Cha Ca (Vietnamese Grilled Fish) is a rare yet iconic dish in Hanoi that has been listed as one of the 1,001 dishes to eat before you die. One of the unique thing about Cha Ca is that it is usually the only food on the menu of the restaurants that serve it. So it’s either you eat it, or you don’t.
When I was in Hanoi I visited two restaurants that serve this delicacy – one of them is Cha Ca Va Long, which is said to be the inventor of this dish but also a tourist trap. The other one is located at the Old Quarter called Cha Ca Thang Long. The latter is much more affordable (1/3 of the price of Cha Ca Va Long) and serves basically the same tasting dish.
A meal of Cha Ca is made of a few key ingredients: chunks of turmeric marinated white fish meat usually of snakehead fish, cold Vietnamese vermicelli noodles and a few condiments such as peanuts, chopped spring onion, parsley, fish sauce and red chillies. As you might have known by now, the idea is to mix everything into a small bowl and serve.
After your order has been placed, a sizzling pan filled with fish and dill will arrive and continued to be cooked by the staff at the table. The herbs will infuse extra flavor and fragrance into the otherwise salty tasting fish. Even though it looks really greasy, it’s not that bad since you’d be taking only the fish off the pan minus the oil.
To be honest with you, this grilled fish dish is quite delicious and satisfying to the palate. You could taste the myriad of flavors and texture from the various condiments that simply work well together. We finished the entire serving in no time and felt glad that we gave this dish another chance after being ripped off at Cha Ca Va Long. So if you’re in Hanoi for food, Cha Ca is definitely a must try but do make sure you go to the right restaurant for it.
Cha Ca Thang Long Restaurant
21 – 31 Duong Thanh Street,
Old Quarter, Hanoi