New Hot Pot Spot To Spice Up Square

Unnamed photo
Sarah M Roberts

Panja S. Lymswan, co-owner of Spice Thai Cuisine and 9Tastes, at the site of his new restaurant, Shabu Square, which will open at 97 Winthrop St. next month. The restaurant will specialize in shabu-shabu, a variety of hot pot that involves dipping vegetab

Three decades ago, before they knew each other, Panja S. Lymswam and Khemachat Kordsomboon emigrated from Thailand to the United States. Since that time, the two have spent the greater part of their time here sharing the food of their homeland with Americans and Harvard students.

After having set up three successful eateries in 14 years, the people behind square restaurants Spice Thai Cuisine and 9Tastes—composed of Thai immigrant friends and family members of the two men—are about to open a new restaurant called Shabu Square, which will come to 97 Winthrop Street in the middle of next month.

The restaurant will feature “shabu-shabu,” a variant of hot pot that has been popularized in the Boston area in recent months. Shabu-shabu is cooked by dipping raw ingredients, primarily vegetables and thinly sliced beef, into a simmering metal pot of stock placed at the center of each table.

Having first met in 1990 at Montien—a Thai restaurant in Boston’s Theater District where Lymswam was a kitchen worker and Kordsomboon was a chef—the partners bought the restaurant four years later and went on to open up the two popular restaurants in Harvard Square.

Kordsomboon started out as a teenage chef in Thailand, cooking at restaurants across the country and quickly mastering the tastes and recipes of various regions. In 1979, an owner of a Thai restaurant in Dallas, also from Thailand, applied for a green card for Kordsomboon so that he could employ him.

That year, Kordsomboon took his first step on American soil, and when the Dallas restaurant owner returned to Thailand, Kordsomboon relied on his connections to move to Boston to continue his career as a chef.

“He specializes in everything. He has been working in all areas of Thai food—northern, southern, eastern, and western. He is skilled in Chinese food as well,” said Nuanchan Jitijaruek, a partner who currently helps run Spice and who translated Kordsomboon’s interview.

“Ask him to cook Korean food and he will cook bulgogi for you,” Lymswam added about his longtime friend, referring to a Korean barbecued beef dish.

Confirming this culinary versatility, Shabu Square will not be exclusively dedicated to Thai cuisine, unlike their other three restaurants.

“I am happy to cook, and I try to cook good for the customer,” Kordsomboon said, in what was one of the few English sentences he had to utter the whole day on Saturday.

Jitijaruek said, while Kordsomboon cannot “express himself well in English,” he has communicated his cooking skills and passion for satisfying his customers through his dishes and through new specialties with which he constantly experiments.

Kordsomboon said that the proudest moment in his cooking career was when a writer from The Boston Globe came to interview him, several months after Spice opened and just as the restaurant’s name was being spread through word of mouth.

The interview, which was published in 2000, he said, was rewarding and he believed contributed to his restaurant’s reputation.

“I am proud, and I am happy when the restaurant got famous,” he said.

Lymswam followed his mother and stepfather, an American G.I., to Michigan in 1980, where he attended a community college and studied mechanical engineering. He joined the army for seven years, and after his service moved to Boston for work, where he met Kordsomboon.

“Usually I work every day. I [can’t] think about it at all,” Lymswam said, referring to the path he has taken since arriving here. “I try to make good food, new food, new creation every day...We have a lot of Asians here, and Americans like to try new things. We hope they find our food delicious.”

—Staff writer Hee Kwon Seo can be reached at hkseo@fas.harvard.edu.