{recipe} Cha Ca: Hanoi-Style Catfish with Turmeric and Dill

My last post was all about eating and drinking in the North Vietnamese city of Hanoi. One of the dishes I mentioned was the famous Cha Ca – a catfish dish served in sizzling oil and flavored with turmeric and dill, an odd-sounding combination. It comes with lots of cooked scallions and fresh dill, and is accompanied by roasted peanuts, rice noodles, and fresh leaves of basil, lettuce, cilantro, and mint.

My husband was frankly a little obsessed with the dish, so I wanted to try and re-create it at home. I found several different recipes and takes on the dish and combined certain aspects of each to come up with a recipe that would not be too hard to make, but that would faithfully mimic the best aspects of the Cha Ca we had in Hanoi.

Both my Dad and my husband declared it one of their favorite meals of the year, so I’d say it was a success!

RECIPE: Cha Ca: Hanoi-Style Catfish with Turmeric and Dill
serves 4-6


For the fish:

  • 1 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 inch piece fresh galangal, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 Tblsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup sesame oil
  • 1 1/2 lbs catfish fillets, cut into 2 inch pieces (can use other kind of white fish if preferred)
  • 1 tsp chili flakes

For the Nuoc Cham sauce: 

  • 1/4 cup fish sauce
  • 1/4 cup lime or lemon juice
  • 1 tsp chili flakes
  • 2 large or 3 small cloves garlic, minced finely
  • 2 Tblsp sugar

To cook and serve:

  • Leaves from 1 head of butter lettuce
  • 4 oz. dried rice noodles (may be called “rice stick”)
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 bunch fresh dill, fronds only, chopped into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 bunch scallions, chopped into 1 inch pieces, white to dark green parts
  • 2 large or 3 small cloves garlic, minced finely
  • 1/2 cup roasted salted peanuts, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup cilantro leaves
  • 1/2 cup mint leaves
  • 1/2 Thai basil leaves (can substitute regular basil)


For the fish:

  • Put ginger, galangal, turmeric, salt, and sesame oil in a small food processor or blender. Grind together to make a paste. Mix paste and chili flakes with fish well to coat. Leave at room temperature for 1 hour. *note: be careful with the turmeric, as it will stain – so use a dark colored ceramic bowl or a stainless steel bowl for this, and clean it up immediately off of your counters, sink, hands, and utensils!

For the Nuoc Cham sauce:

  • Combine all ingredients and set aside at room temperature for 1 hour.

To cook and serve:

  • Arrange lettuce leaves on a platter.
  • Cook noodles according to package. Rinse with cold water so they are warm but not hot. Arrange on top of lettuce leaves.
  • Heat oil in a nonstick or cast iron sauté pan over high heat. Add fish and marinade and cook on 1 side, about a minute. Flip over and add dill, scallions, and chopped garlic. Saute about 2 more minutes until greens are wilted and fish is cooked through. Arrange fish and pan drippings on top of noodles.
  • Serve with peanuts, cilantro leaves, mint leaves, basil leaves, and sauce on the side.

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2 Responses

  1. DEEEE says:

    Thanks for the recipe. BTW Fantastik takes care of turmeric stains. Spray, leave for a bit and rinse