When visiting a large city such as Bangkok you would need months, or even longer, to find yourself that perfect little eatery which sparks your interests and your taste buds. There is the street food, the traditional food, the international food, as well as many other restaurants or cafes hidden around every bend, or in every alleyway, omitting the smells of herbs and spices and enticing you as you walk by.
For me, I was after something a little different. I was on a quest to find Bangkok’s ethical eateries. Places where a meal or even a coffee would mean that in some way you were giving back to the community or to a cause. I spent the past few days on buses, trains, tuk-tuks and every other form of Bangkok commuting, as well as numerous traffic jams, and compiled this list of my favourite places in Bangkok, in no particular order, where you can give a little back.
Antique Café & Cakes
Cause: Social justice, work placement for Thai’s vulnerable
Location: Phrom Phong, Bangkok
Antique Café is situated in a small alleyway in the expat area of Phrom Phong. The café works with a number of NGO’s to provide assistance to some of Thailand’s most vulnerable. They do this by providing opportunities for employment in the café; giving their workers a chance to gain much needed skills that will help them to improve their lives and eventually gain more opportunities in future. Sarah, a volunteer at the café, told me a story about one of the employees who, through his time at the café, had been able to enter a scholarship and turn his life around. The café now features some of his delicious creations, including the Pumpkin Spice Cupcake, which I was lucky enough to indulge in.
There is also an area that offers the purchase of various hand made crafts from Narimon, an organisation helping to prevent the exploitation of women throughout Asia.
The café has a friendly, relaxed atmosphere with an area for socialising. They run mothers groups each week for those who are looking for a quiet, cosy place to sit, drink coffee and chat.
“Our aim is to create a community space that gives back to the community”. Come and try some of the variety of sweets on offer, or head over for lunch and support this great cause.
Farm to Table Cafe & Farm to Table Hideout
Cause: Agricultural sustainability, organic farming
Location: Sathon District, Bangkok
I never thought I’d find an organic café in the middle of Bangkok, but as with the trends of many other countries around the world go, the organic industry in Thailand is gaining attention.
Farm to Table sources organic produce grown in northern Thailand’s Chaing Rai area. They have cut out the middleman and directly source from a group of farmers, providing opportunities for growth and sustainability. The rustic cafe in Bangkok’s Sathon District provides visitors not only with organic meals, but also with a selection of mouth-watering homemade ice cream, using some of the same organic ingredients sourced for their lunch menu.
What make’s the ice cream so unique are the flavours. They are changed daily however I was lucky enough to choose from a selection that included sweet potato and honey, green tea and black sesame. For those who like to stick to the classics, there was also chocolate and mango on the menu.
The café also serves HelpLive Coffee with 5 Baht from every coffee sold providing a meal to a child at risk.
They have recently expanded and opened a second café about 5 minutes walk from the original. Farm to Table Hideout offers the same rustic feel and the same delicious ice cream, only a little more space and a bigger seating area.
A top pick if you love your sweets and want to show support for local organic industry.
Cabbages & Condoms
Cause: Family planning, HIV/AIDS awareness, social welfare
Location: Khlong Toei, Bangkok
Founded in 1974, this is one of Bangkok’s more famous eateries. If you don’t mind paying a little more for your meal (150 – 400 Baht for a plate) head over to the Khlong Toei district and admire this large restaurant that has, for so many years, supported many of Thailand’s community awareness programs.
The name says it all. The restaurant was originally opened to provide awareness about family planning, with a rapidly increasing Thai population at the time. Mechai Viravaidya, the founder of the establishment, believed that birth control should be as accepted and as accessible as vegetables on the market, hence the name ‘Cabbages & Condoms’.
Throughout the restaurant there are comical pictures about family planning and education everywhere, even the tables are decorated with condoms and your bill comes with a condom souvenir.
Over the years the restaurant has supported causes such as community empowerment, water resource development and environmental conservation and continues it’s work to this day.
City Light Coffee
Cause: Human trafficking prevention
Location: Khlong Toei, Bangkok
Situated in the red light district of Khlong Toei, the City Light Coffee shop was set up by the organisation Night Light as a way to increase funding to their anti human trafficking projects. As the café was only recently set up they are still working on becoming self-sufficient, however future plans entail being able to support the foundation through income from the café itself.
In saying that, it is still a great place with great coffee. And what’s even better is that the coffee is fair trade!
The Abonzo coffee is sourced directly from the small village of Doi Chaang in Thailand’s north. Hemisphere Coffee Roasters helped the farmers in Doi Chaang create a direct trade relationship with their buyers to ensure that they receive enough income and greater opportunity.
If you would like to find out more about the work that Night Light do you can follow the link here.
Root Garden Cafe
Cause: Sustainable farming, sustainable fishing, fair trade
Location: Watthana, Bangkok
You won’t miss this delightful urban garden as you pass by. It’s a contrasting vision to the tall buildings and skyscrapers that surround it. The open space and greenery gives the feel that you’ve stepped out of the city and into the country, even if only for a few minutes.
Situated in Thonglor, this garden boasts a veggie farm, an animal farm and even a fish market on the weekends. It is run by the Land Reform in Thailand, an organisation that promotes opportunities and fairness for farmers throughout the country.
One of the gardens largest awareness programs is in conjunction with Fisherfolk, promoting awareness about sustainable fishing practices and creating fair trade relationships with small-scale fishers on Thailand’s south coast. You can find the fair trade fish being sold every Friday to Sunday at the pop up markets here in the garden.
Drop in for a refreshing drink, some organic or soy coffee, or even just to admire the grounds and escape the city life.
I’m sure there are many other places in this bustling city that provide something back to the community. If you have been to any or would like me to feature your café or restaurant please comment in the section below or contact me here. I would love to be able to share some more wonderful stories of how people can promote such great causes through the universal love of food.