Ask for chopsticks, a knife, or heaven forbid, soy sauce, and you shall not receive. Friendly Ban Thai owner and chef Tómas Boonchang is clear about that. He’s not interested in compromising authenticity to please the uninformed patron.
When Tómas and his wife moved from southern Thailand to Iceland in 1987, he wasn’t sure that Icelanders could really appreciate Thai food. In fact, he didn’t go straight into the Thai food business. The first restaurant he opened in Reykjavík was called Ingólfsbrunnur and it served Icelandic cafeteria-style food.
It wasn’t until four years later, in 1991, that he would buy the apartment building at Laugavegur 130, tear down some of the walls, and transform the space into what is now the highly acclaimed Ban Thai restaurant.
Though it gets rave reviews today, as Tómas displays proudly on the wall for customers to see, the restaurant wasn’t an instant success story. Getting people to come was initially tricky, and sometimes he says patrons refused to pay for what they thought was too spicy.
But rather than winning customers over by accommodating to their requests for less chilli or more bamboo shoots, Tómas has stayed true to his belief in delivering consistency and authenticity. “The key to success is being honest”, he says.
That means flavour derives from real spices imported from Thailand rather than MSG or other additives. And when a customer makes an order, nothing has been prepared in advance. The meat has not been precooked and the vegetables have not even been chopped.
It would seem that many Thai food establishments in Reykjavík don’t think you can taste the difference, but really, the green curry with chicken should taste different from the green curry with beef.
But do try something more exciting than the green curry. There are 156 items on the menu, most of them cannot be found elsewhere in Reykjavík, and some of them are exclusive Ban Thai specialities.
Yeah, we really have to thank Tómas for keeping it real.