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).
- 3 tsp chopped fresh ginger
- 3 red Asian shallots, chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, chopped
- 2¾ tsp ground turmeric
- 60 ml (2 fl oz/¼ cup) fish sauce
- 750 g (1 lb 11 oz) skinless blue eye cod or other firm white-fleshed fish fillets, cut into 4 cm (1½ in) pieces
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 375 g (13 oz) dried thin rice-stick noodles
- 90 g (3 oz/½ cup) rice flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 80 ml (2½ fl oz/⅓ cup) vegetable oil, plus extra if necessary
- 8 spring onions (scallions), trimmed and cut into 4 cm (1½ in) pieces plus extra, finely sliced, to garnish
- 1 onion, halved and sliced
- 2 bunches of dill, coarsely torn
- 160 g (5½ oz/1 cup) roasted unsalted peanuts, coarsely chopped
- 80 ml (2½ fl oz/⅓ cup) mam nem (Vietnamese fermented shrimp sauce)
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 tbsp caster (superfine) sugar
- 1 lemongrass stem, white part only, finely chopped
- 2 tbsp fish sauce
- 2 tbsp lime juice
- 2 medium red chillies, finely chopped
- 95 g (3¼ oz/½ cup) very finely chopped fresh pineapple flesh
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Marinating time 2-3 hours
Combine the ginger, shallots, garlic, 2 teaspoons of the turmeric and fish sauce in a food processor and process until a coarse paste forms.
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.
To make the sauce, combine all the ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine well, until the sugar has dissolved. 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.
Combine the rice flour, remaining turmeric and salt in a bowl. Add the fish and toss well to coat, shaking off any excess.
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. 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.
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.
Recipe and image from East: Culinary Adventures in Southeast Asia by Leanne Kitchen and Antony Suvalko (Hardie Grant, $39.95, hbk). View our Readable Feasts review and more recipes from the book here.