Hanoi Turmeric Fish (also known as Chả Cá Lã Vọng) is one of the most famous dishes in Hanoi. At it’s originating roots from the 100+ year old Chả Cá Lã Vọng restaurant, turmeric marinaded fish is first grilled and then fried table-side. It’s served with tons of fresh dill, other herbs, crush peanuts, and rice noodles.
It wasn’t until I was in college that I began to truly appreciate this dish with it’s complex, yet well balanced, flavors. In Orange County, I would order it as a treat when I was out with my parents in Little Sài Gòn. The only popular place to get Chả Cá Thăng Long at that time was from Vien Dong Restaurant where it would come out on sizzling cast iron plates. Now, Chả Cá is pretty readily available at many Vietnamese restaurants.
Traditionally, in Hanoi, this dish is made with cá lóc –or snakehead fish. Which, on a random note, was my dad’s nickname in the navy.
Here in the states, most restaurants will make it with catfish or other firm white fish. But mom also used to make it with salmon, too.
If you’ve never had Chả Cá before, you may be surprised to see how much fresh dill is used. But trust in the process because it’s the plentiful dill and turmeric that makes this dish so special.
Typically, Chả Cá is served with Mắm Nêm—a very pungent, fermented anchovy sauce. I love the stuff but it’s definitely a flavor to get used to—even if you are Vietnamese! As such, you see this dish also served with a standard Nước Chấm which is much more mild compared to its counterpart.
Not up to mixing up a batch of your own Mắm Nêm? No worries, I buy mine premixed and bottled. Mắm Nêm is just one of those tricky things that I seem to never be able to get the right ratios down.
At home, you can cook Chả Cá in several different ways. Either on a grill (or grill pan), underneath the broiler, or simply pan fry like I did. But be sure to get all the crispy brown bits in your bowl because that’s what is packed full of yummy flavor.
Another Food tour: Cooking Class