Ancient Hanoi's specialty recipe wins worldwide fame

24 August 2021

Now a restaurant, Cha Ca La Vong (La Vong grilled fish) is run by the descendants of the dish’s creator. The fish dish and the restaurant are named for a statue that used to stand in front of the house. The statue was of a Chinese general known as La Vong, sitting with a fishing rod. Inside the house 100 years ago, the great-grandfather of the current restaurant owners dreamed up a new way to serve fish, with turmeric, green onion and dill.

Cha Ca La Vong
Cha ca La Vong, a colorful Hanoi dish with a fascinating history

In 2003, the restaurant was included in “1,000 Places To See Before You Die” by American travel writer Patricia Schultz. The MSNBC website later narrowed the book’s list down to the world’s 10 “must see” places, putting Cha Ca La Vong at number five.

The history of the Doan family is as colorful as the dish it’s famous for.

In the mid-1800s, the family began allowing Vietnamese soldiers, who were trying to oust the ruling French, to hide in their house. They served their guests their special fish dish, cha ca La Vong.

To raise extra money to fund their rebel-hiding activities – and provide a cover for the house’s mysterious comings and goings - the family opened a restaurant serving only cha ca La Vong.

The original recipe remains a Doan family secret but Le Thi Bich Loc, one of the current Doan family restaurateurs, told Vietnam News Agency the secret to cha ca La Vong was making it with quality ingredients.

To make the dish, Loc said fillets of catfish or snakehead fish are filleted and marinated for at least two hours with galangal, pepper, fish sauce and turmeric. The fillets are then grilled on a coal stove, turned frequently until each piece is a deep golden color.

The next stage of the cooking is done at the table, on a small pottery burner. The grilled fish is fried with dill, green onions and peanuts, a step that is believed to bring out more flavor.

The sizzling hot fish fillet mixture is then placed into a bowl with Vietnamese vermicelli, pickled spring onion bulbs and aromatic herbs. The finishing touch is a few drops of fermented shrimp paste.

The restaurant only buys shrimp paste from northern Thanh Hoa Province. This regional specialty has a light flavor and turns white when mixed with lemon juice.

Vietnamese wine is said to further compliment the taste of cha ca La Vong.

The dish became so famous that Hanoi authorities renamed the entire street Cha Ca Street (Fried Minced Fish Street). The restaurant remains in its original location, at 14 Cha Ca Street in Hanoi, and Cha Ca La Vong was registered as a trademark in 1989.

source: VNA

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