One of the very special dish of Vietnam is ‘chả’, something only unique to Vietnam that no one can find the right word with the same meaning in any other languages. Therefore, I will not translate the name of this extraordinary Vietnamese dish into English, but use words in the most uttering sense of my ability to convey the meaning of the food itself to all you readers. In this article, I will only be discussing about one particular kind of ‘chả’ which has helped a restaurant stand firmly in Hanoi cuisine for 130 years: Chả cá Lã Vọng.
‘Chả cá Lã Vọng‘ is a dish made from fish (usually sliced catfish), marinated in charcoal, grilled on charcoal and then fried in fat pans. Very simple. And the question remains is: Why can something so simple be so popular? Now I will unveil some interesting stories on this particular Vietnamese cuisine.
1/ The origin:
There is a very interesting story behind the famous name Lã Vọng of this particular kind of ‘chả cá’.In the French colonial period, at No. 14 Hàng Sơn Street, there was the Đoàn family who often use their place to shelter the Đề Thám army. The head of the family often made a very delicious ‘chả cá’ for the people who come by their house, then customers gradually became close with the family itself. The guests started to help the family to open a restaurant specializing in selling ‘chả cá’, both to support the family, and also to create a gathering place.
As time went by, the two words ‘Chả Cá’ became the name of the street itself. In the restaurant, there was always a figure of Lã Vọng – Khương Tử Nha sitting with his knees crossing while fishing – a symbol of talented people who are waiting for their time to come. Therefore, the customers were used to call the dish ‘chả cá Lã Vọng’, which now has become the official name of the restaurant and also the dish itself. The secret recipe of this dish is only handed down to the eldest child of the Đoàn family.
2/How they made it:
The fish used to make ‘chả cá’ should be little, sweet and fleshy. The most special and also extremely rare one is made from the Anh Vũ fish, caught at the junction of Bạch Hạc River (Việt Trì – Phú Thọ). Fish fillets are sliced from the sides, marinated in galangal, turmeric, chili, shrimp sauce in a special esoteric manner for at least 2 hours, then clamped in bamboo pair (or greased grill). The grillman must flip the grill from time to time so that the two sides are equally golden.
Right before served, the grilled meat will be put into a pan with a bit of animal fat – this is the traditional recipe of ‘chả cá’ – on the charcoal stove set in the middle of the table. When the pieces are golden yellow boiled in the fat, dill and onions are added to the pan to stir and quickly separated into bowls. Often cooking oil is not used to fry fish because it has lower temperature and make the fish less tasty.
3/ How to eat it:
‘Chả cá’ must be served when still hot. When eating, put several ‘chả cá’ pieces into your bowl, rinse a bit of boiling fat on top, add some ‘bún rối’ (tangled rice vermicelli)’, ‘bánh tráng nướng’ (grilled rice paper), roasted peanuts, sliced cucumber, dill, Welsh onions, pickled lemon, and a little bit of ‘mắm tôm‘ (shrimp paste.) Shrimp paste is prepared by squeezing fresh lemon, a bit of fat, sugar, white wine and chilli, beat until bubbly and a little bit of belostomatid oil. Some foreigners can not eat shrimp paste so they can have fish sauce instead, but the fish sauce makes the favour ‘chả cá’ be reduced, more or less.
This dish can be served with wine and is suitable to eat in cold weather. In hot weather, customers often drink beer while having the dish.
4/ Where to eat
The majority of foreigners who come to Hanoi with an interest in this dish often visit the 130 year-old ‘Chả cá Lã Vọng’ Restaurant.
This is the famous restaurant I mentioned above.
Address: 14 Chả Cá Street and 107 Nguyễn Trường Tộ Street. The one on Chả Cá Street is relatively small but it is the original restaurant from the old times, while the one on Nguyễn Trường Tộ Street is clean and more spacious, suitable for large groups of people.
Price: 175,000 VND/person (7.71$/person)
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