La Vong grilled fish cake, the dish to try before you die

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La Vong Fish Cake Delicious Food in Hanoi, travel to Vietnam

La Vong grilled fish cake (“Chả cá Lã Vọng”) is a very special dish originating from Hanoi. Situated in the middle of Fish Cake Street (“Phố Chả Cá”), the reputation of the 100-years-old-restaurant belonged to the Doan Family is spreading not only Vietnam but also overseas. In 2003, it was ranked No. 5 in the “top 10 places to see before you die” by MSNBC, an America’s leading news agency.

La Vong Fish Cake

How La Vong grilled fish cake got its name?

 The hundred years old La Vong grilled fish restaurant at No. 14 Fish Cake Street.

Locals told that, during years in the French colonial period, there was the Doan family who living at No.14 Paint Street (“Phố Hàng Sơn”- where many families lived on selling paint). This patriotic family usually took their home for secret meetings of the rebel army leading by De Tham (a revolutionary force against the French). They also served these guests a very delicious dish called “chả cá” or fish cake. To show the appreciation to the kind family, people from the revolutionary organization helped the Family to open a food store selling fish cake (since 1871). 

After 1945, all paint shops had closed down in Paint Street and people just came here to enjoy tasty fish cakes of the Doan family. Therefore, the name of Paint Street was gradually replaced by Fish Cake Street then, though there was only one store selling this specialty in the whole street. 

In 1900, the owner started to put a statue of Jiang Ziya (姜子牙) or commonly known by the name of “Ông Lã Vọng” (Sir La Vong) in Vietnamese in the store. Jiang Ziya was an ancient Chinese great military strategist who helped King Wen and King Wu of Zhou overthrow the Shang dynasty. The image of Sir La Vong dropping fishing line with straight hook and without bait has long to be known as the symbolized meaning of brilliant people waiting for their time to shine. Familar customers started to call the store with the name of La Vong store.That was how the name of “Chả cá Lã Vọng” came from.

Secrets behind the amazing flavor

La Vong grilled fish cake was first invented by the great ancestor of the Doan family and passed by tradition to the 5th generation up to now. The secret recipes were handed over only for the eldest son of the family.

The cake is often made of fresh Lang fish (Hemibagrus) because it has few bones and tastes beautiful. Especially, in the old days, the Family used to sold fish cake made of Anh Vu fish (Semilabeo notabilis) catching from Bach Hac River (Viet Tri – Phu Tho). It is known as the best of best fishes to make fish cakes. But this kind of fish is extreme precious and expensive. People can also use fillet of Siluridae fish or Snakehead fish instead but off course the taste is not as good as Anh Vu fish and Lang fish.

The fish cake is sliced fillet from the rib fish's sides and seasoned with galangal juice, turmeric, fermented cooked rice, pepper and fish sauce in a special and traditional way for at least 2 hours. Then well-impregnated fish is stuck into a pair of bamboo or a tray to grill. A layer of fat is applied to help them not to be stuck together and avoid fire hardening the fish meat. Grilling fish cakes is not an easy step of the process. The chef has to control the fire not to burn the fish cake and switch the bamboo skewers to make sure the both sides of the fish cakes having attractive yellow color.

 Beautiful yellow grilled fish ready to serve.

Fish cakes taste best while it’s hot. Before serving, grilled fish cakes are reheated by putting into a hot pan filling with fat. This is also one of the secret to make the taste of La Vong fish cake more special. When it's boiled, people add dills and green onions together with fish cakes in the pan.  

Grilled fish cakes are reheated by putting into a hot pan filling with fat.

 The dish is served along with rice vermicelli, sesame rice crackers, toasted peanuts, vegetables and purple shrimp sauce (“mắm tôm”). 

 How tasty it looks, the dish to try before you die.

Purple shrimp sauce is mixed with few drops of lime juice, glutinous rice wine, liquid fat and essence of belostomatidae. Belostomatidae’s essence is a extraordinary spice which can be found in Asian cuisines such as: India, Thailand, Myanmar, China, Singapore and Vietnam. It tastes a bit spicy and smells similar to cinnamon basil but much more special. People can take spicy also adding a few slices of chili and adding sugar to balance the salty of the shrimp sauce. Some foreigners cannot take purple shrimp sauce due to its super strong smell may enjoy the dish with mixed fish sauce instead. But it will more or less reduce the cachet of the original flavor.

People can take spicy also adding a few slices of chili and adding sugar to balance the salty of the shrimp sauce.

The best time to enjoy fish cakes is when autumn arriving in Hanoi and the weather is getting colder. In these cold days, this specialty is ideal to have with wine. On the contrary, eaters usually drink beer in hot days. 

To enjoy La Vong grilled fish cake deserves to be a real art and one of the most amazing experiences while travelling to Vietnam. Despite of up and down though the long lasting history, La Vong grilled fish cake still keeps its unique flavor until now.

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Did you know?

Lung Cu Peak (Ha Giang Province) is the northernmost point of Vietnam mainland at 1,800 meters above sea level.