Cha Ca, local food from Hanoi

cha ca hanoi local food spécialité locale

Cha ca , an iconic local specialty of Hanoi

Millennial capital, Hanoi is rich in many traditions, of which the gastronomy and the local food (as Cha Ca) is not the least. It has on the menu some emblematic dishes. Born in its picturesque streets, witnesses of an asserted and typical culinary creativity.

There are the unmissable Pho and Bun Cha (beef or chicken rice noodle soup and grilled pork rice vermicelli), followed closely by Banh Cuon (pork and black mushroom dumplings) and Bun Thang ( chicken soup). We will have the opportunity to come back in other posts on these signature dishes. But for now, we will focus on Cha Ca, THE grilled fish specialty of Hanoi.

cha ca hanoi local food spécialité locale

A little history of Cha Ca

This dish is called chả that the vọng , chả that Ha Nội , chả that thăng long, or more briefly chả that . The denomination cha ca la vọng refers to a famous cha ca restaurant in Hanoi. In this restaurant, there was a statue of the vọng , a sinner in a seated position. In fact, it was not just any fisherman. But Khuong Tu Nha, a famous Chinese general who was killing time while waiting to deploy his strategic skills and his troops. Over time, diners got into the habit of calling this dish “ Cha Ca La Vọng ”. Then this dish became so famous that the word “la vọng ” became the name of the street.

So much for the name of the dish. As for the dish itself, it was born more than 130 years ago. It was invented by the Doan family, who served this special dish to troops during French colonial rule. The family lived at 14 Hang Son Street (Paint Street). It is said that the dish was prepared so well that everyone encouraged them to open a restaurant. Following the almost immediate success of the restaurant , dozens of specialists have magically emerged along the same street. Some even mimicking the name – like Cha Ca La Song. In hopes of baiting hungry onlookers . The fall of history, you already know it. Hang Son was finally officially renamed Cha Ca Street in honor of the dish that would quickly become world famous.

Preparation of Cha Ca

It is customary to say that the gastronomy of Hanoi is simple, not to say boorish. Admittedly, it cannot be compared to the sophisticated dishes of the Centre, of royal inspiration. Or put it in competition with the pantagruelic generosity of the cuisine of the South. But its apparent simplicity hides treasures of finesse and subtlety. And it turns out that the Cha Ca is the undeniable ambassador of this aromatic complexity hidden behind a simple grilled fish . Because it is really about this: cha that ‘s grilled fish . That simple. The critter in itself is nothing exceptional, it is an ordinary snakehead fish, a freshwater fish found everywhere in Vietnam.

For those for whom Latin is not just warren, the catfish in question is the hemibagrus , called here Ca Lang . Purists swear by the Anh Vu fish, caught in the Bach Ha River, Phu Tho Province . Not enough, however, to consider Cha Ca as one of Hanoi’s emblematic dishes, the one among the 100 dishes that it would be fashionable to have savored before dying. In fact, the whole secret of the exceptional lies in its marinade: a mixture of turmeric, garlic, shallots, galangal (it’s a bit like ginger), salt, sugar and fish – the famous nuoc mam – without forgetting the fermented rice . Everything is contained in a very mysterious and very personal recipe.

After having marinated for at least two hours, the fish takes the direction of the grill with dignity, with which it will start a warm discussion, a discussion that will end in a brazier when the guests are ready to participate in the tasting.

Tasting of Cha Ca La Vong, local food in Hanoi

cha ca hanoi local food

There is this ceremonial pan of embers that we bring to the table and on which rests our fish accompanied by valorously of its fresh herbs. We will arrange around it a plate of rice vermicelli, another of herbs as reinforcement (dill, basil and spring onion), a cup of roasted peanuts , a little pepper and a cup of mam tom. Let’s stop for a moment on this last comer, mam tom. It is undoubtedly the second element – after the marinade – which allows us to sublimate our miniature catfish.

We are in front of a fermented shrimp paste. Even if we did not know it, the smell informs us unambiguously about its origins. The experience, especially the first time, can be… let’s say… exotic and exotic. For the less adventurous among you, there is a light version, in the form of a sweet and sour sauce made from fish brine. Dare the mam tom and past the encounter with this very particular fumet, the musky scents blend into the flavors of aromatic herbs, creating a truly extraordinary taste experience. Before serving, the grilled fish is dipped in boiling oil, with the herbaceous aromas of dill filling the air.

Once it sizzles with impatience, enjoy the fish in small bites with salted peanuts, herbs and vermicelli.

New interpretations

As Hanoi’s restaurant scene continues to evolve and renew itself, the cha it ‘s no longer confined to the street where it was born. The slightly curious foodie will find modern interpretations of the iconic dish from ancient Thang Long at some trendy restaurants in and around Hanoi, where , for example, it will be served on a bed of risotto, rather than vermicelli.

Other local food in Hanoi beside the Cha Ca

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