When I returned to Bangkok in 1990, I loved introducing my husband, and those family and friends who visited, to the delights of Thai food. Or more specifically, Thai food cooked in Thailand. There are Thai restaurants all over the world but, perhaps because of the difficulty in getting the genuine, fresh ingredients, they never taste quite the same. In Thailand, the local food has an extra tang, an extra burst of flavour that takes the joys of Thai food into the stratosphere, far above the cuisine of its neighbours.
When we had visitors, we would almost always take them to a favourite restaurant off Sukhumvit Road. On cooler nights we’d walk, on hot humid nights we’d drive, unashamed, the short distance to Soi 12. In 1990, this restaurant was filled with local expatriates and Thais alike. It was a small, wooden building, in the style of a traditional Thai house. The food was cheap and delicious, the restaurant air-conditioned and clean. It was run by a charity, the Population and Community Development Association, that did extraordinary work in rural Thailand aimed at family planning and more latterly AIDS prevention. The head of the DPA was a man named Mechai. Throughout Thailand, condoms became known as mechais. When we ate there, we knew we were helping the community. An added bonus.
The restaurant was appropriately named Cabbages and Condoms, more tactfully known amongst locals as C&C. The tables were decorated with small vases of flowers made from coloured condoms, the walls with humorous photographs promoting contraception, breast-feeding (elephants), etc. I still have their T-shirt – “Our food is guaranteed not to make you pregnant.” We liked the sense of humour.
(A few years later I was disgusted to see a reference to it in the Lonely Planet Thailand edition. They referred to Cabbages and Condoms as a brothel frequented by expatriates. The article had obviously been written by someone who neither knew Bangkok, nor researched their task. For that reason I have always avoided Lonely Planet guide books since then! If they got a landmark like C&C wrong, how could you rely on anything in their guide books?)
In the three years we were in Bangkok, C&C grew in popularity. It expanded into the car park, setting up an open air section of the restaurant. We have since returned and seen that it has expanded even further, an upstairs floor and a number of souvenir stores alongside. Profits still go to charity, but it has lost the charm of the early 1990s. The food is still good though, and the prices are still reasonable. If you go to Bangkok, try it. You’ll like it.
I had a number of favourite dishes at Cabbages and Condoms. Their Dom Kha Kai (my favourite soup in the world – a coconut chicken soup) was divine, their Hor Mok Talay (a curried steamed seafood custard concoction) was served cooked and wrapped in banana leaf and a delicious treat. But it was their Massaman Curry that we never failed to order. It always had to be beef, tender beef that fell apart in the sweet, peanut curry. My husband loved the pieces of potato that were always in the dish, as they soaked up the flavour of the curry. The sweetness was offset by a unique flavour that I cannot explain, and sadly cannot recreate. I just yearn for it.
I make it regularly, and we almost always order it in Thai restaurants, but it never tastes quite the same. I was recently asked what my last meal would be – Massaman Curry was my main course. Cooked by C&C of course.