Let’s step back in time to a few years ago and a completely imaginary pub quiz. Let’s suppose I am poised on the brink of winning the meat tray. Believe it or not, a meat tray is a valid prize in Australian pubs. I won one once. It was awesome.
it was a whole tray of steaks and chops and sausages and, if I recall correctly, some very nice bacon. You may scoff, but it’s actually a pretty good prize. As long as you’re not a vegetarian.
And here comes the question.
And for the tray of meat “What is a Cha Ca La Vong?”
“Oh……:A Latin American Dance?”
“No, wait a moment…isn’t it the name of the slutty girl from Grease? The one stole the dance competition from Sandy?”
No, Cha Ca La Vong is not the name of the best dancer from St Bernadette’s (with the worst reputation) or the type of dancing she may engage in.
It is a super delicious Vietnamese dish of fried fish with turmeric, dill and tomatoes.
I first came across this dish last year when I did the awesome Hanoi Street Food Tour with Mark Lowerson from Stickyrice. You can read about that here.
When I had Cha Ca with Mark it was a soupy style. And it was super, very fragrant and possibly my favourite dish (apart from the a-may-zing coffee with yogurt) of the whole tour.
This year however, I discovered a new way to have Cha Ca. We read about a restaurant called The Gourmet Corner. And being cautious, we dropped in one afternoon for a cocktail. I like to call it scoping out a restaurant before commiting myself. You can call it afternoon boozing if you wish.
Well, one meal later this became our favourite place to eat in Hanoi. I think we pretty much ate there every night after that. Fabulous food, great cocktails, and 360 degree views of the city. And all as cheap as chips!!!!
Their Cha Ca? O. M. G. One of the best things I have ever eaten. In. My Life.
First up, the combination of fish and dill and onion took me right back to my first ever time in Hanoi, my first ever full day in Hanoi and the tour with Mark. Kind of like Proust’s madeleines. But fishy. And second -So, so tasty. Perfectly cooked fish, perfectly spiced, the most amazing flavour of the dill and the tomato and the turmeric….I ate this EVERY night for pretty much a week. And I had such a craving for it the other night, I decided to make my own!
Two disclaimers. One. My version, whilst being pretty damn good, is not a patch on either version I had in Hanoi. There really is something about eating in situ that can make any meal super special. But, that being said…it doesn’t totally suck either. It’s actually pretty tasty. And so fun to eat! Particularly if you have a group of people. Set it all out and people can wrap and roll what they want. It would be best served outside on a tiny chair and table as at a Bia Hoi Bar and washed down with some icy cold beer but failing that, your own home or garden would also be fine. But do have that ice cold beer!
Which leads me to my second disclaimer. It’s an absolute bastard to cook. Not difficult but there are a lot of moving parts. Don’t even try to do what I did and make it all in the same day. Do the pickles at least one day ahead. I would also try to do the tomato and dill mixture the day before too and just heat it up when you need it.
I couldn’t find the right sort of rice paper rolls and the ones I had turned into a hot mess so I I wrapped my Cha Ca in lettuce leaves. They added a nice crunch. You could also use tortillas to make it into a kind of Vietnamese Fish Taco.
Alternatively, ditch these all together and make a noodle bowl – I had one of these with the leftovers the following day and it was super.
I’ve added a few photo’s from Hanoi. I’m really starting to love that city! And I think even possibly more that Saigon is a great food city. Food is everywhere and in such fresh abundance. I hope you get a feel of the city from these…looking at them and eating the Cha Ca really took me back to our holiday. And got me thinking about the next….
To make your week fabulous why not cook something from a place you love? And don’t forget to tell me all about it!