Until recently, the closest I’d come to eating in a bathroom was a food conference at the Kohler Design Center (yes, that Kohler) six years ago in Sheboygan, Wis. At the kickoff event, business-types in suits and middle-aged women in cocktail attire sipped wine and nibbled hors d’oeuvres in a showroom filled with sinks, faucets and tubs. I had no idea I would one day find myself eating on a toilet.
Then, during a recent trip to Taiwan, I dragged my cousin and husband to lunch at a popular chain restaurant I had read about. Usually, I’m not one for gimmicky restaurants, especially those that are advertised in an English-language tourist map. I know better. But with a name like Modern Toilet and a website that asks “shit or food?” how could I not check it out?
The bathroom-themed chain opened its first restaurant in 2004 in Kaohsiung City and was originally called Marton Restaurant (referring to the Mandarin word matong, or toilet). It now boasts 11 locations in Taiwan and two in Hong Kong. The colorful tiled walls feature faucets and flexible shower heads. Glass-topped bathtubs and sinks stand in for tables. Instead of sitting on wooden chairs or in cushioned booths, diners rest on acrylic toilet seats (lid down) decorated with random images of fish, flowers, a half-naked woman and an American flag. The vibe is all at once weirdly kitschy, unexpectedly cool and unapologetically cutesy. While I dug the decor, I wasn’t sure what to expect of the food.
For a meal that costs $6 to $10 per person, including a drink and dessert, there isn’t much to lose. The entrees are an international cornucopia of saucy, creamy, soupy and otherwise liquidy comfort foods consisting of gratins, hot pots, noodles, curries and meat dishes. Some items sound delicious (miso and kombu seafood hot pot) while others do not (chicken escallop cordon bleu with tartar sauce).
When my teal-colored mini toilet bowl of Yunnan chili chicken arrived, I couldn’t wait to dig in. The battered, crisply fried chicken thigh strips napped in a light, sweet-spicy glaze didn’t disappoint. My cousin was decidedly more hesitant about taking her first bite from a even more theme-appropriate dish: a bubbling toilet bowl of brownish chicken curry. She assured me that it was much tastier than it looked.
We all burst into laughter when my husband took a sip of Orange Calpis, which, for only $1 extra, was served in a take-home plastic souvenir urinal bottle.
A meal isn’t complete without dessert, and on this front, Modern Toilet truly delivered. The piece de resistance was an artfully swirled mound of slightly grainy chocolate-vanilla soft serve ice cream resting in — you guessed it — a squat toilet.
No, we didn’t lick our bowls clean.
Sandra Wu is a San Francisco-based food writer, editor and recipe developer who currently works as a test kitchen cook at Williams-Sonoma’s corporate headquarters.