A simple fish recipe, created a century ago, is drawing people from all over the world to the Hanoi family home of the creator of the dish.
Now a restaurant, Cha Ca La Vong (La Vong grilled fish) is run by the descendants of the dish’s creator. The fish dish and the restaurant are named for a statue that used to stand in front of the house. The statue was of a Chinese general known as La Vong, sitting with a fishing rod. Inside the house 100 years ago, the great-grandfather of the current restaurant owners dreamed up a new way to serve fish, with turmeric, green onion and dill. In 2003, the restaurant was included in 1,000 Places To See Before You Die by American travel writer Patricia Schultz. The MSNBC website later narrowed the book’s list down to the world’s 10 must see places, putting Cha Ca La Vong at number five.
The history of the Doan family is as colorful as the dish it’s famous for. In the mid-1800s, the family began allowing Vietnamese soldiers, who were trying to oust the ruling French, to hide in their house. They served their guests their special fish dish, cha ca La Vong. To raise extra money to fund their rebel-hiding activities and provide a cover for the house’s mysterious comings and goings – the family opened a restaurant serving only cha ca La Vong. The original recipe remains a Doan family secret but Le Thi Bich Loc, one of the current Doan family restaurateurs, told Vietnam News Agency the secret to cha ca La Vong was making it with quality ingredients. To make the dish, Loc said fillets of catfish or snakehead fish are filleted and marinated for at least two hours with galangal, pepper, fish sauce and turmeric. The fillets are then grilled on a coal stove, turned frequently until each piece is a deep golden color. The next stage of the cooking is done at the table, on a small pottery burner. The grilled fish is fried with dill, green onions and peanuts, a step that is believed to bring out more flavor. The sizzling hot fish fillet mixture is then placed into a bowl with Vietnamese vermicelli, pickled spring onion bulbs and aromatic herbs. The finishing touch is a few drops of fermented shrimp paste.
The restaurant only buys shrimp paste from central Thanh Hoa province. This regional specialty has a light flavor and turns white when mixed with lemon juice. Vietnamese wine is said to further compliment the taste of cha ca La Vong. The dish became so famous that Hanoi authorities renamed the entire street Cha Ca Street (Fried Minced Fish Street). The restaurant remains in its original location, at 14 Cha Ca Street in Hanoi, and Cha Ca La Vong was registered as a trademark in 1989.
Trang Tien is the ice cream that seduced Hanoi. A small ice cream shop in Hanoi draws hordes of locals and visitors every day in summer and winter. Some come for the delicious ice dream but others enjoy the post-war shopping experience. For 50 years, Trang Tien Ice Cream Shop has been serving icy treats to notoriously hard-to-please Hanoians. The shop is known for its standing ice cream for people have grown used to eating their treats while standing. When Trang Tien first opened in 1958, there were only two flavors of ice cream on a stick available, current shop owner Nguyen Van Hai told Tuoi Tre newspaper. After the war ended in 1975, Hai introduced more flavors, including chocolate, green bean, green rice and started selling ice cream cones and ice-cream served in cups as well as popsicle ice-creams. On hot summer days, Hai said his shop can sell 10,000 to 20,000 popsicle ice creams a day. A quick peek inside the shop illustrates its popularity. Each day there is a crowd of people at the refrigerators choosing their purchases. But regular shoppers know they have to place their orders quickly with the waiting staff, who can be grumpy with slow orderers.Once an order is successfully placed, customers usually rush outside to enjoy their ice cream in front of the shop.Hai said there were chairs outside his shop but customers seemed to prefer eating their ice cream while standing and chatting with their friends.
Despite the shop’s many refrigerators, the shop is often hot even in winter – because of the crush of people inside. Trang Tien ice cream mania has been attributed to the shop’s unforgettable flavors and long history. In spite of the invasion of many foreign ice-cream brands, Hanoians remain loyal to quality ice cream. Trang Tien only uses natural ingredients to make a fresh-tasting product. The shop’s green rice ice cream combines the light fragrant of green rice mixing with the rich taste of coconut milk.
What sets Trang Tien ice cream apart from other brands is its soft and chewy texture, with tiny grains of green beans or green rice sprinkled through the ice cream. Despite complaints about the shop’s hygiene, service standards and pick-pockets who take advantage of the crowded environment, people keep returning to the shop to recapture a part of their childhood when ice cream was a luxury. Buying ice cream at the shop has become a tradition for generations of Hanoians, who say the shop reminds them of the post-war period when shopping was hard work, requiring hours of waiting.Ho Chi Minh City residents can now enjoy the much-talked-about treats from Hanoi at the Hanoi Supermarket at 189 Cong Quynh Street. Nguyen Cu Trinh Ward, District 1 and Tien Hue Shop at 1/1 Dien Bien Phu Street, Da Kao Ward District 1 and Dung Huong Shop at 60 M Nguyen Thong Street, Ward 9, District 3. But people from across Vietnam still flock to the original shop at 35 Trang Tien Street in Hanoi for the special icy taste that has become a symbol of the old capital city.