Latest Terrorist False Alarm: Chili Peppers

In London:

Three streets were closed and people evacuated from the area as the search was carried out. After locating the source at about 7pm, emergency crews smashed their way into the Thai Cottage restaurant in D’Arblay Street only to emerge with a 9lb pot of smouldering dried chillies.

Baffled chef Chalemchai Tangjariyapoon, who had been cooking a spicy dip, was amazed to find himself at the centre of the terror scare.

“We only cook it once a year—it’s a spicy dip with extra hot chillies that are deliberately burned,” he said.

“To us it smells like burned chilli and it is slightly unusual. I can understand why people who weren’t Thai would not know what it was but it doesn’t smell like chemicals. I’m a bit confused.”

Another story.

Were this the U.S., that restaurant would be charged with terrorism, or creating a fake bomb, or anything to make the authorities feel better. On the other hand, at least the cook wasn’t shot.

EDITED TO ADD (10/4): Common sense:

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.

EDITED TO ADD (10/11): The BBC has a recipe, in case you need to create your own chemical weapon scare.

Posted on October 3, 2007 at 10:28 AM47 Comments


bmm6o October 3, 2007 11:21 AM

If we can’t enjoy spicy dips then the terrorists have already won! They hate us for our spicy Thai cuisine!

Dewey October 3, 2007 11:29 AM

My question: will the “authorities” pay for the door they smashed down? I’m guessing not.

Dom De Vitto October 3, 2007 11:41 AM

Oh dear.

It looks suspiciously like the DHS has been advising HMG 🙁

At least the Chef wasn’t shot in the head seven times for jumping over the turnstiles in the restaurant…what? there were no turnstiles? “Whatever”.

I had better remove the flashy LED light from my bicycle, just in case the Boston Police have been in touch with my local ‘plod’. I could get shot for looking like a suicide cycle-bomber ’cause it has wires, batteries and flashy lights…. and god forbid if I’ve any sort of rucksack…
(unless it’s one of those theft-friendly clear plastic ones)

Joe Patterson October 3, 2007 12:08 PM

Love this line:

“Somebody smelled what they thought was chemicals.”

Amazingly, they were right. It was chemicals. Just like everything else.

I can’t wait for “so-and-so was arrested because he was found to have one of the ingredients of the most powerful binary explosive known to man. Fortunately, he hadn’t yet acquired any antimatter, but he had already stockpiled large quantities of matter.”

TSA October 3, 2007 12:20 PM

he had already stockpiled large
quantities of matter.

Thanks for the tip, citizen. We’ll look into it.

bzelbob October 3, 2007 12:23 PM

Thank God they didn’t PEPPER spray the cook…
that would have just pegged the irony meter!!! 🙂

I guess now when the police pepper spray us we can call their headquarters and report that we “smell chemicals”.

Every day we all grow one step closer to the movie “Idiocracy”.

ArchonMagnus October 3, 2007 12:31 PM

@Joe Patterson

Congratulations, you win the thread! I can’t believe we aren’t arresting those matter-hording miscreants…

On another note, why do we let this ignorance to continue? What exactly do “chemicals” smell like? Does the smell-property define which chemicals are hazardous? If so, does this discount Sodium Azide and other biocidic “chemicals” that exist in odorless forms?

As a sidenote, Sodium Azide is found in automobile airbags in small quantities. Should we reduce the implementation of airbags because of this? As Bruce and others have stated before, security is a tradeoff.

Dave October 3, 2007 12:33 PM

I’m quite interested in this restaurant now. I’m definitely considering going there to sample some of this extra spicy chili dip…

Or maybe this was just some subversive marketing by those devilishly clever Thai chefs in the very competitive London Thai-food market.

jokergirl October 3, 2007 1:01 PM

Funny, there was a quite similar scare in Vienna, Austria, yesterday (or possibly the day before). Somebody had tried to dry chilies in their microwave and the whole building was filled with “teargas-like” capsicum smoke.
Interestingly, the word “terrorist” was not once mentioned in the whole article: (article in German)

Methinks the terrorists are already way on the way towards victory in Britain…

Petréa Mitchell October 3, 2007 1:11 PM

I find the last paragraph the most depressing.

“The restaurant, which has been open for 17 years, is considering putting up posters to warn the public during future chilli cooking sessions.”

Think how far we have sunk in the last six years, that now a business whose express purpose is to make and serve food is thinking about putting up posters to warn people that it is, in fact, making food, for fear that its staff could be arrested for terrorism otherwise.

alice October 3, 2007 1:15 PM

So what if they had scotch bonnets?

Oh boy. Now I’ll have to be afraid just because I love very hot thai food..

Ed T. October 3, 2007 1:17 PM

If this had happened in Boston, the authorities would have gotten the whole city Thai’d up over this!



a non October 3, 2007 1:18 PM

AS soon as I saw this story, I knew I’d be reading about it on Bruce’s blog.

“… there were fire brigade and police waiting outside. I was a bit scared but they were very nice about it.”

That bit cheered me up. Perhaps we aren’t a police state yet.

Avery October 3, 2007 1:21 PM

I should sit on this until the next movie plot security contest, but consider:

1) Teach people that phosgene smells like musty hay (or so some old war time posters tell you).

2) Wait for an autumn rainstorm in the Midwest.

3) Authorities evacuate anything remotely rural. Urban infrastructure can’t handle to overload. Panic, rioting, starvation, death, zombies, etc. To be honest, I’m surprised this hasn’t already happened.

-ac- October 3, 2007 2:14 PM

Ed T. – you took the words right out of my mouth! 🙂
Next stop: Boston police arrest a non-passenger carrying dried chili pepper and a lighter
(that’s a joke, folks! laugh! 🙂 )

Go to the restaurant October 3, 2007 2:35 PM


You got that right, Dewey. Destruction of private property is the last thing on anybody’s mind. Except the owner who has to pay for it.

Everyone who can, should stop by this restaurant and have a delicious meal. The least recompense this guy should get is to be able to serve some new customers.

mfheadcase October 3, 2007 2:37 PM

@Petréa Mitchell: The worst part for me is that the restaurant has been open for 17 years, and they make the sauce annually… yet NOW there is a huge panic?

One might think people in the neighborhood would be aware by now what the annual eye stinging fumes mean.

Kadin2048 October 3, 2007 3:06 PM

Well, following ‘Boston logic,’ since they didn’t create a chemical weapon, they should be arrested for building a “fake chemical weapon.”

Because that’s what we call things-that-aren’t-weapons here: fake weapons.

Shad October 3, 2007 3:47 PM

The restaurant could leverage it into some free publicity.

I would definitely enjoy a place that has “Terror Scare Chili” on the menu.

La Reina October 3, 2007 4:58 PM

@John Ridley and Kadin:

charged with creating a hoax

what we call things-that-aren’t-
weapons here: fake weapons

You nailed it. If the cops respond to something that turns out to be harmless, they arrest somebody just so they don’t have to look stupid.

And most of us are so stupid, the tact works. In my area, it’s gone so far that now the people just automatically spin it for the cops.

A local high school was evacuated this week because a “veiled threat” was written on somebody’s locker. Look at the comments:—nxxfcthreat03/

Dean October 3, 2007 6:27 PM

In the U.S. we have another war going on that can be invoked when someone smells chemicals — must be a meth lab: call the DEA!

Of course in Houston or Newark a chemical smell could be an accident at a commercial chemical plant — not to worry, just “shelter in place” until the toxic cloud disperses naturally.

Then to be extra-safe, when planning to cook hyper-spicy sauces in the UK, move to Edinburgh or Glasgow — scotch bonnets are legal there.

Frances October 3, 2007 8:10 PM

I do hope that all of know that a rotten onion smells like the odoriferous chemical they put in natural gas (and propane), a mercaptan, I believe.

geomark October 3, 2007 8:47 PM

@bzelbob, pepper spraying the chef would have had no effect. He’s already use to intense levels of hot pepper fumes in his face.

Josh O October 3, 2007 8:58 PM

I’m starting to think the press is exaggerating things a little bit. I’m sure that haz-mat was called, but did they really “smash their way” into the restaurant? I mean, it’s a restaurant. It was 7pm, the place was probably unlocked and open for business? Even if it was locked, why not knock? Or call? False alarms are going to happen, but with very little evidence, why over-react so much?

Bill B October 3, 2007 9:42 PM

This is how they make chile seco in Veracruz, an essential part of their famous Huachinango A La Diabla (red snapper with dry chile sauce) – burning the chiles in racks of some special kind of wood to get that distinctive smoky flavor. You also need to char chiles to make the base for Oaxacan black mole, one of God’s gifts to the world’s cuisine. So, I guess real gourmet Mexican cooking is now considered a bio-hazard… What knuckleheads!

Dylan October 3, 2007 10:55 PM

The BBC news website coverage of this provides a handy recipe, in case you need to create your own chemical weapon scare.

(Here’s a copy, in case the authorities demand it be withdrawn from the site.)
Nam Prik Pao recipe
Heat garlic and shallots in oil and remove to a bowl
Place red chillies in the pan with some oil and fry until they go dark in colour. Then set aside
Mix shrimp paste with the rest of the ingredients and pound in a mortar and pestle
Return the mixture to the heat until it becomes a thick dark coloured paste

Realist October 4, 2007 1:23 AM

Wait a minute. This was not a “terrorism” alert. This was authorities investigating choking fumes on a public street. The fumes from burnt chillies CAN damage your health. It was perfectly reasonable to investigate and perfectly reasonable to make it clear to the chef that being a cook does not entitle him to inflict harmful fumes on a whole neighborhood.

Eam October 4, 2007 1:37 AM

I can only hope you’re being sarcastic, but if not you should look up the difference between a health inspector and an emergency service.

You’d have to be cooking some serious chilis to merit a fire crew and hazmat team.

Tim October 4, 2007 3:26 AM


They certainly damaged the door, as my bike route home takes me past that restaurant, although on that night I had to take a diversion. When I went past last night part of the door was all boarded up, but the restaurant was still open.

From another report I read, they all had to evacuate the premesis, so I imagine they locked up as they left. Apparently the owner asked someone there whether the smell they were concerned about could have been the chillies, but was told that couldn’t be it!

mike k October 4, 2007 9:28 AM

“Were this the U.S., that restaurant would be charged with terrorism, or creating a fake bomb, or anything to make the authorities feel better. On the other hand, at least the cook wasn’t shot.”

Anybody else find it hilarious that he links a BRITISH incident to back up this ridiculous and childish comment? Its too bad newspaper and tv people cant see this sort of thing when they telephone him for “expert” opinion. All they think of is that red book he wrote over a decade ago.

a non October 4, 2007 2:28 PM

We need a new scale for retailers to grade their chillies:

  • mild
  • medium
  • hot
  • very hot
  • excruciating
  • terrorist

Hot Chillies October 4, 2007 3:15 PM

You can’t buy publicity this good. People who like food that “burns twice” will be lining up to get in. “Our chili sauce is so hot the government has declared it to be a weapon of ass destruction”!

Jacob Davies October 4, 2007 4:23 PM

I accidentally made my entire house uninhabitable until completely aired out while cooking chili peppers in a frying pan. The effects were very similar to how tear gas is described – a very painful choking sensation and shortness of breath.

I can imagine that a much larger amount of burnt chili peppers could cause an effect to spread over a significant area and yeah, you’d be calling the police too if you found yourself choking on an unknown gas in your own home or on the street.

(No, I am not suggesting we ban chili peppers. I’m just saying that we’re not just talking about a “cooking smell”, but something I have personally experienced to have a debilitating physical effect.)

JKB October 5, 2007 12:54 AM

I’m sure someone is already brewing up a bit of “Terror Alert” hot sauce.

Okay so you had a painful choking situation. Had this been a real attack you would have gotten sick and died. See the fact you recovered is the hint it might be something normal. The key is to make an intelligent assessment of the situation. The problem is most people seem to have lost the ability to assess a situation, but rather makes a panicked call to “nanny.”

Woo October 5, 2007 4:50 AM

When I first parsed the headline, I thought a certain pop band were convicted as terrorists. Thank god it turned out to be just another case of police nutcases going haywire.

wm October 5, 2007 7:08 AM

@Jacob Davies: “The effects were very similar to how tear gas is described – a very painful choking sensation and shortness of breath.
…you’d be calling the police too if you found yourself choking on an unknown gas in your own home or on the street.”

Hmm, I’m not sure I would. I think I’d probably assume that a nearby building was on fire and that some noxious chemical in it was burning (as one was, though the building itelf wasn’t).

I’d certainly get the hell out of there and phone the emergency services, but I think it’d be the fire brigade, not the police.

David Harmon October 6, 2007 9:51 PM

Until recently, I lived in a New York City apartment complex housing a variety of ethnic groups. Even in the single corridor leading to my apartment, every day there was some unique smell ranging from roast beef to Vietnamese fish sauce to many varieties of ghod-knows-what.

Once, it turned out to be a corpse — and it took a couple of days before that got reported! (Natural death, as it happened.) A chemical attack wouldn’t even have been reported before everyone died.

Admittedly, the cooking smells never reached eye-watering levels, though the corpse came close….

Watching Them, Watching Us October 7, 2007 8:29 AM

“EDITED TO ADD (10/4): Common sense:

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."</i>

Incredibly, the United Kingdom’s anti-terrorism laws are so “catch all” that, in fact, the “police spokesman” could well be wrong !

See the “thought crime” provisions of the <a href=″>Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 sections 113 to 115

“114 Hoaxes involving noxious substances or things


(2) A person is guilty of an offence if he communicates any information which he knows or believes to be false with the intention of inducing in a person anywhere in the world a belief that a noxious substance or other noxious thing is likely to be present (whether at the time the information is communicated or later) in any place and thereby endanger human life or create a serious risk to human health.

(3) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable—

(a) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum (or both); and

(b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding seven years or a fine (or both).

115 Sections 113 and 114: supplementary

(1) For the purposes of sections 113 and 114 “substance??? includes any biological agent and any other natural or artificial substance (whatever its form, origin or method of production).

(2) For a person to be guilty of an offence under section 113(3) or 114 it is not necessary for him to have any particular person in mind as the person in whom he intends to induce the belief in question. “

” inducing in a person anywhere in the world a belief that” does not require any actual “noxious substance” to exists in reality at all e.g. like so called “Red Mercury”

“any biological agent and any other natural or artificial substance (whatever its form, origin or method of production).” seems to include all known and unknown matter in the universe.

Anonymous October 7, 2007 8:33 PM

Well, the obvious word in 114(2) is “intention”. The cook did not intend the chili as anything but food. Case closed.

Fredric L. Rice October 16, 2007 11:27 AM

Oh man, give me some of that! I fry corn tortillas and wrap jalapeno peppers in them and eat them. This chili pepper that got the fascists playing pretend sounds like lunch to me!!!

stetson November 16, 2007 5:18 PM

well, my friends, if that don’t beat all! as a nurse, i smell ‘chemical smells’ as a daily occurence: 1. when i have to crush a patient’s vitamins, like vitamin B complex: what an odor! & then there are the patient’s prescription medications which smells worse than the B complex! 2. whenever patients passes gas or moves their bowels that they have no control over anymore, will staff have to 911 every time they ‘smell’ something like ‘chemicals’? you know ‘gas’ is a ‘chemical smell,’ but we don’t need to call 911 each and every time someone smells something. if you can’t open the doors & windows for that, turn on the fans, or use central air system, you will be overwhelmed. o, o, o how about for those people who live in cities & counties that have ranches & animal farms? you will ‘smell chemicals’ depending on the wind shift daily: cow manure! the emergency service people better investigate on calls before they come out as a s.w.a.t. team & waste a lot of taxpayer money~

Dusk June 17, 2010 5:32 AM

I actually cooked a fish soup the other night for friends. I cut up two bullet chillis that I had taken from my friend’s Dad’s garden. Then when they hit the extremely hot pan – the air filled with smoke and it started burning everyone’s eyes!! It was like we had just been gas bombed by police at an anti-war protest! Everyone was yelling “my eyes! my eyes!!”

One of the guys eyes was so bad everytime he opened it, his body started convulsing. My face was also all red and burnt from the direct chilli steam and was stinging so badly! We had to call the poison line – and they reccommended wiping the eyelid, lashes and lip with vegetable oil, as well as my face. We did this and instantly the pain reduced!!

Oh what a fuss chillis can cause!

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