Restaurant cooks up a truly scary spice

A street vendor sorts chillies at a large wet market in Quezon City, Metro Manila
A Thai restaurant's super spicy sauce made from fried chilies had Londoners worried they were under a chemical attack.Darren Whiteside / REUTERS

Lovers of spicy food claiming there's no degree of hotness they can't tolerate may have finally met their match when a fiery chili sauce being cooked at a London Thai restaurant sparked road closures and evacuations after passers-by thought they were being exposed to a chemical-weapons attack.

London Fire Brigade's chemical response team was called after reports that a strong smell was wafting from the restaurant in the heart of London's Soho district Monday afternoon, a Metropolitan police spokesman said.

Authorities sealed off several premises and closed roads. The Times of London described shoppers coughing and gagging as firefighters wearing special breathing masks sought the source of the foul smell.

The paper said firefighters smashed down the door of the Thai Cottage restaurant and seized extra-hot bird's eye chilies which had been left dry-frying. It said they were being prepared as part of a batch of nam prik pao, a super-spicy Thai dip.

"The smoke didn't go up into the sky because of the rain and the heavy air," The Times quoted Thai Cottage owner Sue Wasboonma as saying. "It's the hottest thing we make."

The police spokesman said no arrests were made in the case.

"As far as I'm aware it's not a criminal offense to cook very strong chili," he said.

Apparently even if it can turn diners into improvised explosive devices.

No-fly jet takes off
Budget airlines take note: An Indian entrepreneur is giving people who cannot afford to fly the chance to experience air travel for just four dollars.

But here's the catch — Bahadur Chand Gupta's Airbus 300 in Delhi never actually leaves the ground, The Times of London reported this week.

Apparently passengers are willing to pay for the experience of just sitting on a plane, listening to announcements and being waited on by flight attendants.

A first class experience it's not. The jet has only one wing, no lighting and the bathrooms don't work. Air conditioning is powered by a portable generator.

But about 40 passengers turn up each Saturday to line up for boarding passes.

In a country where 99 percent of the population have never experienced air travel, the "virtual journeys" have proved to be popular, Gupta said.

Customers fasten their seatbelts and watch a safety demonstration. But when they look out of the windows, the view never changes.

"Captain" Gupta's regular announcements include "We will soon be passing through a zone of turbulence," and "We are about to begin our descent into Delhi".

The Indian Airline logo on the fuselage has been replaced by the name Gupta.

Passengers are looked after by a crew of six, including Gupta’s wife, who go up and down the aisle serving drinks and meals in airline trays.

Some of the flight attendants hope to get jobs on a real airline one day and regard it as useful practice.

"Some of my passengers have crossed the country to get on this plane," said Gupta.

At least they don't have to worry about air sickness.

Bank's safe-sex pitch
Some of us may remember the time when banks use to give away toasters for opening an account. Now a lender in Thailand has decided to move away from the kitchen and into the bedroom by handing out condoms to customers too shy to get them at the drug store.

Kasikorn Bank launched the "Condoms for Confidence" campaign at 600 branches nationwide and said it would start giving out the prophylactics, branded K-Condom and K-Excellence, later this month.

"HIV/AIDS is returning to Thailand since the government awareness campaign started 20 years ago has fizzled out," said a bank spokesman who declined to be identified.

"We want the teenagers to be aware of the problem."

Despite a tenfold plunge of overall new HIV/AIDS cases from 15 years ago, the health ministry has said it was concerned about the numbers of teenagers and homosexuals still being infected.

Disease Control Department chief Thawat Suntrajarn said embarrassment about buying condoms and ignorance in using them were the main causes of the new cases.

"Research papers from all sorts of agencies have a consensus that many condom users are embarrassed to buy condoms from counters," Thawat told Reuters.

"Women who buy condoms from convenience stores always get a strange look from people, so condom handouts are a good way to avoid such embarrassment."

Just don't think that cute teller is into you.