Our day 2 in Hanoi has been mainly about eating and eating. More to come but first here’s what we had for lunch: chả cá Lã Vọng. What’s in the name? Chả cá means grilled fish and Lã Vọng is the name of a statue of either the God of fisherman or poet (I found two versions of the story out there). I’ll skip how the dish comes about and let you find out yourself (it has to do with Lã Vọng and then more). 😉 In short, chả cá Lã Vọng is a dish of turmeric grilled fish with dill.
Similar to bún chả, chả cá Lã Vọng is hail from Hanoi. There’s a street called Chả Cá in Old Quarter dedicated to this dish where it takes its root. I gave those tourist-famous chả cá Lã Vọng restaurants a miss, and instead, choose Chả Cá Phan because it’s mostly patronized by locals and also because the Vietnamese reviewers gave quite good reviews online.
Come feast on chả cá Lã Vọng or turmeric grilled fish with dill.
Our walk from the south of Hoàn Kiếm Lake to Chả Cá Phan took about 30 minutes. I think because we were such a slow walker that it feels like the walk was really long and besides we got lost a bit. I almost gave up 3/4 of the way because I was very hungry but thank God for the bánh cốm that I had with me. The walk along the way also allowed us to views the many different walks and colors of Vietnamese life.
When we arrived at Chả Cá Phan, it was around 12.30pm and the place was deserted save for one occupied table. Did we just went into the wrong restaurant? Nope. I checked! We were given an English menu and most of the dishes had strikethrough signs. Too bad as I was interested in the fish roll.
We ordered a set of chả cá lăng to share. Over here, they called it chả cá lăng. Price is 120,000 VND/set (~RM21.50) and there are 7 pieces of chopped fish (yup I counted).
The sides on the table, starting from top right and moving left are fish sauce mixture, roasted peanuts, fish sauce mixture again, shredded pickled spring onion, basil, sliced red chilis, rice vermicelli and dill+spring onion.
Because we’re a first-timer, the server helped us cook the chả cá and then explained how to eat it with the accompanying sides.
He started off by adding the pre-grilled turmeric marinated fish pieces, dill, spring onion AND a big puddle of oil in the pan. It’s ready to be eaten after cooking for a few minutes. The fried fish is then mixed with the sides (as shown earlier) of your liking and you can also add the cooked dill and spring onion. I like to add everything and the union of it all is a blast of flavors. It’s almost as good as bún chả but bún chả wins hand down. Hehe
According to the server, to prevent the fish from getting overcooked/burnt but still maintain the warmth after the heat is turned off, place some dill and spring onion at the base of the pan and the fish on top of the greens.
The verdict is we couldn’t taste much of the turmeric and there were no dill-infused flavors from the fish. It’s like eating a normal fried fish with the sides that when combined are the best. The fish pieces were tender and plump but on its own was just normal. I tried some fresh and cooked dills and surprise surprise, there was no dill aroma. I wonder why? Maybe it’s a herb that looks like dill but not dill? 🤔
The aftermath of our lunch. The fish pieces turned tough by the end of the meal even though we had placed dill+spring onion as an insulator on the base of the pan. If you’re trying to avoid tough fish, maybe you can place the cooked fish in a plate or eat faster!
While writing this post, I found out that the restaurant provides shrimp paste mixture. In fact, the official dipping sauce is shrimp paste mixture. We were served only fish sauce mixture. I bet they thought we don’t consume shrimp paste but we do! Oh how I wished I had known then, I would have requested it.
Although we shared a set, we left the restaurant very full. We didn’t even finish the rice vermicelli. And yes, they recycled the rice vermicelli and greens as well just like the case for bún chả. Also, I am slightly disappointed that they did not serve the complimentary coconut jelly after our meal. Not that I wanted it badly but I thought it was a nice gesture.
If this is how chả cá Lã Vọng is supposed to taste like *pointings at the lack of fragrances from turmeric and dill, then I don’t think I fancy chả cá Lã Vọng very much. I will absolutely try this dish again at other restaurants when there is a chance. Of course, I understand each restaurant has its own secret recipes.
Tell me, did you taste turmeric and dill in all the chả cá dishes you’ve eaten so far? I’m curious!
Chả Cá Phan
84 Trần Quốc Toản,
Trần Hưng Đạo, Hoàn Kiếm,
Hà Nội, Vietnam
Tel: +84 936 366 628
Opening time: 11am-9pm, daily