Cha Ca La Vong is also known as Vietnamese Turmeric Fish with Dill. It's made of firm white fish that's been marinaded in a turmeric and fish sauce paste. It's paired with caramelized onions, fresh dill, and crushed peanuts for a wonderfully fragrant meal. Vermicelli noodles and fish dipping sauce (nuoc cham) are also a must!
What is Cha Ca?
Cha Ca is a traditional dish from Hanoi in northern Vietnam. The signature flavors come from the delicious marinade: turmeric, fish sauce, galangal, sugar, and ginger. The marinaded fish is served tableside on a sizzling cast iron. The smell of grilled fish, fresh dill, and green onion is absolutely irresistible! Cha Ca is always served with bún (vermicelli noodles), fresh greens, roasted peanuts, and either mâm tôm (shrimp paste) or nuoc cham on the side for dipping.
Oftentimes, you'll see the full name of the dish as "Cha Ca Thang Long" or "Cha Ca La Vong". Cha ca translates to "grilled fish". Thang Long, which means "Soaring Dragon", is the former name of Hanoi prior to 1831. Meanwhile, La Vong is the restaurant that came up with this dish. Both names are still used and refer to the same recipe.
An Authentic Vietnamese Recipe
My parents are originally from Hanoi and growing up, I remember them ordering this dish every chance they could. However, I didn't appreciate Cha Ca La Vong until I was in my mid-20's. But I made up for it by even getting my husband addicted to this mouthwatering meal!
In this version, I modified my mom's recipe to make Vietnamese Turmeric Fish a little simpler and more accessible for the home cook. Catfish is most commonly used these days, but I've tried it with tilapia and cod as well and they taste just as delicious. I've also simplified the marinade by leaving out galangal, which can be difficult to find. Galangal is similar to ginger, but has a sharper, most citrus-y flavor. If you can find it, throw in a couple tablespoons to the marinade.
Everything in this recipe comes together really quickly. The hardest part is waiting for the marinade, but it creates the most fragrant and flavorful fish. This is perfect for a refreshing summer meal or if you're in the mood to try something new! After all, what could go wrong when fish and noodles are involved? As one of Vietnam's iconic dishes, it's definitely a must-try!
The best part of this recipe? All of these ingredients are easy to find!
- Firm white fish: Catfish is most commonly used these days, but tilapia, cod, or sea bass will also work.
- Ginger and garlic: Plenty of fresh aromatics to give the fish subtle flavor.
- Turmeric: Gives the fish a beautiful color while providing an earthy flavor.
- Fish sauce: Each brand of fish sauce is different. My favorite is Red Boat, which is more concentrated. Adjust as needed.
- Oil: Avocado oil is my favorite oil to cook, fry, and sauté with because of its high smoke point (500°F).
- Vermicelli noodles: Make sure to buy the thin vermicelli rice noodles.
- Onion and green onion: More aromatics!
- Fresh dill: So wonderfully fragrant and the star ingredient, in my opinion.
- Roasted peanuts: To give some crunch and saltiness.
- Cilantro: A final layer of freshness for garnish.
For the Nuoc Cham
- Sugar: Let it dissolve in warm water before adding in the remaining ingredients.
- Fish sauce: Again, each brand is different so tweak the proportions as needed.
- Lime juice: Freshly juiced is key here!
- Garlic: The longer the minced garlic sits in the fish sauce, the more flavor it'll give off.
- Optional add-ins: chiles, pickled carrots and daikon, red chili pepper flakes
How To Make Turmeric Fish with Dill
This dish is really easy and once you start cooking, it comes together in just minutes!
- Make the marinade. Whisk together the ginger, garlic, turmeric, fish sauce, and oil and rub onto the seasoned fish.
- Let the fish marinade. If you're going to marinade for more than an hour, place the fish back into the fridge.
- Prepare the accouterments. Wash and chop all the veggies and cook the noodles.
- Make the nuoc cham. Let it cool in the fridge until the dish is ready to be served.
- Grill the fish and herbs. Then serve them all separately to assemble at the table.
If you've got leftover Turmeric Fish, store each element separately if you can. Store the grilled fish and vermicelli noodles in separate air-tight containers. Both will last in the fridge for up to 5 days. I do not recommend freezing it.
For the nuoc cham, I recommend storing it in a canning jar. It'll last for a month in the fridge. Each time you reuse it, stir well to redistribute the garlic and spices that may have settled on the bottom.
What Do I Do With Leftover Nuoc Cham?
Nuoc cham is the golden elixir of Vietnamese cuisine! It's pungent, citrusy, and goes will with practically everything. In the recipe, I scaled it down to better match the proportions of this dish. But I usually make a double batch every month to have readily available.
You will see that nuoc cham is very prominent in Vietnamese cuisine. It's served with banh cuon (rice paper rolls), banh xeo (Vietnamese crepes), bun (vermicelli noodles), nem nuong (spring rolls), and more! If you have leftovers from this recipe, try it on top of your eggs. Cook more vermicelli noodles, add eggrolls, and pour the Nuoc Cham in to make Bun Cha Gio. Use it as a dipping sauce for dumplings, wontons, eggrolls, or spring rolls! It's a great finishing touch to several dishes, Vietnamese or not.
Make It In Advance
If you want to make Vietnamese Turmeric Fish in advance, make the vermicelli noodles up to a day in advance and store in the fridge. Nuoc cham stores well - you can make a big batch and store in the fridge for a month. The day of, prep all the ingredients but don't cook the fish until you're ready to serve. The sizzling, freshly grilled smell and taste is a big component of this dish! It's best served fresh.
Looking For More?
Asian food is my favorite to cook and experiment with. It's so fun discovering the flavors and techniques of my heritage. Here are some more Asian recipes that I can't get enough of:
- Instant Pot Chao Ga (Vietnamese Rice Porridge)
- Kimchi and Pork Meatball Stew
- Vietnamese Sticky Rice with Chinese Sausage (Xoi Lap Xuong)
- Better Than Takeout Shrimp Fried Rice
- Kimchi Deviled Eggs
Vietnamese Turmeric Fish with Dill (Cha Ca La Vong)
- 1 lb firm white fish such as catfish, tilapia, or cod
- 1½ tsp minced ginger
- 2-3 cloves garlic minced
- ¾ tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp fish sauce
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp pepper
- 2 tbsp oil divided
- 4 oz vermicelli rice noodles
- ½ onion sliced
- 3-4 green onion cut into 2 inch segments
- 1 large bunch fresh dill
- ¼ cup roasted peanuts chopped
- Cilantro for garnish
- Marinate the fish. Pat fish dry and cut into 2 inch pieces. Whisk together the ginger, garlic, turmeric, fish sauce, salt, pepper, and 1 tbsp oil until a paste forms. Rub onto fish until each piece is evenly coated. Cover with plastic wrap and let marinate for 1-2 hours.
- Cook the noodles. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook vermicelli noodles according to package instructions. Drain, rinse with cold water, and let cool completely.
- Start cooking the fish. In a large pan, heat 1 tbsp oil over medium heat. Cook onion until softened, about 3 minutes. Season lightly with salt.
- Push the onions to the edge of skillet and turn the heat to high. Add the fish and green onion, cooking for 3-4 minutes each side or until opaque and flakey.
- Add dill on top and cover with a lid to wilt for 30 seconds. Season to taste.
- Assemble. Serve with vermicelli noodles and sprinkle peanuts over the top. Garnish with cilantro.
Nuoc Cham Dipping Sauce
- Heat water until warm. Add to sugar and stir until dissolved.
- Add fish sauce, lime juice, and garlic. Stir well and taste, adjusting as needed.
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