I’ve spent a lot of time in Jomtien, Thailand, and one of the highlights by far has been my visit to Cabbages & Condoms.
Wait – before you think I’ve fallen victim to auto spell or are talking about some weird vegetable fetish, let me explain. That’s actually the name of a restaurant here in Jomtien, sitting right atop a cliff overlooking the ocean in the Pratanak neighborhood outside of Pattaya. Nestled in jungled grounds that have been manicured into neat gardens, complete with bamboo footbridges, pools with Koi fish, hanging lanterns, and flower beds, the path that leads you from the street to the restaurant is strategically outfitted with signs that list famous quotes and positive mantras.
My Experience at Cabbages and Condoms Restaurant
Inside the Cabbages and Condoms eaterie (which is adjacent to the Birds & Bees Resort – and I’m not making this up), you’ll first notice dozens of mannequins adorned in clothing made from hundreds of condoms! But as you’re checking those out, don’t forget to request a seat outdoors, as they have a series of cascading decks that overlook the cliffs and ocean for a perfect sunset meal.
Of course, you’ll enjoy the amazing food there, but, more importantly, let me school you on the history of the restaurant with perhaps the strangest name in the world.
While it now has locations in four places in Thailand and two in the UK, the concept grew from activism, not culinary arts. A Half-Thai, half-Scottish man named Mechai Viravaidya, who grew up in Scotland and Australia and studied family planning and social advocacy, returned to Thailand in 1965. He started working to help raise the substandard of healthcare and education for women in those days, as Thailand was still developing and lacked any family planning. IN fact, condoms were almost unheard of in Thailand at that time, and actually taboo (not to mention too expensive for the average person). Therefore, STDs spread rapidly, and later HIV and AIDS two decades later.
Seeing that you could buy abundant produce like cabbages at every single street market, Virayaidya decided that it should be just as easy for the Thai people, particularly in poor and rural areas, to access condoms.
With that revelation, the name for the new restaurant, Cabbages & Condoms, originated. He started it as the foundation of a new non-profit, the Population and Community Development Association (PDA). In 1973, Viravaidya left his comfortable civil service job to form, and then work with, the PDA full-time.
TO advocate for reproductive health, women’s health rights, and education, he employed some pretty creative (and taboo, at the time) tactics, like contests for school kids to blow up condoms like balloons, and giving condoms to taxi drivers to give out to their sex worker patrons and customers.
But the most effective portal and best money maker for the PDA was his Cabbages & Condoms restaurant, with every single penny (Baht) going to fund PDA programs. Over the years, the PDA grew into one of the biggest and far-reaching non-profits in Thailand, employing 600 people, using 12,000 volunteers, and helping countless millions of poor, women, and disenfranchised.
Viravaidya became a treasure of the Thai people and was even recognized by the appreciative Thai government with positions as Ministry of Industry, Minister of Tourism, and even as a Senator in 2004.
To this day, condoms are still sometimes called “mechais” in Thailand – a tribute to the man who introduced them and worked tirelessly to keep people safe and healthy there. It’s well deserving, as when HIV and AIDS ravaged other developing countries, such as in Africa and Southeast Asia in the 1980s and 90s, Thailand was ready, and avoided epidemics. Just during his tenure as a healthcare educator, the average number of children for Thai families dropped from 3.7 to 1.5!
He gained recognition on the world stage, too, as Viravaidya won the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Gates Award for his role in family planning, AIDS awareness, and advocacy for the poor.
Sure enough, in the restaurant, you’ll notice photos of Viravaidya along with international icons like Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Bill Clinton, (who was also spotted here) and myriad others. Of course, you’ll also have a great time at Cabbages & Condoms, as their slogan is “Our food is guaranteed not to cause pregnancy!”