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Cabbages & Condoms, Bangkok, Thailand, tasted on December 4, 2005  The name of this restaurant certainly gets your attention. And it's meant to. Luckily, Cabbages & Condoms is not a reference to the menu, but rather is the name for the broader hotel and restaurant chain that is dedicated to raising money for a non-profit that among other things supports family planning and anti-AIDS efforts (Population and Community Development Association). You would think that a restaurant in service of a charity would feel it could rest on its good works rather than focus on making great food. You would be wrong.

Cabbages & Condoms is located down a side street (a "soi") in a busy Bangkok neighborhood. That description, however, works for pretty much every restaurant in Bangkok that's not on a main drag. The almost alley-like street from which you enter gives you the impression that  the restaurant will be tucked away and small. It's tucked away, but certainly not small. It's huge in fact. As you pass the handicraft store and the buckets of condoms you enter a large open air space threaded with little white lights. Like a lameass, I opted for the indoor air-conditioned dining room.

As I sat down, the ridiculously attentive but not overly familiar service resulted in a dish of delicious super savory Brown Rice Crackers arrived in front of me. They were like a rice cracker and an Ak-Mak cracker had babies that preserved the best aspects of both. Yummy.

The first of the items I ordered arrived - Chaw Muang. It was steamed minced chicken and onion wrapped in dough. It was chewy, doughy, soft, and slightly sweet, and... purple! Cool. Super yummy dumplings.

Next up was Yum Nuea Yang, Thai spicy and sour salad of pan-grilled beef. This dish was super fresh bright, tangy, and spicy. Pretty great. This was followed by Moo Tod Kra Tiem Phrik Thai, deep-fried pork with pepper and garlic. The pork was not delicate but in a good way but not overbattered. It was super savory without any accompaniment whatsoever. That said, the dried, fried, onion shavings added some good flavor as well. I'm pretty sure this was the best schnitzel I've ever had in my entire life.

The rice that accompanied the dishes was so fragrant. perfumed, and light. Delicious. Thinly sliced cucumbers were everywhere. Super crisp and light. And of course, never mealy.

The meal was interesting as there were were really three distinct flavor profiles represented by each of the dishes. But once I got the essence of each dish I found myself mixing bits and pieces  from each and enjoying the novel combinations.

At this point during my time in Bangkok I had everything from street food to mom and pop hole-in-the-wall  to big family and tourist restaurant to hotel high-end refined. And frankly all rocked. Is it possible to get bad Thai food here? Do I just have an incredibly low bar? I've mentioned before how tough it is to do all this eating eating on my own. I can't really finish everything I order. At Cabbages & Condoms I did. I couldn't help myself. It was just so good (and of course cheap). Thai cooking is based on a deep understanding of flavor and making sure it exists in each dish in generous quantities. But let's be clear on something, strong flavors don't mean there isn't subtlety. There is. Plenty. Strong flavors interwoven in subtle combinations.

After dinner, instead of a mint with the check they give you a condom. Of course.

Tomorrow I try to learn how to cook some Thai food for myself.

 

     

 

 

 

 

 

   

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  Garlic has long been credited with providing and prolonging physical strength and was fed to Egyptian slaves building the giant pyramids. Throughout the centuries, its medicinal claims have included cures for toothaches, consumption, open wounds and evil demons. A member of the lily family, garlic is a cousin to leeks, chives, onions and shallots. The edible bulb or "head" grows beneath the ground. This bulb is made up of sections called cloves, each encased in its own parchmentlike membrane. Today's major garlic suppliers include the United States (mainly California, Texas and Louisiana), France, Spain, Italy and Mexico. There are three major types of garlic available in the United States: the white-skinned, strongly flavored American garlic; the Mexican and Italian garlic, both of which have mauve-colored skins and a somewhat milder flavor; and the Paul Bunyanesque, white-skinned elephant garlic (which is not a true garlic, but a relative of the leek), the most mildly flavored of the three. Depending on the variety, cloves of American, Mexican and Italian garlic can range from 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches in length. Elephant garlic (grown mainly in California) has bulbs the size of a small grapefruit, with huge cloves averaging 1 ounce each. It can be purchased through mail order and in some gourmet markets. Green garlic, available occasionally in specialty produce markets, is young garlic before it begins to form cloves. It resembles a baby leek, with a long green top and white bulb, sometimes tinged with pink. The flavor of a baby plant is much softer than that of mature garlic. Fresh garlic is available year-round. Purchase firm, plump bulbs with dry skins. Avoid heads with soft or shriveled cloves, and those stored in the refrigerated section of the produce department. Store fresh garlic in an open container (away from other foods) in a cool, dark place. Properly stored, unbroken bulbs can be kept up to 8 weeks, though they will begin to dry out toward the end of that time. Once broken from the bulb, individual cloves will keep from 3 to 10 days. Garlic is usually peeled before use in recipes. Among the exceptions are roasted garlic bulbs and the famous dish, "chicken with 40 cloves of garlic," in which unpeeled garlic cloves are baked with chicken in a broth until they become sweet and butter-soft. Crushing, chopping, pressing or pureeing garlic releases more of its essential oils and provides a sharper, more assertive flavor than slicing or leaving it whole. Garlic is readily available in forms other than fresh. Dehydrated garlic flakes (sometimes referred to as instant garlic) are slices or bits of garlic that must be reconstituted before using (unless added to a liquid-based dish, such as soup or stew). When dehydrated garlic flakes are ground, the result is garlic powder. Garlic salt is garlic powder blended with salt and a moisture-absorbing agent. Garlic extract and garlic juice are derived from pressed garlic cloves. Though all of these products are convenient, they're a poor flavor substitute for the less expensive, readily available and easy-to-store fresh garlic. One unfortunate side effect of garlic is that, because its essential oils permeate the lung tissue, it remains with the body long after it's been consumed, affecting breath and even skin odor. Chewing chlorophyll tablets or fresh parsley is helpful but, unfortunately, modern-day science has yet to find the perfect antidote for residual garlic odor.  

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