Vietnam has a coastline of well over 3,000 kilometres, many rivers and of course, the Mekong Delta. It is therefore not at all a surprise that fish is an important part of Vietnam cuisine and anyone who takes a holiday to Vietnam will see it on most menus, even inland and find it being cooked by street vendors and sold from their stalls. The fish sauce that has become an integral part of South East Asian cooking is another sign of how important fish is to the Vietnamese, their culture and their cuisine. One dish to try is a fish dish in an inland city.
Many, many years ago in Hanoi, the Doan family whose business was at 14 Paints (the English translation) Street, so called because the businesses in that street sold paint, had an idea about serving fish in a different way. This became the business of the family, the Cha Ca La Vong Store with a statue of an old fisherman (La Vong) with a fishing rod at the door. As the fame of this new way of serving fish grew, the name of the street changed to Cha Ca Street.
If you are visiting Hanoi, which you will most likely be doing on any Vietnam tour package then Cha Ca (Vietnamese Grilled Fish) is something you should sample. As with many meals that you will eat during your travel in Vietnam, once you sit at the table, the waiter will surround you with a number of condiments which form part of the dining experience. In this case, you will get a bowl of shrimp paste mixed with lemon, fresh red pimento and a plate of ground nuts, golden because they will have been grilled and a range of sliced onion and other vegetables. If you weren’t especially hungry, the sight of all this will certainly whet your appetite.
Minutes later the fried fish arrives on a plate of vegetables. It is yellow in colour and smells lovely but the Cha Ca is not finished there. Boiling fat is then poured over the grilled fish resulting in the sound of further cooking and white steam. The fish that is used is usually snakehead that is marinated in turmeric. It then is still cooking after it reaches your table so there is no chance of it being cold. You are then left to eat, selecting from the many dishes that surround you and your fish.
Most restaurants will offer you a menu in Hanoi. In this case, you will not get a menu because a restaurant serving Cha Ca will only cook that one main dish. Cha Ca La Vong’s fame has spread and so it is a haven for tourists.There are a number of flavours that you will experience in eating this fish and you will certainly remember it as one of the culinary highlights of travelling in Vietnam that is for sure so don’t wait until you are on the coast to think about eating fish.