Cha ca

Cha ca

Leanne Kitchen

It’s every Hanoi first-timer’s rite of passage – a dinner at the gorgeous, rickety Cha Ca La Vong in the Old Quarter. Their raison d’etre is to serve just one dish – cha ca. Pieces of local Red River fish (carp or catfish) are marinated with turmeric then fried at the table with heaps of dill and spring onion and served over rice noodles with peanuts and a dipping sauce (mam tom tong).


Quantity Ingredient
3 teaspoons chopped fresh ginger
3 red asian shallots, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 3/4 teaspoons ground turmeric
60ml fish sauce
750g skinless blue eye cod or other firm white-fleshed fish fillets, cut into 4 cm pieces
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
375g dried thin rice-stick noodles
90g rice flour
1 teaspoon salt
80ml vegetable oil, plus extra if necessary
8 spring onions, trimmed and cut into 4 cm pieces, plus extra, finely sliced, to garnish
1 onion, halved and sliced
2 bunches dill, coarsely torn
160g roasted unsalted peanuts, coarsely chopped


Quantity Ingredient
80ml mam nem (vietnamese fermented shrimp sauce)
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon caster sugar
1 lemongrass stem, finely chopped, white part only
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 medium red chillies, finely chopped
95g fresh pineapple flesh, very finely chopped


  1. Combine the ginger, shallots, garlic, 2 teaspoons of the turmeric and fish sauce in a food processor and process until a coarse paste forms.
  2. Put the fish in a bowl with the paste and pepper and stir to combine well. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2–3 hours. Drain the fish well.
  3. For the sauce, combine all the ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine well, until the sugar has dissolved.
  4. Put the rice-stick noodles in a large bowl, cover with boiling water and stand for 5 minutes. Drain. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil, add the noodles and cook for 2–3 minutes or until tender – or cook according to the packet instructions. Drain well.
  5. Combine the rice flour, remaining turmeric and salt in a bowl. Add the fish and toss well to coat, shaking off any excess.
  6. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large heavy-based frying pan over high heat. Add the spring onion and onion and cook, tossing often, for 4–5 minutes or until the onions are lightly charred. Add half the dill, toss for 1 minute or until the dill has wilted then transfer to a bowl.
  7. Reduce the heat to medium and add the remaining oil to the pan. Add the fish, in a single layer, and cook, turning once, for 5–6 minutes or until the fish is cooked through. Scatter over the onion mixture and the remaining dill.
  8. Divide the noodles among warmed bowls and divide the fish mixture over the noodles. Scatter over the peanuts and extra spring onion, and serve with the sauce on the side.
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