Malaysia’s scandal-plagued Prime Minister Najib Razak was accused of being out of touch with ordinary people Friday after revealing he had switched from eating locally-grown rice to the pricey grain quinoa.
Opposition lawmakers lined up to mock the aristocratic premier, who is regularly attacked for leading a luxurious lifestyle at a time that many are complaining about rising living costs, with corruption allegations swirling around him.
Some Malaysian netizens simply responded with bemusement, admitting they had never heard of quinoa, a health food grown in South America that is popular in Europe and North America.
Najib, who must call elections by August and is battling allegations huge sums were looted from a state fund, made the remarks during a question-and-answer session at a hospital Thursday about his government’s 2018 budget.
“I don’t eat rice. I eat quinoa… It’s protein-based, less carbohydrate, less sugar content, so it’s better than rice,” he said, explaining he chose to keep fit by controlling his diet rather than exercising.
In the same session, he suggested Malaysians complaining about high living costs should be careful about where they choose to eat, and should avoid going to fancy Japanese restaurants and instead pick eateries offering local fare.
Quinoa is sold at few shops in Malaysia and is far more expensive than rice, a staple food in the country of 32 million.
Veteran opposition lawmaker Lim Kit Siang said that until Najib’s speech, “I did not even know that quinoa existed”.
“This reminds me of the Marie Antoinette story of the last queen of France before the French Revolution in 1789,” he said.
He was referring to an 18th century French legend: when informed that the peasants had no bread to eat, Marie Antoinette, unaware of a raging famine, was said to have uttered the immortal words, “let them eat cake.”
It is not the first time Najib has been in hot water over culinary comments in the food-mad country — he was ridiculed in 2014 after pointing out the price of the popular food water spinach had dropped during his time in office.