Khun Suthon Sukphisit and the Perfect Three-Flavour Carp Curry

I usually try to make time to read Suthon Sukphisit’s column at the weekend and, this time around, he discussed various types of freshwater fish and how they are customarily prepared. Khun Suthon seems to believe that the traditional way of preparing Thai food is the best and any variation from the time-honoured pattern is a mistake. It reminds me of the first real experience I had of East Asia when I was living in Korea – restaurants (same as in Japan) very often provide plastic models of what dishes will look like in the window. What struck me most is that a particular dish was prepared in exactly the same way all across the country – a dish of cold noodles, for example, always (always!) had half a boiled egg, four pieces of cooked pork and the same for the different vegetables. People had there and so too does Khun Suthon a platonic ideal of the perfect dish to which all dishes should aspire. This is good for perfectionists perhaps but not so good for innovation and a little strange to those of us from the west where change and variation is generally considered a good thing.

(My daughter pursues her own variation of this: the first time that she has a new dish which she enjoys, then that version of the dish becomes her platonic ideal and only when it is exactly repeated will she be able to enjoy later versions.)

Yet it seems to me that this vision of the ideal dish is in itself flawed, considering not just how tastes change but how the availability of ingredients changes. It is a commonplace to observe that the chili pepper was only brought to Asia after its discovery in the New World and that many Thai desserts have a Portuguese origin, for example. It is also inconsistent with the various Royal Projects which seek to promote new types of production and of food types (e.g. the introduction of the tabtim fish).

The example may appear trivial but when it is raised to a more emotive and societal level (e.g. the calls for ‘unity’), it might be advisable to remember that the platonic ideal evoked is not likely to be as authentic as it might be supposed.  

Judges Obeying Their Nature Is No Story

It is the nature of a dog, as Aristotle observed, to bark. It is not surprising, therefore, that it is the nature of a right wing judge to make decisions in line with their beliefs. Hence, having recently written the junta’s constitution, the judges of the Constitutional Court have ruled that democratically-elected Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej must resign because of his TV cookery show, since they deemed him to be an employee of a corporation and, hence, subject to conflict of interest issues.

Coalition MPs have promised to back Khun Samak for re-nomination but the press is still in a ferment for secret plots and conspiracies and who is it going to be next? As ever, ‘academics’ and ‘business executives’ have been found to claim that Samak must never return – in fact, three have been found to support this claim, one of whom is a faculty member of the dismal science at Chulalongkorn University and whose opinion may be judged accordingly. Having spent some time interviewing international business executives, I can reveal that they never stop complaining about one thing or another.

The Bangkok Post gets itself into a bit of a twist by trying to claim that a 0.3% drop in the SET yesterday was caused by fear of the return of Khun Samak to PM. Does that also explain this morning’s decline – or is it loss of confidence in the market because we no longer appear to have a Prime Minister – or is some international factor responsible – or is the movement of a stock exchange subject to an enormously wide range of factors many of which cannot be accurately predicted?

From a personal point of view and setting aside all the important issues, this all does reduce the psychological stress that I and my colleagues, who also work for one of Khun Thaksin’s institutions, for the rest of the world to start to realize what is going on here. Cheap jibes in the press are not the sticks and stones which may break my bones of course but they can have an effect on morale. For that reason, I was also quite pleased to see the Abu Dhabi guys take over at Man City.