Tasteful education

If the name Cabbages and Condoms isn’t enough to channel your imagination in the right direction, you’ll get a better idea of what’s to come as you enter this popular Thai restaurant. A small wooden fertility shrine greets visitors, complete with small sculptures of the famed monkeys who see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil – only in this set there’s a fourth monkey, demurely covering his nether regions with his paws.

The humour continues inside, where tasteful Thai wooden carvings are interspersed with sets of packaged condoms from around the world, mounted on the wall in woven flat baskets. Then there are the displays of glinting instruments used for vasectomies, posters featuring unusual condoms, and a carpet emblazoned with cartoon condoms. And the menu, which boldly states: "Our food is guaranteed not to cause pregnancy."

It’s eclectic, and educational too. As manager Nobphadol Sriruwat explains, the restaurant opened in 1987 as an offshoot of non-profit organisation, the Population and Community Development Association (PDA), which has its head office located right next door. "Some of the staff used to go out to buy their food on the street at lunch time, and then they thought it made sense to start cooking it here," he says.

They soon saw that starting a proper restaurant would be both a way of fundraising for the PDA, and also a vehicle for promoting birth control, the organisation’s driving objective when founded in 1974 by former Thai health minister and philanthropist Mechai Viravaidya. And why the name Cabbages and Condoms? "Because we want condoms to become as common as cabbages," explains Nobphadol.

We leave ourselves in his hands, and find that the first dish to arrive on our table is in tune with the restaurant’s theme. It’s the Cabbages and Condoms Salad (Bt110+), with a main ingredient of Shanghai noodles, rolled to resemble condoms – vaguely, but effectively . They’re mixed with tender shreds of chicken and salad vegetables, juicy prawns and a seriously spicy-sour dressing.

The only surprise about the other dishes is just how delicious they are for a restaurant where one might suspect food isn’t the real focus. The food’s authenticity isn’t watered down, either, for the hundreds of tourists who arrive nightly during high season from November to February. It’s not unusual for the restaurant to serve 400 people in a night, of whom around 90 per cent are visitors to Bangkok.

We’re presented with three other creations: deep-fried cotton fish, with a fresh mango sauce on the side (Bt230+), steamed prawns in whole young coconut (Bt250+) and a massaman curry, with chunks of tender New Zealand lamb (Bt350+).

The cotton fish is meaty, with the crispy batter surrounding it being perfectly thin. The mango sauce is an attention-grabbing condiment, it’s sourness rating very well on the mouthpuckering measure of success. The steamed prawns themselves are good, but it’s the generous slivers of melt-in-the-mouth young coconut that really grab my attention. The massaman curry is thick and confident, its gentle sweetness providing a good balance to the other dishes.

Other popular choices among diners are some of the dishes Thailand is renowned for: Tom Kha Gai, a chicken, galangal and coconut spicy soup (Bt110/170+) andTom Yum Kung, a spicy and sour prawn soup (Bt170/220+).

On the side, we’re served fragrant red jasmine rice, grown in the northeast region’s Buriram province. It has the enjoyable texture of wholemeal rice with a hint of scent that’s a pleasant change from the typical khao suay (steamed rice) you’ll be served in any other Thai restaurant. If you enjoy it, grab some to take home at restaurant’s gift shop on your way out, where it’s priced at Bt200 per kilogram.

You’ve heard of the Long Bar in Singapore’s Raffles Hotel? Bangkok’s answer might just be the Vasectomy Bar. Order a pre-dinner cocktail (Bt150+), a local Singha beer (Bt80/130+) or a glass of the house wine (Bt120+). There’s no corkage. Teetotallers will be kept happy with a range of refreshing fruit blends (Bt90+).

For dessert, there’s a selection of traditional Thai specialities, such as Buo Loi, which are boiled flour balls with coconut syrup (Bt50), and lemon coconut jelly served with crushed ice (Bt70). Or splash out on a banana split (Bt120).

We sat in the restaurant’s newer building, similar to the original and built just three years ago, but a pleasant alternative is to sit in the outdoor courtyard area. The wisps of fairy lights hanging from the trees overhead create a festive atmosphere, and you can spot various Thai fruits looking ripe for the picking. Don’t be surprised to see mangoes growing next to durian: the fruit’s fake and is strung up for sanuk (fun) purposes only.

Dinner’s finale sees a return to the restaurant’s theme: instead of an after dinner mint you’ll be offered a condom to take home. And if you’re not planning on using it, you might want to stop off at the fertility shrine on your way out.

Next to PDA Head Office
Sukhumvit Soi 12
Tel: 02 229 4611
Open daily 11am to 10.30pm

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