce to you a unique 100-year-old Hanoi dish that is often referred to in guide books as a must-not-miss experience, Cha Ca La Vong (La Vong grilled fish pies). The combination of ingredients are: turmeric, dill, shrimp paste and fish sauce, delivers an intriguing muskiness bolstered with chilles, silky noodles and a thicket of other fresh herbs to season the chunks of moist fish. The taste of Cha Ca La Vong will make you go into ecstasy.
Cha Ca has been considered not only a delicious dish but also a trade mark of Vietnamese cuisine. The restaurant that transformed the dish into a national phenomenon began its operations in the 19th century. Let me tell you the interesting story about the history of this dish. Cha Ca La Vong has the origin of Doan family. In years of French domination period, in No.14 Hang Son there was Doan family who usually made delicious grilled fish to invite their guests. After a long time, this dish had become famous and it was made to mainly serve for De Tham insurgent army, these guests then helped Doan family open a restaurant where they could gather and helped Doan family to earn money to bring up insurgent army as well as their family’s members. The appearance and fame of this dish was the reason Hang Son Street changed into Cha Ca Street (one of the 36 streets in the Old Quarter of Hanoi). Especially, in the restaurant at that time, there was a statue named La Vong – Khuong Tu Nha, the God of fisherman, from that time, the name Cha Ca La Vong was born.
I would say to eat this dish is really an art. A portable gas stove and a small frying pan are brought to the table and the art of preparation is done by the waiter. Cha Ca is turmeric seasoned fish that is first grilled then fried in oil table side. Heaping plates of dill, green onions and cilantro are accompanied to be placed into the sizzling pan. After 3-5 minutes of cooking, the dish is ready to be served. The season grilled fish is adorned by a tangy combination of onion, ginger, green onion and dill. It is further fortified by the peanut and shrimpt paste, which explode into a heady flavor. Again and again, you can mix all the ingredients together, eat, and repeat until your tummy is happy!
Cha Ca La Vong should be eaten when it is still hot. The Hanoians often eat this dish while sipping some alcohol in the cold weather. For me as a Hanoian, eating Cha Ca La Vong is close to a ritual, it is the kick of seeking for the iconic dish to eat with my family, friends and colleagues at weekends. It is not by chance that this restaurant now is part of the “1,000 Places to see before you die” list and is featured on the New York Times.
I strongly recommend you guys to try this dish when you are in Hanoi. Even though it is more pricey than other traditional Vietnamese foods (USD10 per dish), it is still worth a try. And this is the address:
Cha Ca La Vong Restaurant
14 Cha Ca Street, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi, Vietnam
For those who want to try yourself cooking this dish, here is the video, check it out!