There are plenty of places in NoVA to find pho, bun and broken rice plates. But having been spoiled in a big city with a large Vietnamese population before I arrived here, there are certain dishes I’ve been craving. I’m coming up empty in my search for bo ne—a meal of filet mignon and eggs with paté and a baguette, perfect for a hangover breakfast—but that’s not my favorite Vietnamese dish. Cha ca thang long is.
When I first encountered the dish, I was surprised to see dill figure so heavily in Vietnamese food. The sizzling platter of turmeric-marinated fish is stacked with fronds of the herb. As the fish sears, the diner assembles a bowl from the ingredients provided: slippery rice noodles, fresh herbs (mint is essential), lettuce, fish sauce and shrimp paste, and a crispy rice cracker.
At Hai Duong, a restaurant in Falls Church’s Eden Center that specializes in Northern Vietnamese cuisine, the cha ca thang long is just as described, though I found myself wishing that the fish was treated with more turmeric and less black pepper.
But cha ca thang long isn’t the only Hanoi-style dish of which Hai Duong serves an appealing rendition. Anthony Bourdain fans might remember bun cha Hanoi as the repast that he shared with Barak Obama. It’s a mix of pork patties and fatty slices (either belly or shoulder) grilled, then served in a sweet and sour fish sauce. This is the “cha.” The “bun” is a pile of rice noodles that is combined with the pork and an assemblage of herbs, pickled roots and cucumbers.
At Hai Duong, both dishes are worthy of a visit on their own. But the best way to enjoy a meal is with an imaginary trip to Hanoi that combines the pair for a look at some of the best the city has to offer. And yes, if you must, you can order a bowl of pho, too. // 6795 Wilson Blvd., Ste. 9, Falls Church
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