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Cabbages & Condoms.

On Sukhumvit Soi 12, Cabbages & Condoms Thai restaurant is an oasis in the middle of busy Bangkok. Koi swim leisurely in the courtyard, water features invoke tropical serenity and delicious food soothes the soul.

But what’s with the condoms?

While the food is excellent, Cabbages & Condoms is not your regular restaurant making this not our regular restaurant review. Read on to find out why.

Cabbages & Condoms. Bangkok. Thailand.

Cabbages & Condoms provides funding for non-profit organisations to improve the lives of underprivileged Thais. Funds for family planning, schools, health clinics and farming have been instrumental in Thailand’s reduction in population growth and enhanced rural economy.

To appreciate the concept of Cabbages & Condoms, you need to know a little about Mechai Viravaidya.

 

Mechai Viravaidya.

Born in Bangkok, Mechai, the son of a Thai father and Scottish mother, was educated in Australia. First at Geelong Grammar followed by Melbourne University.

Returning to his home town after eleven years with a Bachelor of Commerce degree, Mechai was struck by Thailand’s rapid population growth. Recognising the threat caused to the country’s social and economic development, Mechai had a vision.

It was 1960 and family planning was a taboo subject. Mechai had to find a way to get past the views of the establishment and get to the heart of the people.  Education was key to families reducing their reproduction rate. Rural Thailand had an average of seven kids per family.

The purpose was not only reducing population growth but to cease the mortality rate from unwanted pregnancies terminated by backyard botch jobs.

A somewhat outrageous for the time, yet witty campaign began with the simple condom. Condom blowing competitions were introduced in schools. Where better to begin family planning education?

Complimentary condoms poured into villages by the truckload backed by presentations, demonstrations and Q&As.

Widely referred to as the Condom King, Mechai is synonymous with the rubber sheath and as a result, a condom in Thailand is referred to as a ‘Mechai’.

Beginning his working life as an economist for the Thai National Economic Development Board, his career spans Senator and four times cabinet member of the Thai government, newspaper columnist, radio announcer and TV actor. Each role creating another avenue for his vision.

Cabbages & Condoms. Bangkok. Thailand.

 

HIV/AIDS.

As population growth began to stall HIV/AIDS introduced a further education challenge for Thailand (and the world). Mechai Viravaidya was front and centre of Thailand’s comprehensive national HIV/AIDS prevention policy and program, regarded as the world’s most outstanding effort in combatting the disease.

Through this prevention policy and program, Thailand experienced a 90% reduction in new HIV infections. According to a World Bank report in 2005, these preventative efforts helped save 7.7 million lives and saved the Thai government over US$18 billion in treatment costs alone. In 1999, Mechai Viravaidya was appointed the UNAIDS Ambassador.

Cabbages & Condoms. Bangkok. Thailand.

 

Population & Community Development Program (PDA).

Mechai founded the Population and Community Development Association (PDA) for the sole purpose of operating programs for the rural poor.

PDA now provides mobile health clinics, free vasectomies, village income generation and environmental education programs all contributing to the wellbeing of the underprivileged creating opportunities and providing the tools for life improvement.

To ensure financial sustainability for PDA, sixteen affiliated businesses’ contribute funds towards the non-profit organization.

It was in the carpark of PDA on Sukhumvit Soi 12 where a small stall sold oral contraceptives, condoms and handed out educational leaflets. Alongside was a vegetable stand, no doubt selling cabbages. Seeing this, Mecahi commented on Cabbages & Condoms and soon the restaurant opened.

 

In Recognition.

At the age of 78, the latest Mechai innovation in social enterprise is the Business for Rural Education and Development Co., Ltd.(BREAD). A for-profit business including rural tours, homestays, and e-commerce for agricultural products and handicrafts.

This new model of Businesses for Social Progress is to foster long-term sustainability among non-governmental organizations to avoid being completely dependent on third-party donations.

Providing the Thai people with the tools to improve their understanding and quality of life has been Mechai’s undertaking since returning from Australia.

These efforts have not gone unrecognised. Mechai has received numerous awards including:

The United Nations Gold Peace Medal (1981)

The Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service (1994)

One of Asiaweek’s “20 Great Asians” (1995)

The United Nations Population Award (1997)

One of TIME Magazine’s “Asian Heroes” (2006).

Along with PDA, The Bill and Melinda Gates Award for Global Health (2007)

The Skoll Awardees for Social Entrepreneurship (2008)

The Prince Mahidol Award for Public Health (2009).

 

The Restaurant.

Cabbages & Condoms. Bangkok. Thailand.

Cabbages and Condoms restaurant is a symbol of the work Mechai has relentlessly pursued in family planning and poverty alleviation.

In the courtyard, under the shade of Banyan trees, seated on the balcony or inside in the air conditioning, as you would expect, condoms are the theme.

In the lighting, planters, lifesize figures and even the Christmas tree, condoms are everywhere. Safe sex information surrounds diners and at the end of your meal, forget mints, condoms arrive with the bill.

From the menu, be sure to sample their Mieng Khum. Presented on wild betel leaves, a mixture of lemon, dried shrimp, deep fried shredded coconut, peanuts, ginger, chilli and shallots are self-wrapped, dipped and devoured. Lime and extra chillies accompany a moreish sauce you’ll become addicted to. Salty, sweet, spicy and sour combined with a crunchy texture. A delicious starter.

Cabbages & Condoms. Bangkok. Thailand.

All of your favourite red and green curries are available including a scrumptious mushroom and tofu yellow curry that you’ll likely double order. Curries tend to be on the mild side but waiters always ask how spicy you prefer.

Cabbages & Condoms’ Phad Thai is one of the best you’ll eat. Wrapped in a traditional omelette blanket the noodles separate easily and the sides of bean sprouts, lime, sugar, chilli flakes and fish sauce mean you can flavour it to your taste.

Steamed Sea Bass in lime ginger, chilli & shallots is a personal favourite as is Khor Moo Yang – BBQ pork neck served with another fabulous dipping sauce.

Cabbages & Condoms. Bangkok. Thailand.

Finish off with Khao Niew Mamuang – sweet mango and sticky rice, this should not be missed.

Cabbages & Condoms’ produce is provided by farms developed through PDA. Take a cooking class in the restaurant and learn to make their signature dishes.

It’s worth a visit purely for the clever condom craft. A serious subject presented with a sense of humour.

Combining good food with a good cause: it’s a thing we love….

 

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Cabbages & Condoms. Bangkok. Thailand.

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