By Thúy Hằng
After being hailed as one of “the dishes to try before you die” by Lonely Planet, the famous chả cá Hà Nội has gained a strong international reputation.
I assume the large number of people who are fond of this delicious dish is why restaurants serving the turmeric-spiced catfish grill have mushroomed across the city in recent years.
Among them, Chả Ká grabbed my attention thanks to its misspelt name, as instead of the correct-spelling “cá” (fish), the restaurant wrote “ká”, which is pronounced the same way as the correct version.
Chả Ká locates in an old French-style house. Photo courtesy of the restaurant
I stumbled upon Chả Ká for my first visit some months ago. While driving our scooters to find a place for dinner, my friend and I passed by the restaurant. We decided to stop to give it a try.
The restaurant, located in an old French-style house, was packed with diners when we entered. Without a reservation, we were taken to the third floor – the only place where the waiter could find us a table.
I thought Chả Ká would only serve chả cá, but was pleasantly surprised to learn it offers a wide range of fish dishes. I don’t remember exactly what we had that day but the food was quite good although the ambience was quite noisy as all the surrounding tables were packed with groups of diners.
That satisfying impression led to a second visit when my family arranged a dinner to welcome some of our relatives home from abroad.
The dinner began with two dishes that reflect Thai cuisine – Gỏi cá lăng trộn kiểu Thái (Thai-style river catfish salad, VNĐ145,000), and Soup cá Tom yum (Thai spicy and sour fish soup, VNĐ60,000).
Gỏi cá lăng trộn kiểu Thái (Thai-style river catfish salad). VNS Photo Thúy Hằng
Both starters pleased our taste buds with the typical flavours of Thai cuisine, a harmonic combination of four main seasonings – salty, sweet, sour, and spicy. The dishes were spicy enough to suppress the sickly taste of the fish but not too much to burn our tongues. I was also impressed by the firmness of the fish slices, which showed very fresh fish had been used.
The Salad ngó xuân trộn tôm (Celtuce salad with tiger prawn, VNĐ115,000) was another satisfying starter thanks to its mild aroma, which recalls the flavour of young sticky rice. Though I imagined a plate filled with beautiful green slices of celtuce, the dish was an assorted salad of lettuce, carrot, cherry tomato, red turnip, black olive, turnip sprouts, and only a few celtuce slices. Regardless, the 'adorned' celtuce didn’t bother anyone as we were happy with the fresh salad.
Nem rán cá lăng (Fried river catfish spring rolls). VNS Photo Thúy Hằng
The appetiser Nem rán cá lăng (Fried river catfish spring rolls, VNĐ125,000) was delectable. Similar to the authentic meat version, the fish rolls were also very tasty. We were fascinated by the crispy rice wrappers and the seductive smell of the stuffing. The rolls were so good that we asked for one more plate although we had two earlier.
Our dinner continued with other pleasing dishes – Lòng cá basa xào dưa (Stir-fried pickle with basa catfish stomach, VNĐ120,000) and Măng trúc xào nấm Yên Tử (Stir-fried bamboo shoot with shiitake mushroom, VNĐ95,000).
Măng trúc xào nấm Yên Tử (Stir-fried bamboo shoot with shiitake mushroom). VNS Photo Thúy Hằng
The mild sourness of the sour mustard green pickle, plus the lightly crunchy texture of the catfish stomach, was a delight. The assorted nutty bamboo shoots with mushroom, carrot, spring onion and sawtooth aromatic herb were also divine. Although two of these are just simple dishes that you can cook at home, to make them flavourful is a different matter. The chefs at Chả Ká succeeded in turning these simple dishes into full-flavoured treats.
The main dish Lẩu cá lăng măng cay cà pháo (River catfish hotpot with spicy bamboo shoot and garden egg pickles, VNĐ395,000) won a thumbs-up from all the adults in our group thanks to its mild sour broth yet retention of the natural sweetness of the fresh fish.
Cơm rang hải sản trứng cua (Seafood fried rice topped with crab roe). VNS Photo Thúy Hằng
Although the Cơm rang hải sản trứng cua (Seafood fried rice topped with crab roe, VNĐ95,000) was ordered for the kids, it was a favourite for everyone. The dish, which was served in a hollow pineapple, not only included seafood, but also diced pineapple, which enhanced the taste by reducing the oily texture.
Since the novel coronavirus outbreak is a major concern of local people, the restaurant offers a takeaway service and free shipping for any order within 3km. VNS
Chả Ká Restaurant
Address: 13-15 Ngô Thì Nhậm Street, Hai Bà Trưng District, Hà Nội
Tel: (024) 3998 1666, (024) 8582 1666
Comment: Menu features a wide range of dishes with a majoriry of healthy fish dishes. The food is fresh and tasty. Suitable for meals among groups of friends or family.