05 October 2009

Everybody Cha Ca Tonight: Fried Fish in Hanoi

A frying pan full-o-magic.

Vietnam has to be the home of my favourite food in Southeast Asia (other than crab and crab-based menu items) - Cha Ca.

Cha Ca is a Hanoi speciality - small pieces of fresh white fish fried (they say grilled, but it is clearly a fry situation) in oil with fresh herbs, chilis and spices and served sizzling hot over cold rice noodles. The heat of the still-cooking fish warms the noodles and makes them slippery and ready to be chopsticked from their small bowl into my waiting mouth.

Spam, spam, spam and spam.

Hanoi residents are serious about Cha Ca. We wanted the real deal, so we headed to Cha Ca La Vong - the famous two hundred year old restaurant in Hanoi's Old Quarter that famously invented the dish. The DIY fish fry joint has spawned many imitators - the entire street (now named Cha Ca Road) is lined with copycat joints. They serve one thing and one thing only: Cha Ca.

Sometimes one choice is all you need....

The price is hefty for a local's resturant but we were determined to sample the real thing. Moments after we sat down the table was laid with bowls of sticky rice noodles (the same that are in Pho,) heaped servings of dill, parsley and scallions, chilis, crushed peanuts and a mix of fish sauce, shrimp paste and lime.

These caused us great discomfort in Laos...

As we sat sipping on our Bia Ha Noi a piping red hot clay barbecue was placed in the middle of the table, topped with a gleaming metal frying pan. In the pan were the succulent chunks of fish, swimming in an inch of yellow oil dyed with tumeric. The ancient Vietnamese waitress took pity on us and became our cheerleader, showing us how to dump the greens and chilis into the pan to cook with the fish.

All mixed up

Once the fish was a perfect golden brown and the greens were wilted we spooned some of each along with the wonderful golden oil out onto our noodles. Topped with the fish sauce and peanuts each bite was savoury, oily and wonderful, the scallions and dill combining into a kind of tartar sauce flavour.

Every last bite

We scraped the hefty pan empty and cleaned the table - even the cackling cheerleader seemed impressed. I was all for another full pan-o-goodness, but pub quiz time approached and we needed to get to Le Pub.
Bia Ha Noi and pub quiz - a match made in heaven.

Out of all of the expat bars and pubs in SE Asia that I have visited, Le Pub is my favourite. Their Tuesday night pub quiz is one of the best I have ever done, and the food, atmosphere and drinks (including free shots!) are all great. They have another location in Saigon, but that is not the best part.

A Canadian feels at home, at last

No, the best thing is the Quebecois style poutine available at both locations. While it is lacking the proper cheese curds it does use some nice grated mozzarella and is pretty perfect. Sometimes you wanna feel completely out of your element, completely culture shocked and worldly - but other times you just wanna eat a poutine. We did not win the quiz, but for a team of two (against teams of 6, 8 and 10) third place is pretty good.

So, if you are in Hanoi I definitely recommend the splurge - go to Cha Ca La Vong. And if it is Tuesday? See if you can take second place, and for the love of god eat the poutine.


kanmuri said...

The Vietnamese food looks great, but I would not call that a poutine, it's only cheese, gravy and French fries. Being a Quebecoise, I'm picky about my poutine ;)

The Bug said...

I'm usually a little afraid of what you eat - it looks like it might attack me sometimes (I know - I have no sense of culinary adventure). But today's meal looks heavenly! If I ever have the opportunity I'll have to try it.

The Bug said...

P.S. I find it quite ironic that I clicked "Publish Your Comment" & then went to nuke my Weight Watcher's frozen dinner - Beef & Asian Style Vegetables (in a zesty teriyaki sauce with noodles!). Sigh.

Sproglet said...

Cheesy chips with gravy??

I love your eclectic diet. I'm also on weight watchers, I have the distinct feeling it will go downhill the moment I touch down in Bangkok......

♥Chymere♥ said...

just so you know...i really really love your blog. Love the diversity and really motivates my traveling aspirations... and this looks yummy!

Pat said...

At last! A meal that even I would eat! It looked real good.

And the poutine? Or however you spell that? I just learned what that was last March while in AZ with a bunch of my Canadian friends. I can't imagine eating it - isn't that funny?

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Violet Dear said...

I find it so weird that people are afraid of poutine - it is fries, cheese and gravy - what could be wrong with that?

I suppose that this dish looks more palatable than some others I have eaten - but do you guys know what fish sauce is? That should scare away the weak stomached!

theduy said...

this dish is awesome. How much i miss it T.T