Thursday, July 4, 2013

Cha Ca La Vong

When we visited Hanoi last time, we were thwarted in our attempts to eat at Cha Ca La Vong, the famous tumeric fish and dill restaurant that has christened the name of its street (Cha Ca), spawned thousands of copycat restaurants, and supposedly inspired chefs across the globe. 

Even before we went this time, I had a feeling that I was suffering from silly tourist syndrome.  You know - the one where you feel like you have to go somewhere because friends have raved about it and you're really curious how it's managed to get such good reviews and be in business for 135 years... even though you have a kind of sinking feeling that this isn't really the kind of thing you'll like... but then you worry you'll regret not at least trying it and seeing what all the hype is about...

I should confess that dill is not on my gold star list of herbs.  So perhaps that's why I feel so lukewarm towards this dish.  But even allowing for this prejudice,  this dish was so incredibly oily, I couldn't help but nix it.  Given the vast range of flavors in Vietnamese cuisine, I'm truly puzzled that this is the dish that has tickled and tanatlized the palettes of so many. 
That's pretty clear!

The materials

Can you even see the pieces of fish? 

I find the claims to inspiration from the chefs interviewed in this New York Times article tenuous at best.  How can this dish be inspiring simply because it contains copious amounts of dill?  Dill is not really used in Asian cooking, especially not to the extent that basil, mint and cilantro are used, but that hardly seems so noteworthy as to garner this kind of praise and emulation.

I'm willing to concede that a combination of chili, fish paste, dill and tumeric can create a "muskiness" that is arguably unique, however, having finally sampled the meager portions allotted at the restaurant, I'm pretty certain that any muskiness associated with this dish comes purely from a lot of oil being cooked on high heat. 

Also, a point must be made about value.  It's a minor point because 170,000 dong isn't that much money (USD$8), but it's a lot of money for one meal in Hanoi, and it's a fortune when you consider how little food they give you.

I am sticking to the pho and bun cha.

p.s. I find myself agreeing wholeheartedly with this blogger and these reviews- I'm so glad there's someone else who shares my views on this!

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