We ate a lot of food in Hanoi. Street food, fancy food, French food–we ate it all. Far and away the best meal we had was Cha Ca. Mark STILL talks about it. He even requested that I learn to make it on the plane ride home. I was delighted when I realized that Cha Ca was in my new cookbook, Street Cafe Vietnam, and it was a pretty doable recipe.
3 tablespoons of nuoc mam (fish sauce)
1 tablespoon of sea salt
1 tablespoon of pepper
1lb of a firm whitefish (I used tilapia), cut into bite-sized chunks
vegetable oil for cooking
1 tablespoon of ground turmeric
2 in piece of fresh ginger, thinly sliced
5 tablespoons of roughly chopped dill
2 tablespoons of green onions, chopped
2 tablespoons of roasted peanuts crushed (I didn’t have these handy)
8oz of rice vermicelli, cooked
leaves of fresh herbs (I used mint from our CSA box)
nuoc cham dipping sauce (1 tablespoon of fish sauce, 3 tablespoons of lime juice, 1 garlic clove chopped finely, 1 fresh red chile finely chopped [I used dried red chile], 1/2 teaspoon of sugar–all mixed together)
1. Mix together the fish sauce, salt, and pepper. Add the fish and leave to marinate in the fridge for 1 hour.
2. Generously coat a large frying pan with cooking oil. When the oil is hot add the turmeric and ginger. Mix well, and stir in the marinated fish. Cook over medium heat. Just before the fish is done, add the dill, onions, and peanuts and cook for a minute more.
3. Serve over rice vermicelli, with nuoc cham and fresh herbs topping the fish.
The fish turned out AMAZING. I think it tasted pretty authentic, if I recall correctly. I used yummy tilapia from Trader Joe’s and it held together nicely while I was cooking it. The fresh herbs are essential to really have the flavor hit you, like it does at the Cha Ca shops in Hanoi. The only bummer of the meal was the noodles. Try as we may, we have the most difficult time getting the right kind of rice noodles, like the ones you’d get with Cha Ca or Bun Ca. Last time, the noodles were clearly meant to be fried or in a soup. This time, the noodles were about the thickness of regular spaghetti. We want the thin, sticky(ish), curly(ish) rice noodle, like the ones we have in Hanoi. I even picked these noodles up in the “Hanoi” aisle at the Asian market! Regardless, the meal was yummy. It was a fun way to play up the fish, and it brought back food memories of our time in Hanoi.