So today I decided to seek out Cha Ca La Vong, one of the oldest restaurants in Hanoi. It only serves one dish and has been serving that same dish for over a hundred years.
The dish in question is monkfish in a marinade of galangal, saffron, fermented rice and fish sauce, served in a rich oily sauce with chives and dill and mixed with vermicelli noodles and peanuts. How could I pass that up?
So there I am, wandering through the Old Quarter of Hanoi, guidebook in hand and a rumble in my tummy. I turn into Cha Ca and on my right hand side I immediately come across a restaurant which I assume must be the one. I am slightly confused as there appears to be what looks like a square bracket or an additional L in front of the final word in the restaurant name but I assume its just a style thing and foolishly allow the waiter to usher me in anyway.
I sit down at the table, where there is some strange plastic ceramic heater and am presented with a menu which appears to specify the dish I am looking for.
The fish and sauce are brought out in a pan and placed on the electric hob, then lots of dill and chives are added and I am brought a selection of bowls with the additional ingredients to add myself.
Despite the fact that, by this time, I am almost certain that I am in the wrong place (there is no-one else in there and it certainly doesn’t taste like monkfish) the food is absolutely delicious so I put my concerns to one side, load up my bowl and dig in. Delightful!
As I leave, I am still suspicious and when I look across the road I see a rather old looking restaurant only three or four doors down …
Of course it is the real Cha Ca La Vong, no additional L and packed to the rafters with locals and tourists alike!!
Well, the temptation was too much. I couldn’t not go in could I? I didn’t want those cheeky blighters down the road to have got the better of me and so in I marched. For my second fish dish of the day/hour/fifteen minutes.
This time things were much more fun and authentic. I was presented with a gas hob at the table, with the flame going strong.
I cooked up the fish with the herbs and then added it to my bowl of noodles, peanuts and extra greens, spooned on a generous helping of fish sauce and tucked in. For a second time. Delicious.
So the moral to the story is to always check the number of the restaurant you are looking for as well as the street name.
If you find yourself peckish in Hanoi Old Quarter I would recommend that you go to the REAL Cha Ca La Vong, at 14 Cha Ca because the fake one:
1. is clearly trying (and succeeding) to pass itself off as another restaurant, which has worked long and hard to earn it’s reputation, and that’s just not cricket;
2. charges 20,000 dong more; and
3. has none of the fun or atmosphere of the real version.
However, when it comes down to the food, I have to admit that they were both equally delicious. A recipe I will most certainly be trying to recreate at home.
PLEASE NOTE THAT ANY ADVERTS APPEARING ON THIS BLOG HAVE BEEN PUT HERE BY WORDPRESS AND NOT BY ME