Cha Ca La Vong – Hanoi, Vietnam

A Hole-in-the-Wall Legend on Fried Fish Street

For more than seven decades, Cha Ca La Vong’s dedicated clientele has been on to something: namely, cha ca, the restaurant’s most famous – and only – dish.

This succulent fried-fish masterpiece, whose recipe has been in the Doan family for generations and whose name translates roughly as “curried Red River fish,” has become so entrenched in Hanoi’s epicurean mythology that the city renamed the lane out front in its honor.

Cha ca is an informal and entertaining affair. A rickety flight of wooden stairs leads to the unremarkable second-floor restaurant full of equally rickety chairs, where patrons cook chunks of seasoned garoupa fish themselves on a charcoal clay brazier, stirring in chives and dill.

The rich, oily stew is then spooned into bowls of vermicelli rice noodles and enlivened by the addition of shrimp sauce, fried peanuts, and pickled vegetables. But the real secret ingredient? If you can believe the rumors, two drops of an essence extracted from the perfume gland of the ca cuong beetle.

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