If you are making a list of top must-try food in Hanoi, do not forget to spare a room for “Cha Ca” (Chả Cá – Grilled Fish). The special taste of “Cha Ca” will leave tourists a deep impression with the unforgettable flavor, elegance, and sophistication of Hanoi cuisine.
“Cha Ca” was first served in Hanoi during the French domination by the Doan family and its recipe has been passed down from generation to generation for many decades now. Fish are diced into medium pieces and marinated with a mixture of turmeric powder, galangal, sugar, fish sauce, and pepper. This delicacy requires not only fresh ingredients but also a very attentive maker. After grilling over a charcoal fried pan until the fish is well cooked with a golden color and soft crust, you can hardly resist the mouth-watering smell and the eye-catching look.
What surprised me as I first tasted was the complexity of this dish. It is not only in choosing the right fish but also in preparing all the fancy spices. With a light touch of saffron, cooking oil, and fish sauce, which is seasoned in certain amounts, the chef gives “Cha Ca” a “secret” softly fragrant taste, not fishy but gently sweet reaching into my heart. “Cha Ca” must be served hot with crushed peanut, vermicelli noodles but it will not be complete without a touch of fresh dill. The table is set with a small bowl for each person. In the center of the table is a burner with a medium-sized pan for grilling the fish. You are likely to be taken aback by the fact that a simple dish as “Cha Ca” is served with several side dishes such as shrimp sauce, fish sauce, noodles, cilantro, and peanuts. In fact, the whole nine yards paint a complete and balanced piece of art, with each of them deemed indispensable.
To enjoy this, you put everything into a small bowl altogether, pour a little bit of shrimp sauce on top, or dip the sauce in it with a tiny slice of chili. Hard as it may be to believe, the taste is profoundly appetizing, heavenly, delish, and scrumptious that guarantees you an amazing experience during your stay in Hanoi, Vietnam.
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If you haven’t had the plan to travel to Hanoi yet, follow these instructions to make yourself a delicious dish of Chả cá at home:
Ingredients: 2 lbs firm white fish fillets (Traditionally, the snakehead is used but you can use Tilapia or Catfish), 1 tablespoon turmeric powder, 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 1 tablespoon minced shallots, 1/3 cup fish sauce, 3 tablespoons granulated white sugar, 3 tablespoons vegetable oil plus more for deep frying, 1/3 cup corn starch
- Cut the fillets into 1-1/2 inch pieces. Marinate with turmeric powder, garlic, shallots, fish sauce, sugar, and 3 tablespoons vegetable oil for at least one hour or overnight in the fridge.
- Fill a small pot with vegetable oil (add just enough to cover fish) and heat on high. Coat fillet with corn starch, dust off excess, and deep fry for 2-3 minutes. Remove from oil and transfer fillet to a plate lined with paper towels to absorb excess oil.
- To serve, prepare a pan or cast-iron skillet with a bit of vegetable oil on the bottom. Traditionally, lots of vegetable oil is used in the pan when serving tableside but use less oil if preferred. Heat on high. Pan-fry the precooked fish. Add a bit of dill and green onions to the oil for a quick sear. Prepare a bowl of rice noodles. Transfer cooked fish and dill to the noodles. Add chopped peanuts, crumbled sesame rice crackers, and serve with your choice of dipping sauce