Friday, 4 July 2008

To Cha Ca La Vong For Some Cha Ca

Touted as a bit of a Hanoi institution, this one dish restaurant was high on the list of must trys when we were in the city. Jo and I had already made it across Indochina in one piece by ourselves (the rest having left us to our own devices for the comfort of KL). We even managed to get from Hanoi airport to the hotel safely (not terribly hard since we had already arranged for a car beforehand - thank heavens for!) but as soon as stepped out of our hotel, we were almost tripping over ourselves in panic :) Perhaps we should have wandered out when it was still light but the comfort of the air-condition and internet in the room was just too much of a lure to stay in. But we made it out eventually and walked straight into the chaos that makes Hanoi's Old Quarter a gem. Motorcycles coming from every direction, pavements blocked by parked motorbikes, incessant hooting .... ohhh a nightmare, especially if you've just arrived from the sleepy backwater that is Siem Reap!
Grumpy and hungry, Jo and I stumbled upon Cha Ca Street and a few feet away from dinner! The restaurant is tiny but we were ushered up a flight of creaky stairs (it creaked so badly I didn't know if I should just leg it up or close my eyes, pray really hard, hold my weight and creep up very, VERY slowly). The floorboards upstairs weren't any better but hey... if it manages to hold so many people for this long, I guess I really don't have much to worry about. Seated, we were pushed a piece of paper that said something along the lines of 'We only serve one dish Cha Ca' along with the price - which I can't remember. Something laughably low if you have foreign cash to spend.
Within minutes of us nodding to the man who had to make sure we really did want to eat Cha Ca, a little charcoal fired stove was brought to us with a pan of sizzling fish in oil. We also got a plate of bun (cold vermicelli noodles), peanuts, chopped red chillies, nuoc cham (a dipping sauce made with lime, fish sauce, sugar, chili and water) and two huge piles of herbs. The man then starts stirring our fish that is still sizzling madly in the saffron tempered oil while throwing lots of herbs in from the first pile he brought over of mainly spring onions and dill. After a few stirs, the man seems satisfied the herbs had cooked down and points to the noodles and condiments he brought over earlier and then to an empty bowl. That's our cue to tuck in. Noodles in, peanuts, chillies, herbs (coriander, mint, basil and even more dill this time), fish, lots of oil and nuoc nam over the top. It was good and it was interesting... but dare I say it? I over-anticipated this place and it let me down. This is awful... I sound terrible but I did really want it to be very good. It was quite an experience and really quite fun but ohhhh the dampening of the spirit ........!

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