Cabbages and Condoms, Bangkok

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We spent a hot, tiring morning exploring the beautiful Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. It’s a pretty touristy spot, but worth a visit if you’re in Thailand for a few days. Guided tours take away the hassle of planning, but will set you back a bit more. The guides are fluent in English though, and very knowledgeable. Plus, you avoid the typical tourist traps such as the gem scams, pigeon feeding and the like.

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Of course, as with any country with English as a second language, Thailand is full of unintentionally funny but helpful “Engrish” reminders. The one above was just outside the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. For a moment I wondered if my things would turn sentient and rise up against their erstwhile master.

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After that tiring but educational Thai history and culture lesson, we asked the tour driver to drop us off at Cabbages and Condoms for lunch. Cabbages and Condoms is already a Bangkok institution, having been featured in travel shows such as Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, and coming highly recommended for any first-time visitor to Bangkok.

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It also has helpful Engrish reminders to further its reproductive health-oriented theme. Proceeds from the restaurant actually go to educating farming and other rural communities regarding family planning and reproductive health. The name of the restaurant comes from the goal that even in poorer regions, people will be just as familiar with reproductive health as they are with the vegetables they plant. The fact that this restaurant is so successful just shows how backward my home country is compared to its neighbors.

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As a complimentary appetizer, we were served prawn crackers, fondly known in the Philippines as “kropek”. In Bizarre Foods, some of the food actually had condoms slipped into them, and I had expected the same. Apparently though, this was either just a prank or a marketing ploy done just for the show.

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Due to a lack of choices available, I decided to order the beer they had on tap instead of a bottle of other local fare (there’s no way I’d touch a Heineken). Chang is the Red Horse Beer of Thailand, in that locals prefer this when they just want to get drunk quicker. It was dull, bland, so forgettable that it was actually memorable. Give me Singha any day.

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Aside from fizzy yellow water, Chang also makes regular drinking water. The only differences between the two are the color and the relatively high alcohol by volume, really.

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The vegetarian Pad Thai was marginally better here than the street food we had the night before. Still, I was somewhat disappointed. I found out that Cabbages tailors its flavors more toward visiting palates, so it’s not as “authentic”, i.e. flavorful and hot, as other Thai restaurants.

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Roasted Duck Red Curry is something I never fail to get at Thai restaurants at home. I just found out before the trip though that this isn’t really a traditional Thai dish. Nevertheless, I was determined to try this at least once in Bangkok. Again, this was more suited to unfamiliar palates. The spices and heat were muted, but the fresh ingredients made this dish worth ordering nonetheless.

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The Deep Fried Soft Shell Crab in Curry Sauce was the best thing I had at Cabbages. It was listed among the chef’s specials and caught my eye as I don’t recall seeing it before in restaurants in the Philippines. This was the spiciest and most flavorful of the dishes that lunch, and therefore, my favorite. It was a guilty pleasure pairing of crunch deep fried food with thick, creamy and spicy curry sauce.

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The Tofu and Vegetable Green Curry was fresh and light, perfect given the early summer heat and the long tiring walk that preceded lunch. This would be excellent with a crisp, hoppy pilsener like Victory Prima Pils.

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Bagoong Rice (fermented fish paste: I’m using the Filipino, not the Thai term) capped the meal. This is a simple enough dish to prepare but always fun to eat. There doesn’t seem to be much difference between bagoong rice among different restaurants, as compared to curry dishes, for example. But it is this familiarity and reliability that makes this an easy favorite.

Cabbages and Condoms is worth a visit, especially if one is afraid of spicy food. The food is decent, or at the very least a good introduction to Thai cuisine. Plus, the fact that it’s being run for an admirable cause alone makes it worth the journey. If anything, the kitschy, funny, almost weird condom-centric decor should be seen once.

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