Bun-Fights and Holes in Dough

Why is the public's imagination so captivated by sweet pastries?

The government is in danger of being dissolved. Armed men in black take over the car park at Suvarnabhumi airport. And child pornography is openly sold on Sukhumvit.

News of great magnitude, no doubt, but none of them creates a ripple when compared to what's really captured the attention of Thais this past week.

Doughnuts.

I know. You thought I was going to say ''Film and Annie'', but no, even that storm in a teacup has withered against the newest fascination of the Thai general public.

(Don't make me explain the Film and Annie story _ it's been covered in the Mae Moo column here in the Bangkok Post Sunday; suffice to say it only supports my theory that there should be mandatory intelligence tests for any Thai star wanting to have sex.)

Ah, Thailand. This is why I love you so much. This is why I wake up every morning, look in the mirror and, after wondering if my 50%-off Botox gift voucher is still valid, thank my lucky stars I ended up living here.

With all the violence and corruption and ineptitude bullying us into a corner, there's really only one story that has captured the collective hearts of Bangkokians. And that is _ a new doughnut store has opened.

I think that's cute though it does have its worrying side. As if Mr Donut, Dunkin' Donuts and Daddy Dough weren't enough for us. Now the American chain with the enticing name of Krispy Kreme has opened its doors in Paragon and the lines are much longer and deeper than any of those I saw in the mirror this morning.

You'd have thought we'd never seen a doughnut before. The news has raged through Bangkok offices and the streets _ ya gotta try these doughnuts! On a popular webboard I read a posting from a Thai woman desperate for Krispy Kremes. Last Monday she was willing to pay anybody 500 baht to stand in line, buy her a dozen doughnuts and deliver them to her office on Rama IV. I would have done it except for the fact I had a prior commitment _ and my dignity.

It is one of those curious anomalies that here we are living in the country with the most exciting cuisine on earth, and yet the natives are willing to toss the wok for what is the greatest concentration of white sugar ever in a single round circle of dough. Thai food, full of leafy green vegetables, colourful fruits and sensible portions takes a backseat to _ doughnuts. The end result can only be terrifying. I should know. I come from the second most obese country on the planet.

The same thing happened in Australia when they opened the first Krispy Kreme in Sydney _ we lined up for hours just to savour what we'd been eating all our lives, only this time the cardboard packaging had KRISPY KREME written on it, and the lettering was cute, and it was from America so it had to be good. Thus hundreds of Australians dragged their adipose backsides to the brand new Krispy Kreme and stood in line, no doubt drinking sugary sodas and munching on meat pies while they waited, in order to buy _ doughnuts.

I had a Krispy Kreme doughnut when I was back in Australia late last year. Make no mistake, it was delicious. But it also sent enough sugar into my system to keep a family of five in Ethiopia dancing for an entire year. The second one had the whole of Sudan performing traditional tribal chants.

But was it life-changing? Was it one of those moments you stood savouring, wishing it would last for eternity? Hardly. Nearly a year later, I can remember the act of purchasing the doughnuts from the store in fashionable downtown Brisbane but the actual memory of what I ate has been smothered by ensuing memories of work, travel, and _ need I repeat myself _ Uncle Smirnoff.

In Thailand we regularly go through such fads. Back in 2006, a shop opened on Silom Road that caused a nationwide sensation called Roti BoyRotiboy. No, not a gay bar for fat guys _ it sold little buns with a delicious coffee and butter aroma.

I'm sure the week it opened we were having terrible social problems like we have this week. Nobody cared. Everybody just wanted to try the Roti BoyRotiboy buns and once again the lines stretched down Silom, into the Chaophraya River and up over onto the Thon Buri side. There were limits to the number of buns you could buy, which of course made us want to try them even more.

Nobody stopped to think that the mere act of looking at a coffee bun increased your weight by half a kilogramme, let alone ingesting one. As coffee bun fever took over the country, in true capitalistic style a Coffee Boy sprouted up out of nowhere selling replicas at half the price. Then a Roti Coffee. Then a Boy Coffee. Then a Boy Coffee Roti. Like an upcountry trip where 10 stalls in a row sell exactly the same type of fruit, Bangkok became a city stinking of coffee and butter for a good three months. Bangkok was buzzing _ a city high on caffeine, which is probably the last thing this already-frenetic place needs.

Last week I was strolling through Central Bang Na when I caught sight of a lonely little counter near the back escalators. It was a Rotiboy shop. There were a couple of plain-Jane customers dressed in last season's fashions counting out coins to buy one or two buns, while the staff sadly called out to passing shoppers to try their wares. Oh how the mighty fall _ Rotiboy is truly the Ozymandias of the fad food world.

And perhaps a harbinger of doom for Krispy Kreme. I don't know how long it took Australia to get over its love affair with Krispy Kreme, but there wasn't any queue outside the Brisbane store when I was there last December. And while I do wish the company well as it opens up in Thailand, when all the fuss dies down it's just another shop selling _ doughnuts.

Like I said at the top, here in Thailand we do get overly obsessed with stories that rip through our lives like a bushfire in Victoria, consuming us and capturing our attention. It was Film and Annie last week. It's doughnuts this week.

It's just a pity that with all that sugar and caffeine in our bloodstream we still can't get motivated to care about solving the real issues this country has, such as government corruption, child pornography and bombs going off. While we're at it we could also seriously educate the public about what foods cause heart attacks, diabetes and ultra-high cholesterol.

As long as such issues dominate without much public interest, Thailand will remain a society where parts of it are full of messy holes. Wow _ like doughnuts! Why didn't I think of that before?

About the author

columnist
Writer: Andrew Biggs
Position: Writer