Polish food usually doesn’t rank highly on the list of ‘must try’ cuisines. In Hanoi it is probably lower, particularly during the oppressive summer heat.
But there are plenty of reasons to be excited about the capital’s first authentic Polish restaurant, PYZA, which has been open for four months. For one, the new eatery, located on leafy To Ngoc Van in Tay Ho, joins only a handful of Slavic restaurants in the city. The other reason is that, aside from being surprisingly delicious, the eclectic cuisine has evolved over many centuries and is a novelty in its own right.
Occupying a refurbished villa boasting indoor, balcony and courtyard seating areas, inside the white walls, dark timber furnishings and exposed brick create a suitably rustic feel for diners. The ground floor has also been converted into a deli-slash-bakery, offering visitors a peak at traditionally cured meats and whiffs of freshly baked sourdough as they walk through the door.
Hand me a Drop Cloth
A quick glance at the menu shows that the owners have stuck as close to their culinary roots as possible: lots of meat, lots of winter vegetables (particularly white cabbage) and lots and lots of spices. Everything comes in frighteningly large portions, so consider bringing a friend. And maybe a forklift to take you home afterwards.
The restaurant offers a wide variety of reasonably priced specialities, ranging from the more traditional stuffed chicken leg with béchamel sauce (VND60,000) to the more adventurous eel in sour cream served with dill-seasoned potato (VND100,000). Those seeking some familiarity may be tempted by the eatery’s homemade lasagna (VND100,000) or grilled beef steak with green pepper sauce (VND180,000). However, diners should definitely take the opportunity to sample PYZA’s already-famous traditional meat dumplings, or pierogis (starting at VND70,000).
To start, I opted for the bigos cabbage with white sausage (VND100,000), a Polish national speciality that combines sauerkraut, meat and a handsome blend of spices into a medieval-style stew.
Combined, each mouthful of herb-encrusted sausage with bigos was a burst of subtle yet hearty flavours. The Polish mustard also added a pleasant kick to the more relaxed flavour of the cabbage.
The service is extremely fast and by my third mouthful of bigos, my smiling waitress was already heading over with the main course: crispy roasted pork hock golonka (VND110,000) served with vegetables, potato puree and horseradish. A moment or two between courses may have been necessary with dishes of these proportions.
As promised, the roasted pork hock (aka pork knuckle) was crispy on the outside and succulent on the inside. Served in traditional peasant-style on a rustic wooden board, it was topped with a spicy roast sauce and fresh herbs. Although a satisfying follow-up to the bigos, some acidic tones may have helped cut through the richness of this dish.
Naughty But Nice
The venue also offers a humble selection of desserts ranging from fried ice cream with strawberry mousse and whipped cream (VND120,000) to Polish-style pancakes with fresh seasonal fruits (VND70,000).
To complete my trifecta of traditional Polish fare, I went all out on the mammoth-sized freshly made Karpatka or Carpathian Mountain cake served with whipped cream. Each layer of pate a choux was light and fluffy and drizzled with chocolate sauce. Satisfying? Immensely. A little too much cream? Probably.
The decor and presentation won’t be winning awards anytime soon, but that is part of PYZA’s charm. It’s honest, it’s humble, it’s tasty and it’s cheap. The consistency and speed at which food is served is also sure to prove a hit with diners.
Hawking down lumps of roast meat and hearty winter cabbage may seem unusual at this time of year, but come the dreary winter months, this place will be packed to the rafters.
PYZA is at 60 To Ngoc Van, Tay Ho, Hanoi
Food, Decor and Service are each rated on a scale of 0 to 15.
13 — 15 extraordinary to perfection
10 — 12.5 very good to excellent
8 — 9.5 good to very good
5 — 7.5 fair to good
0 — 4.5 poor to fair
The Word reviews anonymously and pays for all meals