Cabbages and Condoms
With a slogan like “Our food is guaranteed not to cause pregnancy.” the PDA-operated Cabbages and Condoms restaurant is worth a visit just for novelty’s sake.
A huge part of the Population and Community Development Association’s mandate on its creation was to institute family planning programs and to disseminate information about safe sex. Founder Mechai Viravaidya wanted to make condoms as available as cabbages in the North, particularly at the height of the 1990’s HIV crisis, and was so successful in promoting them that condoms in Thailand are now nicknamed “Mechai”.
Independent C&C restaurants have sprung up around the country, most offering fine dining at moderate prices in well-decorated yet condom-themed atmospheres. Chiang Rai’s example is no exception. A varied menu includes a few Western treats like sausages and French fries, Thai staples, fancier dishes like whole fish done with elaborate sauces, as well as some Northern specialties. The last include Burmese-style curry gaeng hang lae and a platter of spicy green salsa (nam phrik noom) and Northern fermented pork sausages (naem thawd) which are hard to find anywhere else except in Northern Thai homes. The food is expertly prepared and served quickly. The prices are a little high for the fare (ex. whole fish run 250-350 baht), but you can consider the little extra as a donation since profit generated in the restaurant goes to fund the PDA’s projects in remote hilltribe villages.
Santa Claus in condoms.
While dining at the restaurant, the link to these PDA projects is unmistakable. The purchase of a meal allows one a free tour of the Hilltribe Museum and Education Center on the building’s 3rd floor, but even more than this the place is absolutely covered in condoms. Condom posters adorn the walls, condom-costumed mannequins greet customers at the door, and condoms replace complementary mints at the till. This is all done in a direct but light-hearted manner, completely atypical for oddly conservative Thailand.
The restaurant is open from 11am to midnight daily, and is usually busy over the 12-2 lunch break and again from 7pm onwards. Live Thai and Western music is played by 2-3 bands each night at the indoor stage, where the atmosphere is further enlivened by one of the few full cocktail bars in the city. There are only a few small outdoor tables, but be sure to try to capture one of these if dining on a Saturday so that you can watch the lively Walking Street market activities while you eat.
Overall, Cabbages and Condoms is a restaurant with a solid reputation for good food and fun dining, combining business with a charitable purpose in a superb example to NGO projects worldwide. On your way out don’t forget to grab a free condoms or 2 to help you work off your meal!