…So I gathered up my friends and caught a taxi to Sukhumvit Soi 12, to rediscover Cabbages & Condoms, the restaurant in which ‘our food is guaranteed not to cause pregnancy’. We followed the winding brick path past the gift shop and life-sized mannequins fancifully costumed in condoms to the entrance. As we waited in line with a large group of hungry diners, I wished I had ignored the concierge at our hotel and booked a table, but luckily the queue moved quickly, and we were soon seated.
The character of this open-air restaurant has changed a bit since I last visited in the mid-1990s: the maze-like arrangement of shrubs and pot plants in the central courtyard is no longer in evidence, with tables discretely tucked into nooks and crannies amongst flowering bougainvillea. That magical dining area has unfortunately been cleared and expanded to accommodate a growing clientele, and the courtyard now sports neat rows of plastic chairs and tables – although it is bejeweled in fairy lights and edged with pot plants and hanging vines just as it used to be. There are private air conditioned rooms available, although I gather these don’t have much ambience, so we were pleased to be given a table on the mezzanine up amongst the treetops, and I settled happily in to see if the food was as good as I remembered.
Explain the name? And the strange theme? Of course, and apologies for being so remiss. Let me introduce you…
“Cabbages and Condoms” was originally set up to promote the concept and practicalities of family planning. Today there are several C&C resorts restaurants around Thailand, from which all proceeds are used to support the PDA (Population and Community Development Association), a non-profit organization established by the former Thai Minister for Health Mechai Viravaidya in 1974.
It may seem gimmicky, but this non-profit association supports birth control, environmental conservation, rural development and AIDS awareness, and the story goes that the founder wanted to spread the word on birth control and believed that “birth control should be as accessible and as easy to buy as vegetables in the market!” Apparently his message has been successful. According to statistics, the Thai population growth rate had dropped to 0.5% in 2012.
It is a worthy concept that benefits from the fact that the restaurants serve good quality Thai food, with plenty of well-known dishes on their extensive menu. Our table was soon laden with food: crunchy spring rolls with sweet chili sauce: pork satays and the ubiquitous peanut dip; betel leaf with a delicious, nutty filling, and a melt-in-the-mouth mussaman lamb with imported Australian meat and potatoes cut into the shape of small flowers. The Pad Thai wrapped in a thin omlette was perhaps not the best I had ever tasted, but the chicken and cashew nuts, and the sweet and sour pork went down so fast I could have blinked and missed them. Sadly, many dishes, including my favourite Thai fried rice appear to have been westernized over the years: dishes are milder and the fried rice no longer has that inimitable dash of coriander, just a large dose of diced carrots and peas. The kids were happy, however, and the evening was deemed a success. Even when a cloudburst threatened to drown us and our food, our team of waiters moved like lightening to shift us under cover. Service was unusually prompt, pleasant and friendly, and we didn’t feel at all rushed.
We visited the gift shop on the way out, where the condom theme continues to be evident, amongst a general collection of locally handcrafted souvenirs. Of course it was the small posy of flowers made with condoms, the humourous condom posters, comic mugs, t-shirts and paper weights that drew our attention and the giggles of our teenagers! (The adults of course were sedate and sensible).
As an added bonus, the vasectomy clinic next door offers a free snip for male diners while your meal is being prepared. Then, with coffee, diners are offered not an after-dinner mint, but a condom or three! Strangely educational, it is also a great night out.
*As published in Inklings, October 2013.With thanks to John Reed and Google for the photos.