How to Eat in Hanoi Like a Pro: Cha Ca La Vong

How to Eat in Hanoi Like a Pro: Cha Ca La Vong

What is Cha Ca La Vong?

This is a great question. Cha Ca La Vong is a restaurant we were trying to eat at - more on this later. "Cha ca” is quite simply a grilled fish dish particular to Hanoi. When you go to one of the restaurants that serves cha ca, they will bring a tabletop grill to you, to begin grilling the fish. Right in front of you. They use a particular type of fish called hemibagrus because it is known to have very few bones.  They will also bring all sorts of accoutrements for you to add to the grill for flavor, like bean sprouts, cilantro, some sort of sauce, and lastly, rice noodles (because what isn’t better with rice noodles?).

One of my favorite things about Hanoi was the history that showed through in its streets. Back when Hanoi was mostly used as a place for artisans to come and sell their goods, the area around Hoan Kiem Lake, or as its now known today, The Old Quarter, was where they would come and set up shop. Artisans and merchants of similar trade would build communities and stick together, and the streets in their community were named for what they sold, which is now referred to as The 36 Streets.  Most of these streets start with the word “Hang,” meaning shop or store. While Hanoi has kept with the times, streets still sell groups of items. We would walk down a street where all the shops sold locks, for example, or different types of rope.

All this is to say that not only is cha ca a wonderful Vietnamese dish, Cha Ca is also a street. Think that might be a little confusing to people who don’t speak Vietnamese? Just wait.

 Notice the street name, as well as the many shops that have "Cha Ca" in their name. Our mistake meal occurred at "Cha Ca Number One" although they advertised themselves as "14 Cha Ca"

Notice the street name, as well as the many shops that have "Cha Ca" in their name. Our mistake meal occurred at "Cha Ca Number One" although they advertised themselves as "14 Cha Ca"

Our Cha Ca La Vong Adventure

Cha Ca La Vong (the target restaurant in our adventure here) was made well known by this New York Times article back in 2014. In fact, it has become so popular that other restaurants on this same street have named themselves the same thing, including the street address just to try to get tourists to come to their shops instead of the original one. This is where, if I were a truly honest person, I’d admit that Jordan and I, after about an hour of trying to find this street, fell for the shiny gold object, so to speak. No, it was a shiny gold object – the sign had flashing lights. We were hungry and distracted.

If you’re looking for the New York Times-written about restaurant, like we were, the address is 14 Cha Ca. There are fake restaurants trying to steal you from the real one. Please, let me give you a few tips so that you’ll know you’re in the real one:

 Our meal at the  real  Cha Ca La Vong

Our meal at the real Cha Ca La Vong

  • It says Cha Ca La Vong – those last two words are really important. Don’t get distracted by the food that smells good.

  • You have to walk inside and upstairs. If you can sit outside and they won’t let you indoors, it’s not it.

  • It’s actually at 14 Cha Ca. There are other restaurants pretending to be at this address, but if you have Google Maps downloaded (do this), you can see that they are not in the right location. It will be confusing, and you’ll be tempted to go to the one that’s luring you in with the smells, but please, go to the right one.

  • Once you sit down, they hand you a card that says “ONLY ONE DISH IN OUR RESTAURANT GRILLED FISH.” If you are handed a menu, you’ll know it’s wrong.

  • If all else fails (and I’m speaking from experience here), once you’ve realized you’re in the wrong place, maybe you’ve eaten an entire meal, wait an hour or two to be hungry again, and just go back and try again (like we did).

 This is one of the keys to knowing you are at the right place - if they don't hand you this, you're not at the right Cha Ca La Vong!

This is one of the keys to knowing you are at the right place - if they don't hand you this, you're not at the right Cha Ca La Vong!

You really can't go wrong with food in Hanoi. There is so much of it, and as far as we experienced, it was all amazing. Even our lunch at the fake 14 Cha Ca was really quite tasty, just a bit awkward. Have you been to Hanoi? What was your favorite meal?

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