One of the very special dish of Vietnam is ‘chả’, something only unique to Vietnam that no one can find the right word with the same meaning in any other languages. Therefore, I will not translate the name of this extraordinary Vietnamese dish into English, but use words in the most uttering sense of my ability to convey the meaning of the food itself to all you readers. In this article, I will only be discussing about one particular kind of ‘chả’ which has helped a restaurant stand firmly in Hanoi cuisine for 130 years: Chả cá Lã Vọng.
‘Chả cá Lã Vọng‘ is a dish made from fish (usually sliced catfish), marinated in charcoal, grilled on charcoal and then fried in fat pans. Very simple. And the question remains is: Why can something so simple be so popular? Now I will unveil some interesting stories on this particular Vietnamese cuisine.
1/ The origin:
There is a very interesting story behind the famous name Lã Vọng of this particular kind of ‘chả cá’.In the French colonial period, at No. 14 Hàng Sơn Street, there was the Đoàn family who often use their place to shelter the Đề Thám army. The head of the family often made a very delicious ‘chả cá’ for the people who come by their house, then customers gradually became close with the family itself. The guests started to help the family to open a restaurant specializing in selling ‘chả cá’, both to support the family and also to create a gathering place.
As time went by, the two words ‘Chả Cá’ became the name of the street itself. In the restaurant, there was always a figure of Lã Vọng – Khương Tử Nha sitting with his knees crossing while fishing – a symbol of talented people who are waiting for their time to come. Therefore, the customers were used to call the dish ‘chả cá Lã Vọng’, which now has become the official name of the restaurant and also the dish itself. The secret recipe of this dish is only handed down to the eldest child of the Đoàn family.
2/How they made it:
The fish used to make ‘chả cá’ should be little, sweet and fleshy. The most special and also extremely rare one is made from the Anh Vũ fish, caught at the junction of Bạch Hạc River (Việt Trì – Phú Thọ). Fish fillets are sliced from the sides, marinated in galangal, turmeric, chili, shrimp sauce in a special esoteric manner for at least 2 hours, then clamped in bamboo pair (or greased grill). The grillman must flip the grill from time to time so that the two sides are equally golden.
Right before served, the grilled meat will be put into a pan with a bit of animal fat – this is the traditional recipe of ‘chả cá’ – on the charcoal stove set in the middle of the table. When the pieces are golden yellow boiled in the fat, dill and onions are added to the pan to stir and quickly separated into bowls. Often cooking oil is not used to fry fish because it has a lower temperature and make the fish less tasty.
3/ How to eat it:
‘Chả cá’ must be served when still hot. When eating, put several ‘chả cá’ pieces into your bowl, rinse a bit of boiling fat on top, add some ‘bún rối’ (tangled rice vermicelli)’, ‘bánh tráng nướng’ (grilled rice paper), roasted peanuts, sliced cucumber, dill, Welsh onions, pickled lemon, and a little bit of ‘mắm tôm‘ (shrimp paste.) Shrimp paste is prepared by squeezing fresh lemon, a bit of fat, sugar, white wine and chilli, beat until bubbly and a little bit of belostomatid oil. Some foreigners cannot eat shrimp paste so they can have fish sauce instead, but the fish sauce makes the favour ‘chả cá’ be reduced, more or less.
This dish can be served with wine and is suitable to eat in cold weather. In hot weather, customers often drink beer while having the dish.
4/ Where to eat
The majority of foreigners who come to Hanoi with an interest in this dish often visit the 130 year-old ‘Chả cá Lã Vọng’ Restaurant.
This is the famous restaurant I mentioned above.
Address: 14 Chả Cá Street and 107 Nguyễn Trường Tộ Street. The one on Chả Cá Street is relatively small but it is the original restaurant from the old times, while the one on Nguyễn Trường Tộ Street is clean and more spacious, suitable for large groups of people.
Price: 175,000 VND/person (7.71$/person)
If you have any questions or problems about travelling in Vietnam or just anything at all, please don’t hesitate to contact us for assistance. We would be thrilled to help.
If the land of East Asia is famous for tea ceremony around the world, there is also a tea art no less quintessential and longevity in Hanoi, Vietnam: the art of marinating lotus tea at Tay Ho Lake (aka Ho Tay, literally The West Lake) in the northwest of centre Hanoi. Compared with Hoan Kiem Lake – the symbol of the thousand-year-old culture of Ha Thanh (another name of Hanoi,) Ho Tay is much larger with an area of over 500ha, perimeter of 18km.
Lotus Blossom Season On The West Lake
The lotuses growing on the West Lake are pretty big and beautiful. Some say that Ho Tay Lake already has a hundred types of petal lotus, some of which are rare types. Ho Tay lotuses have many stacked petals and yellow stamens; pink petals are not too dark, but not too pale. The petals open brilliantly big over the lotus blossom season from June to the end of August every year. This is also the only season for artisans to make lotus tea.
Therefore, if you have a chance to visit Hanoi on this occasion, don’t miss that opportunity to enjoy a cup of tea with typical essence of Ha Thanh. Tay Ho’s marinated tea is an art form because this tea requires the artisans to be meticulous and patient in each step. That is why this kind of tea was only for the noble long time ago.
The Meticulousness of Making Lotus Tea
In the early morning, when the sun has not risen, the tea maker silently rows a small boat to the middle of the lotus pond. The lotus aroma is still intense and not scattered in the early-morning mist. Lotus buds and leaves are covered with sparkling droplets like girl’s tears. The tea connoisseurs catch that kind of fog to use as water to make the original Tay Ho tea.
Selecting qualified lotus buds on the lagoon carefully, tea makers use the well-dried buds to slightly separate the pink petals; then drop small portions of tea into the lotus bud; after that, let them stay there all night for the tea buds to be flavored with the essence of the heaven and earth. In the next morning, the lotuses that pouch tea are carefully picked. The way to marinate tea directly on the lake is called live marination (uop song).
In addition, the artisans making lotus tea also use the method of marinating the already-picked lotus flowers. This method is very picky as well. The lotus buds, were picked early in the morning, must have slightly open petals as they are smiling. From 1000 to 1400 lotus buds, after marinated, are reduced to only 1 kilogram (2 pounds) of precious tea. After the lotus flowers are picked, their petals are carefully separated by the artisans. Inside it reveals lotus stigmas and anthers.
There are tiny milky white particles on the anthers of Tay Ho lotus. Tea artisans call this lotus rice (gao sen,) which lies among the yellow lotus anthers. In spite of being tiny, they contain the fragrance of the Ho Tay Lake. Therefore, only lotus rice is used to marinate lotus tea. To filter between lotus rice and lotus anthers, the artisans carefully separate the lotus rice into the baskets, then sieve them to remove the remaining lotus anthers. The lotus rice is spread evenly over the tea and marinated for 5-7 times to produce 1kg of Tay Ho tea.
Rare and precious Tay Ho Tea has spent years of historic events along with the historic Thang Long land (the old name of Hanoi capital). Not everyone living in Hanoi for many years gets a chance to enjoy a real cup of Tay Ho tea. However, if you have ever tried it, that strong and gentle aroma will surely be an unforgettable experience in life.
Moc Chau, a big plateau in Son La province 180km from Hanoi, has a shared border with Laos of 40.6km. Moc Chau is very popular among Vietnamese travelers because of its poetic landscapes with endless grass fields, huge gardens of plum and apricot trees as well as peaceful countryside atmosphere. The habitants of the plateau are mostly of 12 ethnic groups, namely Thai people (33%) and Muong people (18%.)
1/When to travel?
If you just simply want to have a change of air, an escape from the crowded and noisy cities of the modern world, then Moc Chau will be welcoming your tired souls at any time. However, there are several occasions of the year when you can truly enjoy the unique beauty of Moc Chau, according to the seasons.
Suggested time to travel to Moc Chau
Before and after Lunar New Year is the season of peach blossoms and plum blossoms.
Around March is the time when white orchids bloom. In addition, on March 26, there is also Hết Chá festival of the Thái people.
Early September is the Independence Day of the Mông people.
November is the time when cauliflowers paint the hills pure white.
Photo: Google Image
December is the season of marigold flowers, you will meet them everywhere along Highway 6.
And here comes our most awaited part: where to go? Below is some suggestions you may find interesting:
2.1/Thung Cuông Village (Thông Cuông)
Thung Cuông (Thông Cuông) is a Hmong village located between two communes of Đông Sang of Moc Chau and Xuân Nha of Vân Hô. The pathway to Thung Cuông has its two sides decorated with vast valleys of white cauliflowers. Between the flowers are lines of plum trees waiting for spring to come, along with waves of mountains creating a magnificent scene of nature.
This is also one of the favourite wedding photography spots of young people. The local people let themselves be absorbed into the gentle arms of nature, the children cycling home when school is over creates such a happy and joyous scene. Meanwhile, the travelers become so hurry in the scare that if they are too slow such incredible scene will disappear into the old books of fairy tales.
2.2/Pa Phách Village
The top of Pa Phách is a village of the Thái people. The bottom of Pa Phách includes three villages: Pa Phách 1,Pa Phách 2 and of the Mông people. The village Pa Phách 1 belongs to Đông Sang Ward.
The road to Pa Phach is quite dangerous, simultaneously passing through upright slopes that sweat you out, and on the top is the view of a blue sky of plum trees, peach trees… and a few Mông’s houses hidden in the forest. On the other side, the plateau Moc Chau extends its arms full of green grass, young corn, and some dairy cattle grazing the green grass… Especially, the climate is very cool and in the afternoon, the fog will escalate everywhere and make you feel like drowning in the ocean of fog.
2.3/Rừng thông bản Áng (Pine forest of Áng Village)
Located on Moc Chau Plateau, Áng Village does not just own the fresh and cool climate and the romantic scenery, but also has the preserved cultural treasures of the Thái people.
From Moc Chau Farm Town, following Highway 43 about 2km to the South is Áng village. From above, Áng Village is as beautiful as a water painting with layers of traditional stilts lay hidden under the green leafy canvas. Near the village is a natural lake with an area of 5 hectares surrounded by green pine forests on reddish brown hills. In the distance, the scenery of Moc Chau plateau, especially in spring, with the tea hills, green pasture, flowers, banana flowers, plum blossom whitening the forest seems to be adorning the beauty of Áng Village to be more dreamy and romantic.
Áng Village is home to the Thái ethnic group. They live mainly on farming (tea, canola, corn, rice), traditional breeding and handicrafting (weaving brocade, rice padding,etc.). Although located in Moc Chau Town, Áng Village’s community residents still preserve peculiar traditional stilt house, costumes, traditional folk songs, folk games, and special ceremonies. You will have the opportunity to experience daily life with the villagers (in the floor, rice padding, tea picking down the hill, fishing stream,etc.); explore the scenery of the Northwest forest, especially horseback riding on the Áng forest and enjoy the local specialties, such as rượu cần (weed wine), cơm lam (bamboo rice), pa pỉnh tộp (grilled fish), smoked meat, and wild vegetables,etc.
2.4/Thác Dải Yếm (Dải Yếm Waterfall)
Dải Yếm Waterfall is also known as Nàng Waterfall or Bản Vặt Waterfall. It is located in Mường Sang Commune, Moc Chau District, Sơn La Province. According to the legend, the waterfall is bib of the girl who saves the boy out of the flood.
The Bim Waterfall consists of two parts: the upper waterfall (70m wide) and the lower waterfall (150-200m away from the upper one.)In the dry season, the lower falls only have a flow from the height of 50m to the rocks below. The two cascades fall down together with a total height of 100m; one side is divided into 9 floors while the other is divided into 5 floors. Between the two waterfalls is a flat land. On its top is flourished rich vegetation.
2.5/Ngũ Động Bản Ôn (The five caves of Ôn Village)
The five caves consist of four main caves lying on a hill and an independent cave on the other side of the hill. The five caves are compared with the theory of the Five Elements: Wood, Water, Fire, Earth, and Metal. The stalactite shimmers with many unique shapes, crystallized over thousands of years. The third cave is the most extensive and also the only one, which is equipped with electric system by the transmitter, but it is only used during holidays, so you will need to bring a flashlight when exploring the caves.
2.6/Đồi chè Mộc Châu (Mộc Châu Tea Hill)
Moc Chau Plateau is famous for its green tea plants stretching across all the hills. Tea is grown everywhere here and mixed with the beautiful small houses among them. Somewhere along the spring flowers, paper flowers are blossoming in the frosty mist like the poetic scenery.
3/What to eat?
There are so many unique dishes of Moc Chau that I’m sure you will fall in love with:
The fishes round of Moc Chau stream are very round. Some are little like the little finger, some are just bigger than two fingers. The fish is washed and then pan fried until crispy, when eating you can chew both the meat and the bone.
Some other lands also has this potato but in terms of deliciousness, the taros of the Dao people are the best and most delicious. According to many people, the taros can only be grown by the the Moc Chau Dao people of Moc Chau. Taro is usually eaten between July and October, November. If you have the opportunity to go to Moc Chau at this time, don’t forget to buy a little as a gift for your friends and family at home.
Approximately one kilometer from the Áng Village, there is an area where attractive orchid and strawberry orchards have been planted and tested for fruit for several years. Many gardeners are expanding the area to export to the city and processing into jam and wine.
At present, Moc Chau Province has about 3,000 hectares of tea of different kinds. The beautiful vast hills of tea plant has turn Moc Chau into a dreamy green pearl. Tea is one of the symbols of Moc Chau plateau, which is also increasingly attached to the lives of the peoples here.
Besides, many tourists enjoy the taste of the most famous tea of Moc Chau plateau, San Tuyết (San Snow), a tea made from hundred years old tea plants here.Other brands are OOLong tea and Kim Tuyền tea with different tastes.
With hundreds of dairy cows on the farm, dairy products are one of the specialties you should definitely try when you come to Moc Chau. If possible, enjoy a glass of freshly cooked milk as soon as is leaved the cow (it’s Vietnamese’s favourite way of drinking milk). Other dairy products you should also try are yogurts (not the kind canned in supermarkets), butter, cream,etc. You can buy these products in any restaurant on the way to the Town.
Moc Chau is about 200 km northwest from Hanoi, in the direction to Sơn La. You can travel to Moc Chau on private motorbike from Hanoi, or by bus and then rent a car to Moc Chau.
Buses (passenger cars) from Hanoi and some other Northern provinces to Sơn La
The cost for one trip is usually from 125,000 to 145,000 VND (5.50$ – 6.38$) and takes around 9 hours of travelling.
Bus number: 01 Route: Bản Cá, Chiềng An Ward, TP. Sơn La – Bệnh viên đa khoa tỉnh – Chợ Trung tâm – Cầu Trắng – Ngã ba Quyết Thắng – Bến xe khách TP. Sơn La – Trường Cao đẳng sư phạm Sơn La – Nhà máy xi măng Chiềng Sinh – Chiềng Mung – Nà Sản – TT Hát Lót – Bến xe buýt Cò Nòi, xã Cò Nòi, huyện Mai Sơn
(Ban Ca, Chieng An Ward, Son La – Provincial General Hospital – Central Market – White Bridge – Quyet Thang Junction – Son La – Son La Teachers College – Chieng Sinh Cement Plant – Chieng Mung – Na San – Hat Lot Town – Co Noi Commune, Co Noi Commune, Mai Son District)
Bus number: 02 Route: Tiểu khu 64 Thị trấn Nông trường Mộc Châu – Trung tâm hành chính mới huyện Mộc Châu – Ủy ban nhân dân xã Chiềng Hắc, huyện Mộc Châu
(Moc Chau 64 Farm Town District – Moc Chau District New Civic Center – Chieng Hac Commune People’s Committee, Moc Chau District)
Bus number: 03 Route: Phường Chiềng Sinh, TP. Sơn La – Bến xe khách TP. Sơn La – Ngã ba Quyết Thắng – Cầu Trắng – Đèo Sơn La – Chiềng Đen – Phiêng Tam – Ninh Thuận – Chiềng Pấc – Bệnh viện Thuận châu – Trung tâm xã Phỏng Lái, huyện Thuận Châu
(Moc Chau 64 Farm Town District – Moc Chau District New Civic Center – Chieng Hac Commune People’s Committee, Moc Chau District)
Renting motorbike/scooters in Moc Chau
Company name: CHỊ DUYÊN (SISTER DUYÊN) Address: Tiểu khu 9- Thị trấn Mộc Châu (Ngã 3 bản Mòn – cạnh Sữa Chua dẻo Mộc Châu) Hotline: 01636 828 666 Company name: NHÀ NGHỈ PHƯƠNG VY (PHƯƠNG VY MOTEL) Address: Thị trấn Mộc Châu, Mộc Châu, Sơn La (Đối diện Khách sạn Công Đoàn) Hotline: 022 3869813 – 0975 304595 – 0984 607327 Company name: THUÊ XE MÁY MỘC CHÂU (MỘC CHÂU MOTORBIKE RENTING) Address: Thị trấn Mộc Châu, Mộc Châu, Sơn La Hotline: 0163 2653052 – 0945 918050
I kept the address in Vietnamese so you can easily ask the locals for directions while travelling in Mộc Châu. Just simply show them the address and they will guide you there.
If travel by motorbike, try to drive during the daytime, try not run late after 18:00 (especially for those who have not experienced mountain bike) because after this time the roads to Mộc Châu are often thick with fog. If travelling in winter, you will be blind (from Mai Châu to Mộc Châu).
If travel by passenger car, you should choose the hotel or motels just off Highway 6 and booked them in advance because these cars are often running in the evening. When you arrive at Mộc Châu, it is likely to be 1-2 o’clock in the morning.
Moc Chau is a hot spot for drugs dealing. When you go to the local’s villages (especially the Lóng Luông area), always stay alert and absolutely never leave your belongings or your vehicles away from you because if somebody put a little drug in the luggage, you will be in trouble.
Km 135 border between Mai Châu (Hoà Bình) and Moc Chau there are often inter-sectoral bolts of Traffic Police, Local Police, Drug Prevention Bureau… If they ask you to stop for some check-ups, it’s completely normal; you should be courteous, not objectionable in that case.
6/Few last words
I hope this article can help you choose your next travelling destination, or simply just give you a more fully understanding of Moc Chau, a very poetic area of Vietnam. If you have any problems or questions about travelling in Vietnam or just anything at all, please don’t hesitate to contact us for assistance. We would be thrilled to help you.
The ingenious combination of hard-to-move puppets and waving water has created a significant attraction to visitors from all over the world to visit Thang Long Kinh Ky (the old name of Hanoi.) Have you ever been curious about how water puppets are made of? If the answer is yes, explore it with me.
In Part I, we learned about water puppetry in Vietnam. You may remember that those miraculous puppets are skillfully controlled under the water. The ingenious combination of hard-to-move puppets and waving water has created a significant attraction to visitors from all over the world to visit Thang Long Kinh Ky (the old name of Hanoi.) Have you ever been curious about how water puppets are made of? If the answer is yes, explore it with me.
Are you an enthusiast of this cool wheat-made drink? If the answer is yes, Ta Hien (Tạ Hiện) vintage street would be an interesting hub for you. It takes about 15 minutes to walk in the north direction from Hoan Kiem Lake.
Speaking of beer, people immediately think of the prosperous German. But in the capital city of Vietnam, there is still a humble 100-metre street which attracts thousands of tourists to enjoy drinking beer. Are you an enthusiast of this cool wheat-made drink? If the answer is yes, Ta Hien (Tạ Hiện) vintage street would be an interesting hub for you. It takes about 15 minutes to walk in the north direction from Hoan Kiem Lake.
Actually, Ta Hien street, one of Hanoi old quarters, is a combination of short lanes. During the French colonization time, the street was named Géraud. According to the Hanoi’s Street Dictionary, the name Ta Hien originated from the name of a leader of an anti-France colonization campaign – Ta Quang Hien (Tạ Quang Hiện) (1841-1887) who was born in Quynh Lang Village of Thai Binh Province. In 1883 when the Nguyen Dynasty let France took over Northern cities, Ta Hien resigned from his position as Lord Lieutenant and led liberal fighters against the French army. At the end of that year, after recruiting about 4000-5000 liberal fighters, his army regained Thai Binh Province and prevailed in other battles afterwards. But in a battle in February 1887, he was captured and killed.
Another interesting fact about the name Ta Hien is that it was sometimes misread into Tạ Hiền (originally ‘Tạ Hiện’,) so it creates a huge confusion for tourists because the words of ‘Tạ Hiền’ and ‘Tạ Hiện’ are both displayed on signboards in the same street.
All the pubs at the crossroads of Ta Hien – Luong Ngoc Quyen have been operated for over a decade. The beer here is known to be cheap and tourist-magnetic. Pub operators from time to time speak Vietnamese and some English to communicate with their customers who come from different countries. Eventually it appeared the informal name of the crossroads – ‘The International Crossroads’ (Ngã tư Quốc tế.)
If you imagine yourself sitting in a pub and enjoy beer in Ta Hien Street Hanoi, you will be completely wrong! There is no proper pub here, not even proper table. Customers will sit on small stools around a little taller plastic or wooden stools on which food and beer bottles are placed. It may be uncomfortable for some foreigners, but it creates a unique atmosphere for customers to experience ancient local lifestyles in Hanoi. Besides, one of the best parts of drinking beer here is that the beer is usually served along with delicious food such as roasted squid, fried fermented pork rolls, roasted bird meat, or simply a plate of sunflower’s seeds.
Like any other pub street, the atmosphere here becomes more lively when the night falls down with the influx of both locals and foreigners. The quietness of the street in the day time is suddenly replaced with the noisiness. The whole street is crowded with groups of people drinking beer and chatting with each other. Echoed throughout the street is the sound of “một hai ba…dzô!” (one two three… cheers!) from both local and foreign customers.
There is a joke spreaded widely among Vietnamese young people: if you want to improve your English skills, the Ta Hien street is a must-place to go. Frankly speaking, this street really attracts foreigners from all nations and races as they seem to be fond of unique Vietnamese alcoholistic cultures. It does not matter if you are traveling alone, because in a few minutes, there will be some young people patting on your shoulders and talking with you like an old friend. That is what people usually talk about the friendliness of Vietnamese.
In the far southern area of Viet Nam – Ho Chi Minh City, there is a resemblance of Ta Hien Street named Bui Vien (Bùi Viện) Street which is crowded with bars and pubs. The street’s name is originated from the name of a great Vietnamese diplomat and revolutionizer. Coincidently, Bui Vien was a contemporary of Ta Hien’s.
So, if you like beer and plan to visit Vietnam, then Ta Hien or Bui Vien Streets should appear in your bucket list.