Not trying Cha Ca, one of “The 1001 Dishes to Eat Before You Die” recommended by Frances Case, means that you have never been to Hanoi, Vietnam.
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Cha Ca’s Origin
Cha Ca (also known as Grilled minced fish) has been a normal family food since more than a century ago. During the French colonial period, there was Doan’s family living at 14 Hang Son Street, Hanoi who took their home as a place harboring insurgents. The landlord often served guests a delicious fried fish dish named Cha Ca. Being encouraged
by the appreciation of customers, the Doan family of Cha Ca Street in Hanoi opened a small restaurant specialized in Cha Ca just to feed their families and hold a place to gather people together. As the restaurant always presented as a wooden statue of an old fisherman called La Vong holding a fishing rod and a string of fish standing right at the door – symbol of talented people but waiting for opportunities, Cha Ca La Vong has become the name of the restaurant and the food it serves. Cha Ca has been such a famous specialty in Hanoi that the whole street has been renamed as Cha Ca Street.
Cha Ca Recipe
Fish selection is the first important step that makes the quality and flavor of Cha Ca. The fish is cautiously chosen so that there are few bones, providing a pleasant eating experience for the guests. Although the Hanoi specialty can be made from mud-fish and snake-headed fish, the best one includes Hemibagrus (Lang fish) and Semilabeo (Anh Vu fish) in which Lang fish has the least bones and the sweetest taste while Anh Vu fish has the most nutritional value with great flavor but very rare to find.
To make Cha Ca, filet fish is sliced thin from the two sides and the bones are thrown away. The filet is then marinated with galangal water, turmeric, fresh, pepper, shrimp paste in a special way for at least 2 hours, then kept between pairs of bamboo or put into a grill with a layer of fat on surface before grilled on both sides until golden.
How to Enjoy Cha Ca
When people are ready for meal, a large pan is put at the middle of table and filled with chunks of the grilled fish fillets, dill, and onions, surrounded by a plate of greens, roasted peanuts, rice vermicelli, scallions and a bowl of purple shrimp sauce with unique taste of shrimp paste that completes the flavor of this specialty. People may choose to eat Cha Ca with rice noodles and other additives and herbs separately or combine all ingredients in their bowl and then spreading soup in the pot. In another way, some people can put noodles to the pan and stir quickly with Cha Ca. The shrimp paste smell mingled with the sweetness of the fish, vegetables and fleshy smell of roasted peanuts can make an unforgettable gastronomical experience.
Modern Cha Ca dish at Red Bean Restaurant
The best Cha Ca in Hanoi can be found at 18 Lo Su Street, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi. Since it has a limited space, booking in advance is highly recommended if you do not want to queue for a long line.
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