August 25th, 2003

Cabbages and Condoms

The night Leah and Carrie and I went to Silver Spoon, Sam and Clara went to Cabbages and Condoms. They came back raving about their dinner.

I'd heard of the restaurant, and I'd intended to check it out sometime. Sometime was tonight.

Cabbages and Condoms
10 Sukumvit Soi 12
Bangkok 10110
Tel: +66.2.229.4610 or 4611
Fax: +66.2.229.4632
daily, 1100-2200
BTS Skytrain: Nana (E3) or Askok (E4)

(branches in Nakhon Ratchasima, Vieng Pa Pao, Chiang Rai, Nang Rong, and resort and restaurant in Pattaya)

Cabbages and Condoms is unique. It supports a development NGO, the Population and Community Development Association (PDA). The restaurant was founded by Mechai Viravaidya, who is known in Thailand as Mr. Condom, for his work in promoting family planning and condom usage. The restaurant decorations tastefully present condom packaging and posters. Instead of after-dinner mints, they offer condoms. (No, they're not mint-flavored.) All proceeds go towards the PDA's community-based family planning and development projects.

Walking into the restaurant, you find yourself in an oasis of green in Bangkok's concrete. The trees around you are decorated with strings of white lights hanging from branches.

So, how's the food? Not bad. I had the pork satay appetizer. The order of eight small skewers, marinated in a cumin curry, was B.120 ($2.90). It really didn't require any extra flavor but it came with the traditional peanut sauce, a sweet cucumber/onion/chili water, and a slice of toast.

I saw fried soft-shelled crab on the specials menu (at B.250, or $6.05, the most expensive item) and decided to have that as my main course. It came lightly breaded, with a salty topping of fried onions and capers, with a few sprigs of cilantro on top. Cucumbers, tomatoes, and shredded cabbage/carrot were on the side, which helped cut the saltiness of the topping. The suggested jasmine rice (B.40, 97 cents) was disappointing as it turned out to be brown rice, a bit dry and hard.

The menu is in Thai, English, and Japanese. Each item is pictured in color. Staff speak English. You can sit outside in the tropically decorated courtyard, under the tree canopy, or you can choose an air-conditioned indoor area, which is less atmospheric, but cooler.

There's a handicrafts shop, which showcases products from villages around Thailand. Again, proceeds benefit the PDA.

It's a bit farther down Sukumvit Soi 12 than you think it might be, given the building number of "10". Just walk past the massage parlor and the "Turkish" bath (yes, this *is* Bangkok) and you'll find it a couple hundred meters down.

Little details can be very revealing.

Tsui, Julian, and I had tried and failed to go to an all-chicken yakitori place in Cuppage Plaza, so we ended up going to the food court around the corner. It was a standard food court in Singapore, so I didn't bother with a write-up. For example, Julian and I agreed that the roti prata we shared was simply lousy.

However, what struck me was this: tables and chairs were at a premium, as it was lunchtime. So what people were doing is to find an empty table, dump their bags, and then wander off to find food. The bags would sit, unattended and unwatched, while folks queued up at the various vendors, until the owners returned with their trays of food.

I saw one guy in shirt and tie put down a laptop bag and walk away without a backward glance.

I mentioned this to Julian and Tsui and they both shrugged. No surprise. I guess that's just the way it is.

Don't try this at home, unless your home happens to be Singapore.

Coming back to Bangkok from Singapore.

I had the oddest feeling as I was riding in a non-air-conditioned bus through Bangkok traffic yesterday. I'd just gotten back from Singapore the night before.

Bangkok, with its broken pavement with random chasms and occasional motorcyclists weaving between pedestrians, rattling buses belching diesel exhaust, astonishing traffic, and ear-splitting street noise, seemed real, while efficient, orderly Singapore seemed almost like a dream.

Even the weather was a change. I never thought I would feel relieved by the pervasive mugginess in Singapore, but it really was a break from Bangkok, which was consistently a couple of degrees Celsius hotter.

Somehow, all the grit, grime, and chaos made Bangkok seem more real. Good thing, really, since there's so much of it.

All I ask is it be ten degrees cooler.