The dish to try before you die

This would be one of few Vietnamese dishes that Patricia Schultz included in her best selling travel book “1000 places to see before you die”. Not our glorious beef noodles, not spring rolls, but a very unique Hanoi-style dish “Chả cá Lã Vọng” – grilled, deep fried fish with rice noodles named after a Chinese historical figure “Lã Vọng” (Jiang Ziya) due to his statue displayed in this family restaurant for over hundred years!

Patricia Schultz shares with us what’s fun, what’s unforgettable everywhere on the earth, and trying Chả Cá Lã Vọng would be one of our unforgettable memories in lifetime.

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Dish is good, but it seems people working here – never smile! 

Interesting to go through different comments on various sites such as TripAdvisor, from those people who tried this eat-before-die dish, and I would love to share it here with you. People may like it, may not. To me this is a good dish if we put everything together – strong and quite stinky shrimp paste, crunchy roasted peanut, flavorful, hot fish with “cold” rice noodles and the strong smell from dill! Very tasty. I first tried this dish long ago, and last night, I came back to this place for the first time after such a long 10 year break! It’s still good, but I have to say “the first time could be always the best!”.  

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Over 10 years ago, I first tried this dish and the first time is always the best! 

The only thing I wonder, after how many years in business and even how rich they are, the owner still keep the place same – the very old wooden stairs, the window with those statues. According to some belief, to keep the luck in business, they prefer not to do any change – even just a welcoming smile in their staff face?  Ok, here you go some comments from those who already tried Chả cá Lã Vọng in Hà Nội, it’s interesting to know.

“…we are Balinese and Chinese foodies so we were really excited to try this Hanoi institution. Overall, we did like the flavours of the fish especially the fresh dill, but we did not try the sauce. Even though we regular cook with shrimp paste in Bali, the consistency, smell and colour of the sauce was a real turn-off. Totally agree that service was horrendous. The only thing I was happy as that it inspired me to make a dish like this back home, without the pool of oil!”

“…this restaurant does only one dish: fish fried right on your table with copious amounts of dill, served with cold noodles and a few simple garnishes. The combination was delicious and the do-it-yourself assembly a lot of fun.”

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Fresh veggies (mostly dill and green onion) and herbs, rice noodles, roasted peanut…

“…I think they only served one type of food in this restaurant. As the staff could not speak English except only able to tell the price of the food there, we did not get to ask much about their menu. So, once you are there, they will just show you the price of the cha ca set and ask you to walk upstairs. They will know what to serve you without you ordering. It was 17 USD for two sets which was quite expensive for what we got. The amount of turmeric fish pieces were quite little and the pieces of fish were small too. The set also came with two plates of green vege and two plates of cold rice vermicelli. However, it did not come with any drink and I think they only serve beer because when I asked them about drink, they only said beer. The taste of the fish was just okay. I did not like the cold rice vermicelli.”

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“…we read a lot of reviews about this restaurant and thought it would be great. However, when we got there, the food was… … Disappointment. The set meal was overpriced! 1.2 million dong (60 USD) for the 6 people’s set. That was totally not worth the money as the food was nothing fantastic. The noodles were cold and the fish was very oily and it did not taste nice at all. Also the service was horrible! The waiters just dumped the hot pot and cooked only one bowl of fish for us, left us alone to cook other two. We told the waiter to turn off the air-con as it was freezing cold, he took ages to do that. Overall, a waste of time and money. Food is way overpriced, not tasty and service is horrendous…”

“…Cha Ca La Vong is a deservedly famous institution in Hanoi. The dish, grilled fish served with rice noodles, served at the table with a combination of dill, asian vegetables is seasoned with fish sauce and garnished with coriander and peanuts. It’s an excellent dish and anyone who likes Pho, will inevitable like Cha Ca La Vong. So long as you are fish eater then this is a must try experience. The staff are suitably arrogant in a kind of funny French way. They know they have a winner and they know the people will come. It’s USD$11 for the dish and a beer so talk that its expensive is just plain bunkum…”

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Mix everything together with shrimp paste, even a small spoon of oil right from the pan, if you like!  

“…is it worth it? Well two people with a beer about 18 usd. That’s value you would think but then it’s a dingy rickety old place with only fried fish and drinks on the menu. Very very oily fish frying in loads of oil and boul full of fresh herbs. I would howeve still recommend it bcos its really unique and perhaps not found anywhere else on the world. I always knew dill goes great with fried fish but I did not know the origin of this dance of flavor originated 100 years ago supposedly in this restaurant…”

“This dish is really really, really popular with all the locals here. But there’s only one thing that can put off foreigners: the shrimp paste! It’s got a really strong smell, as well as taste, and even some of Vietnamese cannot get over it. However I’m seriously addicted to the sauce, and it perfectly complement the grilled fish! The experience is fun as well, as you can prepare the whole dish by yourself. All in all, you’d either love it or really hate it, as I could see some foreigners sat there struggling to get over the sauce, and there’s no alternative available…”

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The portion of fish is small but a lot of veggies, we paid nearly 20 USD for two (no drink!)

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“Chả Cá Lã Vọng” is named after the black statue of Jiang Ziya – Chinese historical figure as you see it near to the entrance. 

“…there are other restaurants on the same street with the same or similar name. Be sure to find the right joint and go upstairs for a unique experience. Not the grand time you would expect from watching Andrew Zimern ooh and aah on his TV food show, but still a “classic” experience. Yes, there are better places and cheaper ones in Hanoi, but check out this place, anyway, as you probably will only visit Hanoi once…”

To end this post, I would say the whole experience from the place itself, the dish history over hundred year, to the Hanoi service style and of course the taste of the rich combination of different flavors : turmeric, dill, shrimp paste, hot and cold…make it really unforgettable. And that would be a reason why Chả Cá Lã Vọng is listed in Patricia Schultz’s book.

Address of the original “Chả Cá Lã Vọng” : 14, Phố Chả Cá and the dining area is upstairs, the old wooden stairs – very upright! 

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