Eat This Now: Vien Dong's Cha Ca Thang Long

Vien Dong's cha ca thang long
Vien Dong's cha ca thang long
K. Robbins

When you order cha ca thang long at Vien Dong, the bright bustling Northern Vietnamese specialist in Garden Grove, you will be forgiven for a moment of confusion.

"I thought I ordered fish," you might think as you gaze at the sizzling platter of dill and onions that arrives before you with nary a morsel of animal protein in sight.

Not to worry, there is plenty of tender, turmeric-infused snapper lying below this feathery green mountain. But before you investigate, take a moment to allow the sweet, anise-y aroma to wash over you, giving the pungent bouquet of fried shallots, scallions, and fennel a few more minutes to blossom.

Eat This Now: Vien Dong's Cha Ca Thang Long
K. Robbins

You can busy yourself by preparing your bowl for the main event. In addition to the crackling hot plate before you, the cha ca, a beloved Hanoi specialty (often made with snakehead fish in Vietnam or catfish in the States, but here with red snapper), comes with a side of bun rice noodles, a mound of fresh herbs, a sesame laced rice cracker, funky shrimp paste dip, and the requisite nuoc cham.

Scoop the noodles, lettuce and herbs into your bowl, and then top with a heaping portion of the golden-hued fish, with its blazing garden of aromatics. A splash of fish sauce makes the dish complete and a few morsels of crispy cracker makes the dish complete.

As you eat the flavor builds in waves -- the turmeric's earthy heft; the light, licorice tang of the dill, the swarthy funk of the shrimp paste. And the fish? No longer hiding coyly in its leafy sanctuary, it has revealed itself a star -- near perfectly cooked with a lightly charred crisp exterior and a springy, succulent interior. It truly is (forgive us) the real dill.


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