Chả Cá, which means grilled fish, is one of the most prominent and notorious dishes in Hanoi. Cha ca was born in Hanoi by Doan family over a hundred years ago and it has built an immense reputation as a proud Hanoian dish. Fillets of fish is marinated in galangal spice, which is a tropical spice and this particular flavour is what makes cha ca so special and yummy. For the historical and culinary value of this dish, the name of the street has been changed to Cha Ca in the Old Quarter of Hanoi.
My first time trying this famous dish was in Cha Ca Thang Long restaurant, which is one of the top cha ca restaurants in town. And I had an absolutely amazing dinner here and have been back for the dish time and time again since.
But only recently, I finally visited the original restaurant in Hanoi where cha ca was born. So I’d like to share with you my experience here at Cha Ca La Vong restaurant and a comparison between the two restaurants in the end.
Cha Ca La Vong Restaurant
The restaurant building is an old building in the middle of Cha Ca street in the Old Quarter. The neon sign on the side of the entrance says “since 1871”, which is an exciting sign before trying this historical dish at its birthplace.
The ground floor is reserved for parking and other purposes. So the dining area is upstairs. The wooden staircase is quite a steep climb, so I had be careful going up and especially back downstairs after dinner. When I saw the very down to earth and old door as well as the that bit of the inside, I was feeling excited because I could sense the long history.
I was really surprised to see how small the restaurant is compared to Cha Ca Thang Long, which has three separate buildings that can accommodate more than 100 people at once. This evening was a quiet evening, so I felt as though I was welcomed into a friend’s home in the country. And the building is really like a home that has been transformed as a restaurant.
I really loved the antique furniture and especially the huge altar table hanging on the wall above the table. The burned ceiling from the incense smoke also indicates the number of years it has been here.
Original Cha Ca of Hanoi
The side dishes served along with the grilled fish are rice noodle, fresh vegetables such as spring onion and dill, herbs and sauces. The predominant sauce enjoyed with cha ca is mam tom, which is a strong fermented shrimp paste. As I’m not able to eat this sauce, I had it with fish sauce, which is a perfect alternative to mam tom.
Every time my boyfriend and I go for cha ca, we always order two portions of fish and a portion of fish intestines. But this day, they were sold out of the intestines, so we only had the fish. Here, everything is a smaller portion compared to Thang Long – from cuts of fish, bowl of greens and the pan. So we ordered three portions of fish in total.
But the sauce looked more dense and that galangal fragrance was so appetising. When we tried it, we were quite surprised to notice no difference of flavour from Thang Long. Cha ca there tasted just as good as here and I honestly could not tell the difference. It was just delicious and tasted so fine.
La Vong vs. Thang Long
Taste-wise, I would say both La Vong and Thang Long are just delectable. I had amazing meals at both places and am really satisfied with both experiences.
One main difference would be the atmosphere of the restaurant being totally different. La Vong, the original restaurant has a historical, cultural and homey vibe whereas Thang Long is more commercialised and modern.
In my opinion, the service was much more organised and friendlier at Thang Long as everyone here moves in such a harmonious flow. And I’m always amused with how a great team Thang Long staff is. At La Vong, maybe it was that day, but the mood was rather down compared to the lively vibe of Thang Long.
Lastly, the price is also quite a difference to mention. At La Vong, one portion is 170,000VND and Thang Long is 120,000VND. And the portion is or I felt as though less at La Vong. As my boyfriend and I ordered three portions for two and a drink each, our dinner was 500,000VND in total, which is on a higher end compared to many other local meals. And our usual bill is about 400,000VND at Thang Long. But cha ca is worth the price!
So the choice is yours to make between the two, or maybe you can try both restaurants and see for yourself. I only recommend that you must try this yummy Hanoian dish at least once if you’re in Hanoi!