There are a few Vietnamese joints around town, but they all have these really unappetizing photos of their dishes posted out front, and most of the entrees look fried, which is puzzling since we don't recall seeing very many friend dishes on the menus of the Vietnamese places we used to frequent in the Bay Area. I've poked my head into a couple of these joints and noticed people eating some greasy looking fried thing with a side of french fries and mayo. This made us come to the conclusion that these restaurants felt compelled to compromise their cuisine in order to appeal to the Slovak palette.
And I've often wondered why there aren't good Vietnamese restaurants in Bratislava. Vietnamese migrants used to come to communist Czechoslovakia through student exchange programs, and some of them decided to stay. As a result, there is a decent-sized Vietnamese population in Slovakia (and more so in the Czech Republic, in Prague).
But a colleague of mine recently alerted me to this newish place downtown called Papaya, saying it was pretty darn good and much closer to the real thing than what you can usually find around here.
The menu is very basic and short - just the staples (though they have a more extensive dinner menu) - and the service is quasi-cafeteria style: you order your food at a counter, but they bring it out to you when it's ready. The guy who helped us was incredibly helpful and friendly, and he was even trilingual, speaking Vietnamese to his co-workers, Slovak to Terezia, and English to me.
I was slightly bummed to see they didn't have my favorite Vietnamese dish, spicy lemongrass chicken, on the lunch menu, but what they did have was good enough to quickly snap me out of that brief bout of disappointment.
We started with a big bowl of chicken pho, which we shared. To be honest, neither of us are all that well versed in pho, but this was tasty. The broth's flavor packed a pleasing, layered, aromatic punch, enhanced by the fresh herbs and the small slices of hot red peppers, which were like little pockets of fire with each bite. The rice noodles were a good texture. I could have just had this and been happy.
|The chicken pho before dumping the herbs into it|
We followed that with a flavorful chick curry dish, which veered toward the sweeter side, with super tender pieces of chicken and perfectly cooked (not soggy) slices of bell pepper and carrots. I could've used more spicy heat, but it was still good, and very similar to other Vietnamese curries that I've had back in the Bay Area.
Terezia ordered a bowl of noodles which came with some perfectly cooked shrimp and these super tender pieces of pork. The flavor of the dish was maybe a little overly reliant on the soy sauce and Sriracha that we poured over it, but it was still tasty.
Everything was quite fresh - very bright, clean flavors. The whole bill came to €16, which is incredibly reasonable. We will be going back, and next time I think I want to try their Vietnamese sandwich and the pho with beef.