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Frying tonight

cha-ca-hedgerow-fry

In her weighty tome, '1000 places to see before you die', travel writer Patricia Schultz advises readers to shuffle along to Cha Ca La Vong restaurant in Hanoi before they croak. However, if you browse a little further along the bookshelf, next to Schultz's two tonnes of pulped rainforest, you'll find noodlepie's very own '1 thing to do before you leave Hanoi'. It's a slim volume consisting of a single piece of advice: 'Find out the address of Cha Ca La Vong in Saigon and go there instead.'

cha-ca-resto

Cha Ca originated in Hanoi at the Doan family restaurant over a century ago. The street was later renamed simply Cha Ca Street, a legend was born and the hordes still stampede up the narrow, creaking stairs of number 14 to this day. It's a very tired looking restaurant and it has something of a monopoly on the dish (The name Cha Ca La Vong was copyrighted in 1989), but the lazy, slapdash service and average grub put some folk off a return visit. However, in late 2003 Cha Ca La Vong opened its first Saigon branch at 31 Nguyen Thi Dieu Street in District 3 number 3 Ho Xuan Huong Street, Ward 6, District 3 (tel: +84 (8) 830 5674). The food is better, the service comes without the northern snarl and the indoor/outdoor restaurant is still sparse like the Hanoi original, but far cleaner, more modern and comfortable.

cha-ca-side-spread

There's only one fish on offer in Hanoi. In the decadent south you can choose from two varieties, Ca Loc (Snake head fish) or the fattier Ca Tre. I tried the Ca Tre once, but the original and only fish on offer in Hanoi, the Ca Loc, works better. The dish is already a greasefest, so you don't really need a fatty fish clogging up the pipes any further. The fish is fried in a saffron tempered frying pan on a charcoal burner sat upon your table. There's bun (cold vermicelli noodles), unsalted peanuts, chopped yellow chili, chopped spring onion, herb plate (mainly a kind of mint and coriander), mam tom (shrimp paste) and nuoc mam (fish sauce). The waiter brings a bowl of hedgerow consisting of green sections of spring onion and dill he chucks it into the frying pan for a minute of rapid reduction before eating.

cha_ca_bowl

Pick and choose what you like from the sidedishes and stick it in your bowl. Lastly, you'll be needing a wee bit of sauce. Fish sauce good, Mam tom better. A spoonful of the purple monster brings Cha Ca to life. OK - I know - it stinks, but try it just once, it really works. It's also worth stirring some sugar and half a lemon into the mam tom to tart it up before letting it loose in your bowl. This is the greasiest dish in the east, but one of the best. Dinner for two with one extra order of Cha Ca (it's that good...) plus a couple of drinks costs 208,000VD. It's slightly cheaper in Hanoi. Cha Ca at 31 Duong Thanh street, Hanoi is an excellent (and better) alternative to the original joint. View the business card and reverse side info. You can also see - Cha ca the movie - It's brief and bad, but you do get to hear the dodgy, but very popular, resto music you hear all over Saigon. Plus the lovel sizzle of Cha ca cha-cha-cha-ching-ing... Yumm.

NB: This joint has moved around the corner. I'll find out the address and update

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Comments

Oh man! You are killing me. I have been slobbering all over your site. This is fantastic mna, keep up the good work.

Thanks for the recommendation about Cha Ca La Vong in Saigon. I was in the North but didn't have enough time to make it to the restaurant. I'll try the one in Saigon when I go back there.

You are one lucky man.

Death by food?? Sounds good.

Everybody must try Cha Ca La Vong restaurant..

Agreed someone special. So long as it's in Saigon;)

Hmmm, cha ca in Saigon? And better than the one in Hanoi?

Here's one point to ponder: I think cha ca is cold weather food. Having it on a hot and humid evening just doesn't cut it, I think.

I had the cha ca in Hanoi with the wife. It was extra sensory, and I don't mean paranormal. Amazing dish. I want to replicate it at home, but am not sure of the ingredients (especially how the fish is marinated).

One more thing, I think the allure of the Hanoi place is precisely because it's dark, dirty and "slapdash"!

Cheers!


You have a good point AGK, but there are still better places in Hanoi to have the same dish in cold weather IMO. Also agreed with the slapdash bit - if you're a tourist - if you live here, slapdash just gets annoying, not endearing, sorry.

As for doing this at home. It'd be tricky I think. I read somewhere there's a secret ingredient, the sex gland of cockroach or beetle or soemthing - seriously - the cook swore this is makes all the difference. Not sur eyou cna buy it in Sainsbury's but might be worth asking.

I've tried the La Vong restaurant in Ha noi. Pretty pricey for my meager pocket (150.000d for 2) but it's worth it. The fish was tender, the mam tom was excellent but the place was tiny tiny and service was not good

You're just a good BurgerKing's customer or, worse,a silly virtual eater.
Learn more from your elders:
the guenine northern "cha~ca'"is served with "mam'tôm" enhanced by few drops of " Belastoma indica Vitalis ".

Oh I think I am a bit worse than that Vu. What are you?

Agree that the Cha Ca joint in Hanoi could do with better service and attitude.

The cockroach/beetle essence is called "ca cuong", and I think you can buy small bottles of it from the Hanoi food section (stall where they sell cha and banh cuon)inside Coop Mart supermarkets. Vu above has a fancy name for this concoction!

Hello from Toronto, Canada. I enjoyed reading your restaurant review and enjoyed the food pictures too. The dish looks wonderful and I dream of trying it someday in either city...I would be happy just to try it.

My new friend, a young lady from Hanoi, sent me this link to show me more about the restaurant. We began to dicuss it in another blog at Yahoo.

I am glad I read the comments here too and learned about the secret ingredient. What a surprise! Very intriguing!

There actually is another Cha Ca restaurant in Saigon: called Cha Ca HaNoi, it's located at 5 Tran Nhat Duat, Dist 1. Very good place, simple but very clean, and they make an excellent Cha Ca. I have even had them deliver for a dinner party at home!

And Ca Cuong is absolutely essential to the dish. It's quite pricey, and in the restaurant in Saigon, it's optional and you buy it by the drop (around VND20,000 I think), so I am a bit surprised to read that it's easily available at Coopmarts

I tried to go to the Cha Ca La Vong in Saigon this past November and couldn't find it. It is either closed or being renovated. Can someone tell me if I'm wrong and it's still there or moved?

Thanks.

Yup - it moved. I've updated the post.... Sorry.

I've been to the new venue. It's bigger - two floors - same quality food :)

Hi, would you happen to have the updated address with you now? I will be going to Saigon soon and would love to check the new venue out!

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought Cha Ca is flavoured with tumeric, as opposed to saffron.

Yes, you're probably right, but I've seen recipes for both used. However, as turmeric is cheaper, it's probably more common. But, TBH, I dunno :)

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