We arrived late in the afternoon in Hanoi, coming back from Ha Long Bay. We stayed for a while at the Handspan office to rest and confirm our train tickets for the night. We are set to take the night train to Sapa that evening as well. Since we had some time to kill, we decided to do a brief walk around the Old Quarters. Pretty busy street, mostly of low rise houses with old French facades. Would have been great to take a lot of photos but it was sun down already and the way the things those motos drive by, it’s kinda hard to take out your cameras in the streets. For dinner that night we decided to eat at Vietnam’s oldest restaurant which opened in 1871, Cha Ca La Vong Restaurant.
Cha Ca La Vong Restaurant can be found at No 14 at the street in the Old Quarters, Hanoi named after its famous dish, Cha Ca, which is grilled fish. It’s a small two story narrow building and the restaurant is at the second floor. The stairs where creaking and narrow, our bags almost didn’t make it through. The floor was rickety. At any moment I thought it would just give in and would find ourselves on the ground floor. Thank god it didn’t. The place has an antique atmosphere, which is expected since the establishment has been there for 200 years. As soon as we got our table, we were shown a menu card stating “We only serve one dish – Grilled Fish. 90,000 VND”. It’s a bit pricey but that’s expected since this is already an institution.
Soon, ingredients were brought to our table, from a small clay brazier with a frying pan. On it, the fish was already grilling. Parsley, vegetables, rice noodles, peanuts and sauces followed. We were the ones to cook and grill on our table. We had to ask how this is eaten. The staff demonstrated putting the vegetables, parsley on the grilling pan, cook it for a while until the fish is golden brown. Put in some rice noodles in your bowl, top in the grilled ingredients, add in the peanuts and the sauces and then you have your Cha Ca Dish. Pretty easy.
It’s pretty brave for a restaurant to continually serve one dish for more than a hundred years. Having one dish could easily make people tire out on its taste but not on this case. I can say that the dish is pretty good and worth the money you spend. The antiquated ambiance also adds to this dining experience. The place can get pretty crowded with patrons in different generations. We were just lucky we got there before the crowd arrives.
If you find yourself in Hanoi, try to drop by Cha Ca La Vong Restaurant. Patricia Shultz highly regarded this place that she added it on her list of 1000 Places to See before you Die. Though I wouldn’t say that this dish is to die for, but it is worth experiencing when you are in the area.
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.