The Hlemmur area in downtown Reykjavík has for recent years been the supreme destination of Thai food lovers. It has been the home of the “Boonchang-empire,” with the best Thai place in Iceland, Ban Thai, and its younger sibling, Yummi Yummi. Hlemmur also has a Thai speciality store, Mai Thai, to satisfy all the culinary needs of those wanting to try their skills at cooking up delicious Thai flavours at home. For the past 18 months or so, Mai Thai has gone one better, and opened up a bistro inside the store, offering the signature dishes of the Thai kitchen for very agreeable prices.
My companion and I, both pescatarians, settled in the canteen-style dining room at noon, when the kitchen was fairly busy. The store itself is full of kitschy household items, golden waving cats, and the usual pictures of Thai dignitaries. It’s full of colours, and full of light.
The bistro itself is a no-nonsense order-at-the-bar kind of place. There aren’t too many items on the menu—a positive sign—just noodles, curries and stir-fried rice dishes, about four of each. My companion had a craving for curry and found an answer in the massaman with tofu (1,890 ISK). I was there for the signature dish, Pad Thai (very original) with tofu (1,890 ISK). No alcohol is served, but water, sodas and juices are available.
The massaman was served up with a bowl of rice and was of a very vibrant yellow colour. The consistency was a bit watery but the flavours were very nice—sweet and savoury, as it should be. There was an abundance of tofu—come to think of it, maybe a bit too much. There were two or three chunks of pineapple, and in hindsight, maybe that number should have been doubled. Still, nothing to be ashamed of.
Spicy and sticky
The Pad Thai was everything it should be. This legendary dish was invented by Thailand’s first prime minister, Luang Phibunsongkhram (1897-1964) with the purpose of unifying the various ethnicities of the Thai nation; the Vietnamese pho-noodles, the Indian tamarind and the Chinese fish sauce, bringing a nation together in one dish. This one was savoury and sweet, spicy and sticky, with umami and sour flavours from the tamarind and lime, respectively. The tofu was well cooked, with a lovely consistency. Highly recommended.
As far the Hlemmur area goes, the “Thai triangle” finally has some healthy competition—aside from the legendary Devitos Pizza—since the opening of Hlemmur Mathöll. But rest assured, when craving Thai food, Hlemmur is still the place to go. And Mai Thai Bistro is certainly worthy of its very appropriate location—hopefully for years to come.
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