Hàng Sơn 1871 evokes the past for today’s diners

Update: April, 29/2018 - 09:00
Local favourite: Chả cá, grilled fish, the favourite dish of Hanoians and tourists. — VNS Photo Mỹ Hà
Viet Nam News

By Nguyễn Mỹ Hà

The name Hàng Sơn 1871 immediately evokes a bygone era. The year takes you back two centuries in the history of Hà Nội’s Old Quarter, to a time when everything but the street names was different.

Even then, the city boasted tiny winding streets with the word “Hàng”, meaning Craft, in the name. There are many of them: Hàng Đào, or Silk Street; Hàng Bạc, or Silver Street, and even Hàng Mắm, or Fish Sauce Street.

But Hàng Sơn, or Lacquer Street, would become better known for a different product. The street is where the first chả cá (grilled fish), one of Hà Nội’s signature dishes, was born in 1871. The name "Chả Cá" later replaced the name Hàng Sơn and the street has carried it ever since.

If you read enough about Chả Cá, the grilled fish dish that everyone talks about if they visit Hà Nội, you know that Hàng Sơn 1871 is just a subtle way of saying “We serve Chả Cá!”

My high school friends and I decided to try this restaurant on a fine spring day to catch up and enjoy a meal. The restaurant façade looks just like any other townhouse city restaurant, except for the small alley next to the main entrance.

As it turned out, the alley led to the backyard, which was spacious and a great place to have food on the terrace, under the shade of an old longan tree.

Needless to say, we ordered chả cá (VNĐ135,000)—grilled fish cooked on the table with green onions and dill. Accompanying herbs include julienned white onions soaked in sugar and vinegar and Láng mint leaves.

Over the past 10 years, the city’s food scene has boomed with all kinds of restaurants and food specialties from all the Vietnamese provinces and the world over.

Chả cá has also enjoyed a great revival. In addition to the original Chả cá Lã Vọng restaurant on Chả Cá Street, Chả cá Kinh Kỳ and Chả Cá Thăng Long arrived on the scene to mostly serve local diners as Chả cá Lã Vọng became overcrowded.

Some newcomers also offer chả cá at a very competitive price of VNĐ120,000 per person. This is possible thanks to the new fish farms that raise the special lăng catfish along the Đà River and offer fish wholesale to the restaurants in Hà Nội.

Show-stopper: Full set of the Ốc thả feast. — VNS Photo Thúy Hằng
Central delicacy: Stir-fried mussels on rice cracker. — VNS Photo Mỹ Hà
Retro tableware: Ingredients set on the traditional round bronze tray. — VNS Photo Thúy Hằng

We have had the grilled fish in all of the above-mentioned restaurants, and I must say, my experience at Hàng Sơn was the best. The blue table ware recreated in the ancient style, the copper pan to stir-fry the dish above the flame and the perfectly marinated fish all combined for a fine dining experience.

There are two seasons in which you can enjoy the best chả cá: spring and fall in Hà Nội. Summer is too hot, while winter is too cold and even when cooked on the table, the fresh noodles will taste cold on your palate.

But I must say that the other dishes at Hàng Sơn that we tried during a couple of visits were all good. Hàng Sơn offers delicious food in retro ambiance.

Hàng Sơn 1871 not only serves great food of the past. Its menu represents all the popular food of the three major regions of Việt Nam.

You can have nem lụi, a Huế special wrap and roll dish (VNĐ180,000), or hến xúc bánh đa, (VNĐ95,000) stir-fried tiny mussels on rice crackers, also from Huế. We had a giant bánh xèo (VNĐ120,000), a southern delicacy, and assorted boiled vegetables and fruits dipped in caramelised fish sauce kho quẹt (VNĐ95,000).

One of our favourite dishes was Ốc thả, floating escargot (VNĐ380,000), Hà Nội style.

The pot can be shared among four people and is made in the old style. The taste was salty and spicy and reminds diners of the scents and tastes of the Red River rice fields. Fluffy, crispy escargots are ready made to be dropped into a boiling broth made from bone stock, lemon leaves and the pungent hot spice of sautéed chili.

To enjoy this dish properly, when you order it, remember to ask for a jar of giấm bỗng, or fermented whole grain rice—the manager said they do not add it into the stock.

Just so you know, giấm bỗng goes well with escargot in all soups that involve the ingredient.

I miss the sweet memories of the old days, and shall soon carry myself back to them by calling on my friends to spend a meal at Hàng Sơn 1871. — VNS

Hàng Sơn 1871

Address: 56 Ngô thì Nhậm, Hà Nội

Tel: 024 3633 5656

Comment: Great food and retro decorations