Chasing Cha Ca
Sheraton Rooftop Bar and a Cocktail, or two...
Our first evening in Ho Chi Minh City started off with a little evening stroll, where we watched the city come to life...
This place was brimming with locals and tourists alike, all lining up for woodfired pizza. It smelt and looked amazing! Ho Chi Minh City, we were impressed.
Later on, I stumbled across this street snack - I have a real knack for finding food wherever I go ;) It was a custard-type dessert, and was quite nice, but nothing I will pine after or rush to re-create. Oh, and it cost around 25cents. Can anyone translate this sign for me? It was next to the lady who sold us the sweet, and I snapped a picture of it hoping to be able to translate it once I was home. Taking a punt, I see the word "Flan", and it did indeed taste Flan-ish...?
We then found ourselves at the Sheraton Rooftop Bar, as was recommended by a friend. Cocktails ensued. Martinis and a Cosmopolitan. It was two for one... hey, When in Ho Chi Minh City! Perching high up on the 23rd floor, cocktail in hand, is a fabulous way to see the city, which appeared to be quite Cosmopolitan from this viewing point and time of night - see? The second cocktail was purely a topical refreshment.
But enough about the drinks, let's talk food!
* I would like to disclose right here, right now, that I wholeheartedly believe my love for the following dish to be in no way enhanced by the somewhat enthusiastic number of beverages consumed on this beautiful night, the first night of our Asia trip.
When researching what food we should try while in Vietnam, there were a few dishes I came across again and again. One of them was Cha Ca. Countless travellers posted online their praise for this dish - some in particular were really quite firm and insistent about it. Ok, duly noted ;) But what is it and where can I get some?...
“Cha” means grilled (or possibly fried), and “Ca” means fish. This dish is all that and more - much more.
Cha Ca originated in Hanoi – in fact, there is a street named after the dish! Many streets in Hanoi are named after a food or something that is produced on that street. Cha Ca La Vong , a restaurant in Hanoi's Old Quarter, originally started serving Cha Ca to enraptured patrons over a century ago (wow!). They now have a branch in Ho Chi Minh City, which serves up the famous fish dish. Many report that this chapter is even better than the original, which apparently often disappoints. I cannot compare the two personally, but we were certainly thrilled with our Cha Ca experience. So much so that after our meal I almost started dancing down the street to “I’m every woman”...No? Too much? Is it really just me who breaks into a Chaka Khan song whenever I hear or see the words “Cha Ca”. Apparently so, I apologise.
And so after taking in the view of the city from 23 stories high, and enjoying some cheeky cocktails, we caught a cab to Cha Ca La Vong, 3 Ho Xuan Huong Street, District 3 for our highly anticipated dinner. Dear friends, it did not disappoint.
There is only one dish on the menu, so as soon as we sat down a small burner was brought to our table - our meal was cooked right in front of us! Every now and then a waitress would come over and give a courtesy stir, to which we would sing our praises with "oooohs" and "ahhhhhs".
There was also some prawn cracker-style bread as an accompaniment, which I was not particularly fussed with.
Once cooked, we topped our bowl of fresh rice noodles with the fish and herbs, before scattering with fresh chilli and peanuts, a dash of fish sauce and a squeeze of lime.
How do I describe the beauty of this dish? It was...exciting! The use of dill in Vietnamese cooking really surprised us. I have so much to learn about this fascinating cuisine! There were other fresh herbs in this dish too – coriander and basil. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I absolutely love how the Vietnamese use herbs as noteworthy ingredients. Adding more than a simple sprinkle really allows the dish to sing in a way that is so foreign to other styles of cooking. The food tastes heightened, elevated to a whole new, special place.
The flavour of the tumeric, in all it’s feisty yellow glory, with the meaty snakehead fish was just gorgeous. I am not all that familiar with this fish, and I really enjoyed the flavour. Together with the crunch of the fresh spring onion and the fragrant herbs, with a sour touch of lime and the soft rice noodles, it was an incredibly stimulating and downright delicious meal.
I must admit, however, that one sniff of the mam tom (fermented shrimp sauce) was enough, and I steadily pushed this stinky, stinky goo far from view. I appreciate that this is an acquired taste. I simply do not wish to acquire it.
We loved this dish. It was a real standout during out visit to Vietnam. The combination of flavours were just insane. Cha Ca is something we will definitely try to recreate at home. I would absolutely recommend this restaurant to hungry travellers in Ho Chi Minh City as a delightful place to try this very popular dish.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I must go do a little Chaka Khan dance…”Ain’t nobody, loves me better…”
p.s. thanks to Ben for naming this post. He thinks it's an ingenious title. I wasn't so sure, yet every time I suggested a new name he shut it down, "Chasing Cha Ca!!" Ok, ok.