Cuisines of the Axis of Evil and Other Irritating States by Chris Fair Globe Pequot Press, HK$200 Imagine Nigella Lawson in a burqa, or Ken Hom in a war zone whisking up some falafel, and you'll have a sense of what Cuisines of the Axis of Evil and Other Irritating States: A Dinner Party Approach to International Relations is about. This is political commentary wrapped up in a cookbook - and it makes for a meaty foreign-policy stew. Understanding people's eating habits is crucial when evaluating international relations. Know your Iraqi kibbe or your North Korean spicy cucumber before you deploy your troops, says author Chris Fair, who is a political analyst on South Asia, a former field officer with the UN and an obsessive cook. The book was inspired by dinner parties she held following President George W. Bush's labelling of Iraq, Iran and North Korea as an 'Axis of Evil' in 2002. It reveals much about the population of the three original Axis states plus seven others, including India, Israel - and the US - through what people eat. The President's 'War on Terror' puzzled Fair, and her book is discursive and funny, with rants that read like P.J. O'Rourke putting on an apron to deal with some of food guru Elizabeth David's finer dishes. There is little new in her views of the political situations in the countries she mentions, but they are wittily written and smart, and the way she links the politics to the food of the countries is hilarious. By reading about Pashtun cardamom tea and Israeli carrot salad we can learn much, she says. The idea for the book began to germinate with this self-described 'wonkette' after the US invaded Afghanistan in the wake of the 9/11 suicide attacks. However, once her two brothers, both Indiana National Guardsmen, were called up in 2002, things took on a more serious tone. 'When Bush gave his 'Axis of Evil' speech, I thought it was absurd, but also quite frankly twisted,' she said recently. Food security is a crucial political issue. In the 1990s the people of North Korea were starving in the wake of bad weather, but Kim Jong-il's only adjustment was to switch from brandy to Bordeaux wine for health reasons. Meanwhile, Cuba has problems with food supply because of the way the country is governed and an international trade embargo. 'In North Korea and Cuba what is most apparent is rampant food insecurity. Kim Jong-il imports pizza chefs while his people are foraging for bark and food donated by South Korea and China when the mood takes it,' Fair said. In China, food has become a safety issue, she said. 'The Chinese don't care who they poison. The incidence of food-borne poisoning is unacceptable. They export so much and we only test a fraction. China doesn't care that it exports poison,' she said. Food more often divides us, than unites us and she draws a link between political realities and national cuisines. 'The Israeli appropriation of falafel as a national dish is viewed by many in the Arab world as similar to Israel's appropriation of the Palestinian territories,' she says. 'It implies the Jews have been eating falafel for thousands of years, which is true but only in a narrow sense. The Arabs say: of all things you have to take, you take falafel.' This book allows you to take out your exasperation with world affairs in the kitchen: a tasteful place to do so.