The melodic sounding ‘Cha Ca La Vong’ is one of Hanoi’s famous dishes consisting of white fish (often Vietnamese Snakehead fish) along with fresh turmeric, galangal, ginger, the pungent smelling Vietnamese shrimp paste, spring onions, rice noodles and a generous helping of fresh dill, coriander and mint and a scattering of peanuts.
My version is all of the above except no galangal (unless I happen to chance upon it), turmeric powder instead of fresh turmeric and no Vietnamese shrimp paste. I also find cod or tilapia work best for me, but basically you can use any thick white fish that has been filleted and does not have a propensity to fall apart.
The flavour combinations work so well and I find it refreshing to give dill centre stage once in a while as I tend to find that it only ever gets partnered with salmon, trout and creme fraiche. The textures also really compliment each other, from the soft and yet delicately fried fish, to the crunchy nuts, the fresh flavoursome herbs and the filling noodles. I like to accompany the dish with my sweet and sour nuoc cham dipping sauce – see here (at the bottom of the post).
It’s one of those dishes which is perfect for guests to get stuck in and help themselves. Part of the fun of it is to create the dish yourself, choosing the amounts of herbs that suit your requirements. I also find that when guests help themselves there is far less wastage as people, on the whole, tend to take what they are going to eat. Both my daughters adore the dish and for my youngest I tend to make up a separate nuoc cham dipping sauce without fresh chilli.
Cha Ca La Vong – Vietnamese Fish with Turmeric, Ginger and Dill
600g cod or tilapia, cut into 2 inch chunks
2 tbsp fresh ginger, finely grated (equally you could use ginger paste)
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped (or as above)
1 tbsp fish sauce
2 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp plain flour
3/4 tbsp of vegetable oil
4 spring onions, thinly cut on the diagonal
bunch of fresh dill
bunch of fresh coriander
bunch of fresh mint
1 generous handful of peanuts
300g rice noodles
1. Place the fish chunks, turmeric, ginger, garlic, flour, sugar and fish sauce in a bowl and gently mix in together so that the fish is completely coated in the turmeric. Cover and leave to marinade in the fridge for a few hours or overnight.
2. In a preheated grill – 180 degrees – place the fish on a baking tray and grill for 10 minutes.
3. Whilst the fish is gently grilling cook the rice noodles according to the packet and drain with cool water then place to one side. When ready to serve pour boiling water through it once, drain and place in a serving bowl.
4. In a different bowl place the fresh coriander and mint and in another place the peanuts. If you are using salted peanuts, you’ll find you won’t need to add any more salt to the dish.
5. Prepare the nuoc cham dipping sauce. For four people you will need to make two batches of this – see here.
6. In a frying pan add the oil and when it is hot add the fish in batches along with any remaining ginger and garlic from the marinade. Leave for a minute or so before turning over for another couple of minutes. You want to get a crispy, slightly bronzed coat to the fish. Place the fish on kitchen roll whilst you are cooking the remaining fish chunks.
7. Once the fish has crisped up sufficiently add the dill and the spring onions for up to a minute before placing in a large serving bowl.
8. Allow guests to serve themselves, showing them how to layer up the dish by first placing the noodles in a bowl, followed by the fish, spring onions and dill, mint and coriander, peanuts and then a little nuoc cham dipping sauce over the top.