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Is this the best restaurant in Vietnam?

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Is this the best restaurant in Vietnam?

story by: Anna Sarjeant

Well this is awkward.

House of Travel’s Marketing Director has just returned from a week-long trip to Vietnam and upon entering the office, announces quite spectacularly that he’s discovered the best restaurant in the whole of Asia. But here’s the kicker - it only serves one dish.

One dish. On the entire menu. One. Uno. Un. One up from zero. That’s it.

There are awkward shuffles. People are SHUFFLING in their seats. Was that a punchline? A one-liner to have us all in fits? Do we laugh? You always laugh at the boss’s jokes, right? More seconds pass, a paperclip drops, glances are exchanged - there’s tumbleweed.

Eventually we establish he’s not joking. It’s a statement (a grand one) and said restaurant, located in Hanoi, is called Cha Ca La Vong. A one dish restaurant. Well now we’ve heard it all.

Want to know what the big ole deal’s all about? Because we sure did.

The dish
Chả Cá. A creation the Hanoian gourmets have been serving since French colonial times, is a veteran mix of fried white fish served with rice vermicelli, peanuts, coriander, spiced fresh onion and mắm tôm (fish sauce). Some say the secret ingredient is two drops of liquid from the perfume gland of a local beetle. Others say it’s dill.

The location: 14 Cha Ca Street, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
Although the restaurant’s cuisine is arguably in a different league to the majority of Hanoi’s vast dining establishments, its location sits somewhat unspectacularly on the second floor of a nondescript building in the Old Quarter. Look out for the signature yellow paint; a mix of French colonial architecture and Asian aesthetics. Climb the steep, narrow staircase and you’ll be well-received by waiting staff. And a sense-punching assault of aromas.

The experience
Well there’s no menu for a start. No point. And the wait staff barely speak English, but hey it's not like there’s much to translate, and anyway, you’re after a genuine Hanoi experience so soak up the Vietnamese chatter. One dish, one beer. Bish, bash bosh. The décor is rustic, the atmosphere is authentic; there’s no fluffing about at Cha Ca La Vong.

The highlights
The Chả Cá is really, really good. Like, seriously good. Chefs travel from across the globe just to sample (and study) the Chả Cá at this one restaurant. There are imitators of course, but ask any Hanoi dweller and they’ll confirm what the big boss said - there’s nowhere better.

The insider’s tip
The fish is cooked at the table by your host, or if you’re lucky, an experienced guest. We’re told it’s all about how well you initially cook the fish in oil, but don’t worry, you know what they say – if at first you don’t succeed, try again. And you will, because it’s so delicious you’ll want seconds, and thirds and fourths… 

The verdict
It is the best restaurant in the whole of Asia. Possibly the world. But if you don’t believe us, we whole heartedly recommend you try it for yourself.

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