22 Sep2013

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Finding fresh dill in Manila (or Central Luzon for that matter) during the rainy season is like searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack… So I was resigned to wait until the holiday season to take a stab at cooking Cha Ca La Vong at home. But a few days later, while picking up some staples at the SM grocery in Cebu, several packages of fresh dill were just sitting in the chillers, and I bought everything they had, say 100 grams worth or so. I brought the dill to the office in Cebu, rummaged around a freezer for some frozen fish fillets and checked to see if we had powdered turmeric… Soon after, we were experimenting with Cha Ca La Vong in our commissary kitchen. This version was really quite easy to make, and it tasted terrific!

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First, finely mince some galanggal or ginger if you don’t have the former ingredient. Smash it up in a mortar and pestle. Slice up some firm white fleshed fish (we used two cream dory fillets, that was the only choice other than bangus in the freezers) but good tilapia fillets or other freshwater fish might do nicely. Place the fish in a bowl, add the smashed ginger, a half cup of plain unsweetened yoghurt or sour cream, half a tablespoon or so of powdered turmeric and some salt and pepper to taste. I added in some fish sauce (thai) only because we didn’t have the guinamos-y, greyish fish or shrimp paste that is probably closer to the original ingredient used in Vietnam. Let this all marinate for a couple of hours, covered and in the fridge.

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A word on authenticity. I believe the original dish is made with a by now, rather rare and expensive fresh water river fish. It is also suggested in some books and on-line sources that instead of yoghurt, the Vietnamese use a form of fermented rice to give the dish that creamy slightly funky dimension. And the fish sauce is ideally of the murkier, seriously pungent variety rather than refined fish sauce or nuoc nam. Not sure if it’s best to use fresh turmeric rather than powdered, but many recipes seem to use the powdered form. At any rate, my numerous substitutions non-withstanding, it is the end product that matters when all is said and done, knowing that this isn’t quite totally authentic… :)

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When you are ready to cook and eat, set a medium to large sized saute pan on medium heat, add more lard or vegetable oil than you think is necessary, say 3/4 of a cup or so, then dredge the fish in some fine rice flour (or all-purpose flour) and saute for a few minutes until just cooked and it takes on a nice sunny rich color. For me, the lard added another dimension of flavor that vegetable oil will not provide.

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Add in your shredded spring or green onions, lots of dill and I added a bit of coriander as well.

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The dish is strikingly colorful, fragrant and appealing…

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The added herbs wilt quickly, retaining their vibrant green color. Take the pan off the heat and serve immediately with some rice noodles on the side (previously cooked, served at room temperature), and a bowl of fish sauce/lime juice/sugar/ water and a bit of chilies. Throw in some chopped up peanuts as well.

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My fish to herb ratio was higher than the dish we tasted in Hanoi, and I did that on purpose as I felt perhaps a bit shortchanged at the restaurant with just a few pieces of fish and just so many darned herbs… :) This easily served 8, with other dishes at that lunch meal. All the folks in our Cebu office, who have never had this dish before and some of whom aren’t the most adventurous eaters at all, wiped out this dish in record time. I think the mixture of fish, herbs, rice noodles and sauce and a little crunch of peanut and a little heat from the chilies was just an explosive mouthful of flavor. Will be doing this again when dill returns to Manila markets. Definitely doing this again…

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COMMENTS:

  1. Zerho says:

    Interesting dish and healthy to boot. Now if i can only find fresh herbs in this weather… Where did you get your rice noodles Sir Marketman?

    Sep 22, 2013 | 7:49 am

     
  2. millet says:

    looks yummy! imagining all that oil mixed in with the sauce makes me shudder though.

    Sep 22, 2013 | 8:16 am

     
  3. Marketman says:

    millet, just use half a teaspoon or so to “lubricate” your noodles… :) Zerho, I used boxed Thai rice noodle sticks, soaked for ten minutes, blanched for about two minutes, then put under cold water to stop the cooking.

    Sep 22, 2013 | 9:57 am

     
  4. celery says:

    Hi! So the oil is not drained after cooking? and what is the sauce made of (in the pic it looks saucy). Is that the oil?

    Thanks!

    Sep 22, 2013 | 11:24 am

     
  5. Marketman says:

    celery, yes, the oil is an INTEGRAL part of the dish… it is flavorful, slightly yellow-orange from the turmeric, and it coats the noodles…

    Sep 22, 2013 | 11:32 am

     
  6. celery says:

    got it! this looks really flavorful! we’ve been trying to see what else we can do with dory. for now we just add panko bread crumbs for a crispy fry, and that is it. plain.crispy. dory. will surely do this soon! thanks!

    Sep 22, 2013 | 1:09 pm

     
  7. linda says:

    We’re lucky here in Oz as we can get fresh herbs anytime and anywhere no matter what season it is.

    Have to try out this dish and thanks for sharing, MM.

    Sep 22, 2013 | 1:24 pm

     
  8. millet says:

    thanks, MM..half a teaspoon or even a teaspoon doesn’t sound too bad. “to lubricate the noodles” is a good reason ;-) can’t wait to find use for all the turmeric in my backyard.

    Sep 22, 2013 | 9:58 pm

     
  9. ami says:

    Didn’t find dill or thyme when I went to the grocery yesterday. Just lots of basil and mint.

    Sep 23, 2013 | 9:36 am

     
  10. ChiquiP says:

    Looks oh so yummy… Did you put any seasoning to the blanched noodles?

    Sep 24, 2013 | 5:53 am

     
  11. Marketman says:

    ChiquiP, nothing on the blanched noodles, but you add some of the oil and the patis/lime sauce to them with the fish and herbs, so they become quite flavorful. ami, yes, dill in Manila impossible at the moment. linda, if do get to try it, let us know how it turns out…

    Sep 24, 2013 | 7:27 am

     
  12. anne says:

    how come the second to the last photo is soupy? is that from the fish sauce-lime mixture? oh, i always see a lot of organic (daw) dill at the chiller section of robinsons supermarket in eastwood

    Sep 24, 2013 | 10:21 am

     
  13. Marketman says:

    anne, that’s the 3/4 cup of oil and turmeric! :) Looks evil, tastes great. :)

    Sep 24, 2013 | 11:42 am

     
  14. Risa says:

    MM, what was their local version of the bagoong like?

    Sep 24, 2013 | 8:30 pm

     
  15. Marketman says:

    Risa, it’s greyish and liquidy putrified fish… not unlike our guinamos in some provinces, but a bit more solid. But then again, they have several kinds of bagoong, as we do…

    Sep 25, 2013 | 10:02 am

     
  16. joey @ 80 breakfasts says:

    HOORAY!! I fell in love with this dish in Hanoi so you can be sure I will be trying this soon! Thanks for sharing your recipe MM :)

    I hear you on the dill…I was also in search of some this weekend. The only ones I spotted where in the Gourmet stall at the Salcedo market and some guy snapped up all the bunches right before my (forlorn) eyes! I was so sad that I bought a plant of local dill. The flavor is not the same but at least now I have something in my balcony to stave off the cravings ;) Making this soon…weeeee!!!

    Sep 25, 2013 | 2:01 pm

     
  17. Chal says:

    I’ve been craving for this! Can’t seem to get dill anywhere ( tried Rustans, Cash n Carry, and SM awhile ago). Can the dish still have the same flavor without the Dill? Can it be replaced with another herb?

    Sep 29, 2013 | 8:55 pm

     
  18. millet says:

    figured out the fish after a trip to hanoi last week, and a dinner at another cha ca place (not la vong). the fish is mudfish (dalag), which is abundant in hanoi, and sold in the markets either live or as fillets. thanks for the recipe, MM. my family is challenging me to do my cha ca version.

    Mar 26, 2015 | 1:26 pm

     
 

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