You’ll get a full belly of delicious food at the Cabbages and Condoms restaurant in Bangkok, but never fear, all the items on the menu are “guaranteed not to cause pregnancy.” Flip and fun promotional slogans such as this belie the serious mission of the wildly successfully eating spot at Sukhumvit 12, walking distance from Asok Skytrain Station.
Conceived by ex-politician and philanthropist Mechai Viravaidya as a way to raise funds while tackling the culturally taboo topic of HIV/AIDS and sexual reproductive health, the restaurant opened its doors more than 10 years ago has become a must-see destination for tourists. In recent year, PDA has expanded its tourism initiatives, opening five more Cabbages and Condoms restaurants as well as the Birds & Bees Resort in Pattaya and Mountain Resort in Saptai.
Viravaidya is the force behind the Population and Community Development Association (PDA), an NGO founded in 1974 to promote family planning to communities in need. Today, along with distribution of oral contraceptives, the NGO provides access to primary health care, HIV/AIDS education and prevention, water resource development, income generation strategies and environmental conservation knowledge. Results of its work are impressive. The annual population growth rate has dropped from 3.3 per cent in the mid-1970s to 0.6 per cent in 2005. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awarded the organization for its pioneering work in family planning and HIV/AIDS prevention in 2007, UNAIDS recognized two of its programs best practices and in 2008 it received the Skoll Awards for Social Entrepreneurship. The NGO uses a participatory approach with beneficiaries in its many programs. More than 800 staff members work with 12,000 volunteers in 18 regional development centers and branch offices throughout the country.
The do-good aspect of the restaurant is a strong attraction for visitors, but the light-hearted attitude, convivial atmosphere and scrumptious menu items cinch the deal. Mannequins attired in costumes comprising hundreds of condoms greet guests as they enter the restaurant. Leafy plants, a burbling fountain and fairly lights provide an almost magical dining environment. The food, spiced more to a Westerner’s palate than a Thai’s, is abundant and choices are numerous including deep-friend catfish salad with mango dressing, chicken marinated in wild honey, and yellow crab curry with bell peppers along with the requisite Pad Thai and tom yum soup. Much of the produce is grown on organic farms operated by PDA. Diners munch along to live traditional Thai music and are cooled with fine mist spray from strategically placed fans. Before they leave, visitors often visit the souvenir shop that sells a plethora of items that support the restaurant’s family planning theme.
Viravaidya knew what he was doing when he conceived of Cabbages and Condoms. Food, and a fun concept, can work wonders. For more information, check out the Cabbages and Condoms website.