Cha Ca La Vong (Grilled Fish)

“Chả cá Lã Vọng” ( Cha ca La Vong ) is a special food of Ha Noi and attracts not only local guests but also foreign travellers who always enjoy it. That is the reason why journalist Patricia Schultz published a book which had a sensational title “1.000 places to see before you die” (Workman Publisher, NY, America, 2003). Then press-agent MSNBC shortened it into “10 places to see before you die” in which Chả cá Lã Vọng Restaurant in Ha Noi was ranked 5th besides other 9 famous geographical places and festivals all over the world.

In the introduction part about “chả cá Lã Vọng”, author Patricia Schultz wrote: “Chả cá Lã Vọng has only one dish – Cha Ca (chả cá), a masterpiece made of healthy, delicious fried fish – which has been invested and improved by Đoàn generations. After 7 decades, cha ca became so close-knit to Ha Noi people that the street on which the restaurant was located was named ‘Cha Ca’…”

Being a folksy dish cooked by Doan (Đoàn) family in a difficult time, chả cá became a popular dish of gastronomers in Ha Noi. Time passed by and the word “Cha ca” has been used as the name of the ward and ” Pho Cha Ca” (Phố Chả cá) has become a famous address of the material culture of Ha Noi in old and new times. In the restaurant there was always a statue of Mr. La Vong (Lã Vọng) sitting with his arms clasping his knees by the stream. Mr. La Vong is considered as a talented and chivalrous man waiting for his opportunity to help the country. For that reason, the restaurant was so-called “Chả cá Lã Vọng” till it became the official name of the restaurant.

People loving Ha Noi often say that the most interesting thing to do in the first days of the frosty winter is to enjoy “cha ca”. Fish to make “cha ca” must be the hemibagrus, Asian red tailed catfish, to bring it the precise taste because. The hemibagrus have little bone but aromatic, tender flesh. Pimelode or snake-head is the second choice after ca Lăng (cá Lăng).

Besides, in the past the restaurant also used cá Anh Vu ( Anh Vũ) fished at the turning point of Bach Hac (Bạch Hạc) River in Việt Trì City to make cha ca. Scraping flesh of cá Bach Hac and grilling it with “la soi” ( lá sói) bring cha ca a very sweet-smelling taste. But this fish is rare and only appears in one season, so they seldom have chả made of cá Bach Hac to serve and it is of course very expensive. Therefore, in order to serve people in public, now the restaurant often replaces them by ca qua (cá quả). The fish’s flesh must be sliced from two sides flank, then sliced into pieces, embalmed with galingale, saffron, ferment, peppercorn, and fish sauce, clamped into a pair of bamboo and grilled on a fire basket which is put right on the dining-table for the guests. The person who grills fish ought to be skillful so that both sides of the fish will be done to a turn.

After that, he will disengage the piece of fish and sprinkle broiling grease on it. You should enjoy chả when it is still hot and eat with baked dry pancake or bun roi (bún rố)i, roasted peanut, coriandrum sativum, hung lang (húng láng), fennel, fresh onion bulb sliced and dipped with mam tom (mắm tôm) and we can put a little belostomatic and some drops of white wine into the dish. The guests then can enjoy sipping the dish and drinking a little strong wine so they will make the most of the dish and taste its strange and unique flavour. The crackling sound of the hot grease cooked in boiling oil with green spring onion and the yellow colour of the fish put together with the green colour of fennel and the red colour of charcoal in the warm stove will give you the great feeling of enjoying the quintessence of this world.

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