One of Hanoi traditional food that people should try when coming to this capital city is Cha Ca La Vong or La Vong Grilled Fish. This eatery is so tempting that a street in the Old Quarter was named after it, Cha Ca Street. However, not many people know the history of this famous dish.
Where the name La Vong came from
In the French colonial period, at the house number 14 on Hang Son street (now called Cha Ca street), there was a patriotic family. That was Doan family who was good at making the delicious dish of fish, grill fish. Especially, in this house, De Tham insurgent army, the group of patriotic Vietnamese, was helped to escape from the hunting of the French invaders.
Grilled fish was a traditional fare in Doan family and it was made with the family’s know-how. This dish was served to the special guests with all the enthusiasm and hospitality. To acknowledge the heart of Doan family, members of De Tham insurgent army opened a stall for this family to sell their traditional eatery. The stall of grilled fish helped Doan family earn their living and it was also the place for the members of De Tham insurgent army to meet each other.
In the small shop displayed a statue of La Vong – Khuong Tu Nha, an ancient Chinese poet and revolutionist, fishing with a cavalier attitude. Khuong Tu Nha was a talented man; moreover, he was patient. He was waiting for the chance to make a big success. That was also the thought of De Tham army, so the name “La Vong” has been given to the grilled fish stall since then.
The uniqueness and strangeness of La Vong Grilled Fish
Hemibagrus is used to make the grilled fish dish because of the sweetness from the fish meat.
In the past, Doan family used to make the dish from semilabeo (or anh vu fish in Vietnamese) in the confluence of Bach Hac River (Viet Tri city, Phu Tho Province). However, this kind of fish varies with the season, so they are rare and pricey. Instead, people now often use snakehead or hemibagrus to make this Hanoi street food in order that people can afford to enjoy it.
The fish’s flesh is sliced and flavored with galangal, fermented rice, fish sauce, turmeric, pepper…
After 2 hours, the slices of fish’s flesh absorb the spices, they are held with the bamboo “clips” and grilled on the red-hot charcoal oven. When the two side of the grill fish slices turn yellow, the clips will be taken out of the oven
How to eat La Vong Grilled Fish
The cooking process of La Vong grilled fish only finishes when the dish is served. The slices of grilled fish are detached from the bamboo clips and put into a pan of boiling oil to keep the fish meat always hot as well as avoid the fishy smell.
Grilled fish is eaten with some kinds of vegetables and herbs like dill, scallion…
Grilled fish is the dish best served hot and eaten with sesame girdle cake, vermicelli, roasted peanuts, coriander, water mint, dill, scallion… Roll the herbs and grilled fish together in the small pan of hot oil and dip all into the shrimp sauce. That is the way to eat this dish.
The sauce will be better with some drop of liquor and belostomatidae essence.
The sweet taste of fish and the fragrant smell of herbs really attract the tourist on Hanoi local food tours. You may also have chance to learn to make this dish with the guidance of the chef from Hanoi cooking class. Come to Hanoi, and try making and savoring this unique dish.