I first visited ‘Pu Pu Hot Pot’ on a trip to Harvard University in 2007. Situated on Main Street, Cambridge, just minutes away from the college, the small Chinese restaurant was surrounded by tourists gleefully taking pictures of the sign – a dull blue awning with the words painted boldly and simply in white. We all giggled. The sign didn’t seem to hint for a second at the double meaning - a steaming bowl of delicious poop. But they must know, we thought. They’ve got to know.
It was similar when I stumbled upon ‘Condoms and Cabbages’ in 2012. I was visiting my brother in Krabi, southern Thailand, and we had hired a moped to find a local waterfall. We soon got lost and found ourselves on a deserted back road with nothing but trees and mountains for miles. We thought we saw a service station and pulled over. Inside it was dark and we were offered water and complimentary condoms from the front counter. The Thai waitress suggested some ‘Pad Thai please’, or some Massaman curry. I later discovered that the restaurant, part of a chain, was ‘conceptualized in part to promote the better understanding and acceptance of family planning and to generate income to support various development activities of the Population and Community Development Association (PDA)’. At the time I thought it was a brothel.
In the intervening period, from Pu Pu to Condoms, I’ve been fortunate to visit a number of unique restaurants around the world. Some names are unfortunate accidents, such as ‘My Dung’ in Rosemead, CA, or the ‘Stomach Clinic Bar and restaurant’ in Nairobi. The French Bistro ‘B.O Café’ in Grasse also falls into this bracket, as does the Vietnamese London restaurant ‘Phat Phuc’ which, when pronounced, sounds like ‘Fat F**k’ (it is actually the Vietnamese phrase for ‘Happy Buddha’). Other oddities are often poor English translations, such as ‘Little Drooling Bear Food’ in Shanghai, or ‘The fish wants the sauce to eat’ in Taipei. And, of course, there are the puns. ‘Thai Tanic’ can be found at multiple locations, including Washington DC. There is ‘Syriandipity’ in Toronto and ‘A Salt & Battery’ in New York. The puns are actually so extensive that they can be divided into a number of sub-divisions. Famous world leaders include ‘Obama Fried Chicken’ in Weeksville and ‘Coffee Annan’ in Trondhiem, Norway. Literary references number ‘Lord of the Fries’ in Melbourne, ‘Moby Dick on a Stick’ in Reykjavik and ‘Tequila Mockingbird’ in Ocean City, New Jersey. Film-related restaurants count ‘The Codfather’ in London and ‘Frying Nemo’ in Goole among their many, whilst musical eateries include ‘Amy’s Winehouse’ in Sunderland, ‘The Notorious P.I.G’ in London and ‘New Cod on the Block’ in Sheffield.
In my ‘research’ I have noticed some patterns. Restaurants pertaining to fecal matter tend to be located in Thailand (‘Pee and Poo Steakhouse’ in Phuket, ‘Pee Pee bakery’ is found on, appropriately, Phi Phi Island). However, Thai restaurant puns are more likely to be located in Australia (‘En Thais Sing’ in Terrigal, ‘Thairanosaurus’ and ‘Thai the Knot’ both located in Sydney). Fish puns, perhaps not surprisingly, are most abundant among British fish and chip shops - ‘Fishcotheque’ and ‘The Rock and Sole Place’ can be found, along with many others, in London.
Ultimately, I am not quite sure what the experience has taught me. Choosing a favourite is also difficult. I will always remember ‘Eat here and Get Gas’ in Tipton, Indiana, because it nearly made me crash my car when I stopped to take a picture. ‘Miso Hapi’, a sushi diner in Portland also has a special place – it actually made me happy, and I didn’t even taste the food. Yes, they are often silly, but they make me smile. So I thank all of the brilliant restauranteers for their literary prowess, their courage and even their stupidity. They have made my life a little bit more fun.