I’d never been to Mai Thai. To me, it was simply “the store with the bike in the window.” To be honest, I was a tad prejudiced towards it: I pictured a space cramped with incense, small Buddha statues, and strange little things made of multi coloured paper – and I was not excited. Surely, those things are all to be found at Mai Thai, but the store turned out to be quite a bit more.
Located on the corner of Laugarvegur and Rauðarárstígur, this homely store has been up and running for nearly three years now and has established a loyal customer base. Open for business six days a week, they don’t seem to be greatly affected by any economic recession (although they were out of “lucky cats” by the time I got there). Mai Thai is a family operation, run by Egill Matthíasson and his wife Linda Thíejanthúk, who also run another store of the kind in Bíldshöfði.
Mai Thai is a friendly and inviting store. Upon entering, I got the feeling I’d stepped into a parallel universe, as nothing in here – aside from a local talk show on the radio – seemed in its natural habitat. Now for a statement: Mai Thai has the biggest selection of noodles in town. I was utterly flabbergasted at how many different kinds of noodles (most of which look exactly the same to the untrained Western eye) can occupy the same place at the same time without the universe imploding, Back to the Future-style. Another thing I definitely did not expect was the Kolaportið-style band shirt section, sporting very questionable shirts featuring such acts as Linkin Park, Mötley Crüe and MANOWAR. I was pleasantly surprised.
Wandering around in the store, I stumbled upon by many unfamiliar things and curios. There is, however, one section of a store by which I am not usually baffled: the vegetable section. This section of Mai Thai is unbelievable, to say the least. A steadfast vegetarian for almost five years, I am ashamed to reveal that the only recognizable veggie on display was ginger. Something I took for a slice of a giant mushroom was actually Nangka, or Jackfruit, the friendly clerk informed me. Turns out Nangka is actually the biggest fruit to grow on trees, known to be 90 cm long, 50 cm in diameter and weighing 36 kilos! This particular one was a young jackfruit sliced up. They are reportedly a must for Indonesian curries.
Leaving the store, I knew I couldn’t fully appreciate its greatness, but I was nevertheless greatly intrigued. Carrying a wide variety of sauces, stir fries, noodles, beans, soy products, incense, elephant towel holders, exotic sodas and snacks, the cheapest Nori in town, no-name brands of shampoos and toothpaste and huge sacks of rice at very reasonable prices, Mai Thai makes for a good resource for those hungry for Asian food as well as major corporation boycotters; a welcome component of Iceland’s otherwise monotonous grocery scene.
- Where: Mai Thai, Laugavegur 116, 105 Reykjavik
- What we think: Mai Thai makes for a good resource for those hungry for Asian food as well as major corporation boycotters.
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