For pad kaprao to be really enjoyable, the pork or chicken must be marinated in soybean sauce with some sugar, to make it a bit sweet, and pepper. Also, it has to be freshly fried - with pungent chili and garlic.
This dish is popular with the poor, with middle income-earners and rich people alike. And it suddenly became the talk of the town when someone evealed on the social media that freshly cooked pad kaprao is now banned from the canteen at army headquarters - because senior officers in the building find the smell of it cooking most unpleasant and distracting from their very important duties.
Signs put up in front of the food stalls in the canteen were photographed and posted. They read, in Thai, "Customers please be informed... No pad bai kaprao cooked on the premises".
Many army staff in the building were apparently taken unawares by the ban and fronted up to order the favourite dish - only to be told by the food vendors that they were no longer allowed to cook it in the canteen. But they could still buy it outside and bring it into the building to eat.
The ban was ordered by the office of the secretariat of the army.
Thai Army Commander-in-Chief Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha Royal protested he had nothing to do with the ban, saying he also enjoys pad kaprao, and was clearly disturbed that he was dragged into the controversy.
In a face-off with reporters at army HQ on Thursday he was peppered with requests that he explain the ban, and asked why the extraction fans in the canteen were not up to the job of expelling the often eye-watering smell.
The questions raised the army chief's hackles. He said anyone who wanted to eat freshly prepared pad kaprao should go out and eat elsewhere. The canteen is in an airconditioned part of the building and the smell of cooking pad kaprao spread through the airconditioning and was very irritating, he said.
Food vendors were given two options: either they agree with the ban or they move out. Where does that leave them? Similarly, pad kaprao lovers have to eat outside the army canteen, or be contented to eat the ready-made type, nowhere near as nice and often microwave reheated, which also spreads a nasty smell -- it must be fresh to be enjoyed.
As Gen Prayuth implied, this is an insignificant or even nonsensical issue, and should not inolve the army chief. I agree. But at the same time, the handling of the "objectionable smell" problem and the subsequent ban tells us a lot about the mindset of the army.
The smell problem first. The way the army dealt with the problem by banning freshly cooked pad kaprao is akin to banning the use of a toilet because it smells badly.
What they should have done is to find out what had gone wrong with the ventilation system, especially with the extraction fans in the canteen. If they were not working properly, then they shoud have been fixed. Does the system that was installed even measure up the specifications of the contract?
Instead, they chose the easy way out -- to bully the food vendors who, you should know, cannot complain openly or they will certainly be shown the door.
If the army cannot itself solve the smell problem, maybe they should just send someone to any airconditioned restaurant or hotel to learn how they handle the problem.
The army's handling of such a basic problem reflects its mindset, its attitude to so many things, issues of far more importance -- such as the unrest in the deep South.
The military should be more sensitive. The army chief, for instance, can tell the food vendors to pack up and leave if they are not happy with the pad kaprao ban. But he should not tell those who support the idea of a special administrative zone for the far South to get out of the country, just because he does not agree with the idea.
He should be more open to divergent views, to other people's opinions, such as the National Security Council and the Southern Border Provinces Administration Centre.
For peace to be restored in the troubled South, there is a price to be paid - a price that should be considered carefully, in consultation with the other stakeholders, before yelling, "I disagree with it".