Chả Cá – Vietnamese Style Fish with Turmeric & Dill

You know those dishes you experience when you’re away on vacation that you just can’t wait to try or find when you get back home?  The ones where you think to yourself, how have I never tasted this combination of flavors before and how do I make sure they stay in my life now?  Yea, one of those dishes was without a doubt Chả Cá Lã Vọng in Vietnam.

Cha Ca La Vong - Vietnamese Style Fish with Turmeric & Dill

Chả Cá translates to fried fish and originally hails from a street in the old quarter in Hanoi of the same name.  The streets in the old quarter are dizzying and chaotic.  Back in the 13th and 14th centuries, what is now the old quarter was made up of 36 different guilds each inhabiting a different street named for the craft or specialty that guild represented.

Chaotic streets of the Old Quarter in Hanoi, Vietnam
Bustling streets of the Old Quarter in Hanoi, Vietnam

   Ironically, the place where we ate chả cá lã vọng was not found on the street of Chả Cá, which does still actually exist as a street.  We ate a restaurant specializing in only chả cá a little further north in the old quarter at the recommendation of several travelers who had also visited Hanoi called Chả Cá Thăng Long.  

At each table there is deep saute pan with a burner where the fish is cooked fresh right in front of you.  Piles of green onion and dill pan fry alongside the fish spiced heavily with turmeric.  The servers at the restaurant were sympathetic to our ignorance as travelers and demonstrated how to properly eat the fish and herbs with the additional accoutrements.

Cha Ca La Vong at Cha Ca Thang Long in Hanoi, Vietnam

You start by adding rice noodles to a small serving bowl then pile on a few pieces of fish and some of the sauteed herbs.  You garnish with fresh herbs, green onions, and crushed peanuts.  The whole thing is then splashed with a fresh dipping sauce made of fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, and chiles.  You eat one small bowl and then prepare another.  Repeat until thoroughly satisfied.

As I was happily eating, I was also taking mental notes on what to remember so I could recreate this dish at home.

Cha Ca La Vong - Vietnamese Style Fish with Turmeric and Dill

As with all travel inspired recipe recreations, this is not a truly authentic chả cá recipe – I’ll never have the same ingredients, knowledge, or history that it takes to truly make a dish like this authentic.  Instead I try to stay as close to the original flavors I experienced as possible while paying homage to the beautiful country and people who shared a slice of their culture.

Here’s what you’ll need:

For the fish and herbs

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (about 2 tsp)
  • 1 tbsp minced ginger
  • 1 large shallot, roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • ½ tsp oyster sauce
  • 1 tsp fish sauce
  • 3 tbsp canola or vegetable oil, divided
  • 3 large filets firm white fish
    • I used tilapia, but catfish or halibut would also work well
  • 6-8 large green onions, chopped into 2-3 inch long pieces
  • 3 oz dill fronds
  • 1 cup asian greens – bok choy, pak choy, mustard greens, etc.
  • ½ tsp kosher salt

For the dipping sauce and garnishes

  • 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 3 tbsp lime juice
  • 6 tbsp water
  • 1 small birds eye chile, thinly sliced
    • Serrano or jalapeno peppers work in a pinch
  • ¼ cup crushed roasted peanuts, unsalted
  • ¼ cup fresh mint and cilantro, torn
  • 8 oz thin rice noodles

Cha Ca La Vong - Vietnamese Style Fish with Turmeric and Dill

Start by preparing the marinade for the fish.  Chop the garlic, ginger, and shallots and add to a medium mixing bowl with the turmeric, oyster sauce, fish sauce, and 2 tbsp vegetable oil.  Stir to combine.  Cut the fish filets into 1 inch chunks and coat with the marinade.  Cover and let sit in the fridge for at least a half an hour and up to 2 hours.

While the fish marinates, you can start prepping the remaining ingredients.

Cha Ca La Vong - Vietnamese Style Fish with Turmeric and Dill

Cut the green onions and dill fronds into 2-3 inch pieces.  Rinse the leaves of your greens and set aside with the dill and green onions.  To make the dipping sauce, combine fish sauce, lime juice, water, and sugar in a small mixing bowl.  Stir until sugar has dissolved.  Slice your chile/pepper and add a few slices to the dipping sauce if desired.

Cook rice noodles according to package instructions – rinse and set aside.  The noodles should be room temperature for this dish, so you’re fine to rinse them with cold water after cooking and letting drain in a colander.

Cha Ca La Vong - Vietnamese Style Fish with Turmeric and Dill

Once the fish is done marinating heat 1 tbsp vegetable oil in a large heavy bottomed skillet over medium high heat.  Add the fish along with the contents of the marinade to the pan and saute for 3-4 minutes, or until none of the pieces of fish retain their translucent uncooked appearance on the outside.

After 3-4 minutes, push the fish pieces to one side of the pan allowing them to continue to cook.  Add the greens, green onion, and dill to the other side stirring while they cook down.  Season both greens and fish with kosher salt and saute both for an additional 4-5 minutes.  The fish should be cooked through but not falling apart, and the greens should be wilted but not browned.

Cha Ca La Vong - Vietnamese Style Fish with Turmeric and Dill

To serve, add a handful of the rice noodles to a bowl and top with the fish, dill, and greens.  Add a few spoonfuls of dipping sauce over the noodles and fish to taste.  Garnish with crushed peanuts, fresh mint, fresh cilantro, and chiles.  The resulting flavor combination is both unexpected and delightful.

Cha Ca La Vong - Vietnamese Style Fish with Turmeric and Dill

This particular dish comes from Hanoi and is only typically eaten in northern Vietnam.  As a result, it’s unlikely you’ll see it in Vietnamese restaurants in the States.  All the more reason to make this recipe at home and bring a little taste of Vietnam to your own kitchen!

Bon appétit!

Cha Ca La Vong - Vietnamese Style Fish with Turmeric and Dill

This iconic fish recipe from Hanoi, Vietnam is loaded with flavor thanks to a turmeric marinade and heaps of fresh dill.  

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Marinating Time 30 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes
Servings 4 servings

Ingredients

For the fish and herbs-

  • 2 cloves garlic minced (about 2 tsp)
  • 1 tbsp minced ginger
  • 1 large shallot roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • ½ tsp oyster sauce
  • 1 tsp fish sauce
  • 3 tbsp canola or vegetable oil divided
  • 3 large filets tilapia
  • 6-8 large green onions chopped into 2-3 inch long pieces
  • 3 oz dill fronds
  • 1 cup asian greens bok choy, pak choy, mustard greens, etc.
  • ½ tsp kosher salt

For the dipping sauce and garnishes-

  • 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 3 tbsp lime juice
  • 6 tbsp water
  • 1 small birds eye chile thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup crushed roasted peanuts unsalted
  • ¼ cup fresh mint and cilantro torn
  • 8 oz thin rice noodles

Instructions

  1. Start by preparing the marinade for the fish. Chop the garlic, ginger, and shallots and add to a medium mixing bowl with the turmeric, oyster sauce, fish sauce, and 2 tbsp vegetable oil. Stir to combine. 

  2. Cut the fish filets into 1 inch chunks and coat with the marinade. Cover and let sit in the fridge for at least a half an hour and up to 2 hours.

  3. Cut the green onions and dill fronds into 2-3 inch pieces. Rinse the leaves of your greens and set aside with the dill and green onions.

  4. For the dipping sauce, combine fish sauce, lime juice, water, and sugar in a small mixing bowl. Stir until sugar has dissolved. Slice your chile and add a few slices to the dipping sauce if desired.

  5. Cook rice noodles according to package instructions - rinse and set aside. 

  6. Once the fish is done marinating heat 1 tbsp vegetable oil in a large heavy bottomed skillet over medium high heat. Add the fish along with the contents of the marinade to the pan and saute for 3-4 minutes

  7. After 3-4 minutes, push the fish pieces to one side of the pan allowing them to continue to cook. Add the greens, green onion, and dill to the other side stirring while they cook down. Season both greens and fish with kosher salt and saute both for an additional 4-5 minutes. 

  8. To serve, add a handful of the rice noodles to a bowl and top with the fish, dill, and greens. Add a few spoonfuls of dipping sauce over the noodles and fish to taste. Garnish with crushed peanuts, fresh mint, fresh cilantro, and chiles. 



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