The north of Vietnam is well known for
its use of pungent herbs, so much so that a dish of the ever-popular
noodles can be served plain, dressed only with coriander and basil. There
are many herbs that are indigenous to this northern region and virtually
impossible to find outside Vietnam, but one herb that is easily available
and used in many northern-style fish dishes is dill. In this classic dish
from Hanoi, cha ca Hanoi, the dill is just as important as the fish and
they complement each other beautifully. A simple accompaniment of plain
rice or noodles is all that is needed to make an impressive meal.
Cha Ca Street - There is a street in Hanoi
called Cha Ca Street, where all the restaurants specialize in this dish.
The most famous is Cha Ca La Vong, a tiny restaurant that has been owned
by the same family for generations and which claims to have first
popularized cha ca. This recipe usually uses the local Red River fish,
carp and catfish, and is served with piquant dipping sauces such as mam
tong tom made with pineapple and dried shrimp, or nuoc cham.
White fish fillets, such as cod skinned and cut into bite-size chunks
Vegetable oil, for deep-frying
Groundnut (peanut) oil
Spring onions (scallions), cut into bite-size pieces
Fresh basil, stalks removed, leaves chopped
Fresh coriander (cilantro), stalks removed
Lime, cut into quarters
Nuoc cham sauce, to serve
Mix the flour with the turmeric and toss
the fish chunks in it until well coated. Heat the oil in a wok or heavy
pan and cook the fish in batches until crisp and golden.
Drain on kitchen paper.
Scatter some of the dill fronds on a
serving dish, arrange the fish on top and keep warm.
Chop some of the remaining dill fronds and
set aside for garnishing.
Heat the groundnut oil in a small pan or
wok. Stir in the peanuts and cook for 1 minute.
Add the spring onions, the remaining dill
fronds, basil and coriander.
Stir fry for no more than 30 seconds, then
spoon the herbs and peanuts over the fish.
Garnish with the chopped dill and serve with lime wedges and nuoc cham
to drizzle over the top.