Hanoi, a foodie’s paradise in Asia, is not only famous for its meaty dishes such as the pho noodle soup, tasty bun cha, and flavorful banh mi, but this thousand-years old city is also well-known for fishy dishes, such as Cha Ca La Vong – a must-try for street eats and fresh water fish lovers.
What is Cha Ca La Vong?
Cha Ca La Vong, or Cha Ca Hanoi, is the term widely used in Vietnam to refer to a dish consisting of boneless grilled snakehead fish or hemibagrus (a type of river catfish), which is then fried table-side in front of diners with tons of fresh dill and spring onion, for eating with rice noodle, cilantro, roasted peanuts, and shrimp paste.
The origin of the dish traces back to the early days of Vietnamese fighting against the colonial French, when Doan family, at 14 Hang Son Street in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, cooked their fresh catch fishes for patriots who were using their home as a secret meeting place.
Overtime, diners called the dish “Cha Ca La Vong” (the “La Vong” is the name of a statue at the family’s door step), and the family turned itself to a restaurant serving that only dish. Eventually, the Hang Son (Paint Street) was officially renamed to Cha Ca Street in honor of the famous dish.
How Cha Ca Hanoi is Served?
To prepare Cha Ca La Vong, small chucks of boneless catfish are marinated with turmeric, fermented rice, and galangal, which is then grilled on charcoal fire. These saffron-colored fish chucks, with its natural juices trapped inside, are then served on a sizzling cast-iron skillet for a crispy outer crust.
Diners will then fry their own grilled fish chucks with tons of dill and spring onion till the herbs had slightly wilted, featuring a whiff of aromatic dill. Put a small amount of rice noodle into the bowl, add some herbs (coriander and basil), take some fried dills, spring onions, and one piece of fish to the same bowl.
Scoop some shrimp paste over, sprinkle the peanuts and sliced red chilli over, then they are all set to dig in. The fish are fresh, tender, and it would has a slight muddy taste, but that would be concealed once they pair the fish with lots of dill and spring onions.
Hanoians are pretty specific in terms of when and where to have cha ca, just to make sure the dish would bring out all the necessary flavors. As a true local connoisseur would say, it’s best to eat Cha Ca Hanoi on a chilling day with some home-cooked rice liquor, and the best place eat them is the Old Quarter.
Where to Eat Cha Ca in Hanoi’s Old Quarter?
As Hanoi’s restaurant scene continues to evolve, Cha Ca Hanoi is no longer contained to its namesake street. Modern interpretations of the beloved fish dish can be found at contemporary restaurants around the city. Following are the best places eat this incredible fish dish.
1. Cha Ca La Vong
This is one of the oldest eateries in Hanoi, and the dish was first created here over a century ago. There is nothing fancy in this tiny eatery, except for the fact that it was owned by the Doan family, thus feeling original.
Almost everything here is kept intact for decades, so if you venture to this original place, it’ll be like stepping back in time. However, this family-run restaurant receives quite a lot of negative reviews about service and quality, especially about how overly greasy their cha ca is.
- Cha Ca La Vong
- 14 Cha Ca Street, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
- 10h00 – 22h00
2. Cha Ca Thang Long
This restaurant is likely the more preparable place for locals, since its space is much larger than the original Cha Ca La Vong. The service and quality of the dish are said to be much better than most other places serving the same dishes, including the original place.
- Cha Ca Thang Long
- 21 – 29 Duong Thanh, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
- 10h00 – 22h00
Though Cha Ca La Vong doesn’t appear in any top 10 list, don’t miss the chance to try it when you’re in Hanoi, and perhaps, you also wish to try some of these 25 Hanoi’s street food. JoinFlavors of Hanoi’s peronal foodie tour guide on our daily walking Hanoi food tour, and explore the best of what the city has to offer.