14 Cha Ca, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi
The Hanoi experience would be incomplete if you didn't try this restaurant. It claims to be the oldest restaurant in Vietnam, with a romantic history of how the dish and the restaurant came about. No language issues here, for they serve only one dish. You just sit down, and then they serve various bowls in front of you, plus a charcoal cooker with a pan of fish fried right there on your table. Make sure they serve the nam tom, which is their version of the bagoong. How to eat? Take your cue from the locals, and copy what they do. But in case you need further instructions, follow this:
1. Take some of the dill and various leaves and put them into the pan to be sautéed along with the fish. Do not include the mint and basil (served in a separate bowl); those will be used later. Let the dill cook for about 55 seconds; not overcooked, just enough for it to absorb and flavor the oil and fish.
2. In your bowl, put in the glass noodles first. Then on top of that you add the fish. Forget healthy eating. Slather the turmeric-laden oil onto the noodles.
3. Add the mint and/or basil.
4. Add the nom tam.
5. Top with nuts.
6. Goes great with cold local beer; Halida’s okay.
7. After dinner, cross over to BAGUETTE AU CHOCOLAT (11 Cha Ca), where they serve great pastries. Make sure you request a table at the 2nd floor where the lounge chairs are more comfortable. A window seat gives you a view of the hubbub on the street.
This is a five star experience from me, all based solely on the food. Don't expect five-star ambience. People just throw stuff on the floor here. And I've never dared to try the restroom.
I'm still looking for my Hanoi images. In the meantime, I stole this image from: http://photos.igougo.com/pictures-photos-s2-r1318934-p236192-Cha_Ca.html