x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Out of the frying pan

Thailand's next prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, is in trouble with electoral officials there: while campaigning she cooked up a big pot of noodles for supporters, this may actually be a violation. In Thailand the politics can be even more pungent than the food.

In 2007 a block in London's colourful Soho district was evacuated on fears of a chemical weapons attack. Pedestrians reported a pungent, eye-watering cloud wafting through the streets. After the initial panic died down, the culprit proved to be the chef in a local Thai restaurant. He'd been cooking with a particularly potent dose of nam prik pao, or Thai chilly paste.

Anybody who has been caught in a blast of nam prik pao sizzling in an open pan can sympathise with the chemical weapons theory. But nobody in Thailand would ever consider changing the recipe.

Thai people take their food seriously, to the extent that governments can rise or fall on culinary tides. Now there is news that Yingluck Shinawatra, Thailand's prime minister-designate after last week's election, is being investigated by the elections commission for rigging the ballot. Her alleged crime? She unfairly influenced voters by cooking up a giant batch of pad thai, or fried noodles, at a campaign stop in May.

That must have been a heady dish indeed. There is, however, precedent. One of Ms Yingluck's predecessors, Samak Sundaravej, was evicted from office after less than a year for a conflict of interest - he hosted a TV cooking programme while he was prime minister.

The moral appears to be the same in both cases: while Thai food may be delicious, the politics can be toxic.