Chewing betel leaf is a common practice in many Asian countries from India to china as well as Zanzibar and Indonesia.
In a small street, let's start to have a meeting in front of a paanwalla shop, the paan maker (paan is the preparation of betel leaves stuffed), to discover what does he put inside.
On a silver tray, he has big green betel leaves, heart-shaped.
Besides, some ingredients in pots: areca nut, crunched or grounded, and lime. Beside those 3 basic ingredients, you could get spices like cardamom and cloves or tobacco, candies, coconut, rose petals, silver and gold leaves... Typically in India, we use to add Katha (Catechu) as well. This is an extract of acacia tree, with astringent and refreshing properties.
The paanwalla made the chew on order; customer chooses the leaf and stuffing. The leaf is then folded into 4 and tied with a clove.
You chew the paan for some 20 minutes then spit it out. Betel and lime stain the mouth in red as well as the walls on which customers use to spit.
The leaves, from a climbing plant of the pepper specie, are heart-shape and have tonic and stimulating properties.
Astringent and stimulant, it is the seed of a palm tree. We used it either fresh and ripe or dry. You would need a big sharp scissor then to slice it.
A pinch of lime is added and gives a nice red stain after you have chewed the paan.
Why do we chew :
- Because of its intoxicating and hunger-cutter virtues associated to the areca nut addiction, paan is chewed by thousands of people in India. It is definitely the cheapest stimulating drug (1 to 5 rupees depending on the ingredients) available, which make it the most popular as well.
- We use it mainly during religious ceremonies and as a sacred gift for any happy occasion (wedding, ...)
- In Kerala, we usually offer betel and areca nut to our dance teacher beside a rupee coin: this is a tradition to offer in exchange of the sacred knowledge.
Legend stories :
In the Hindu mythology, Mohini (God Vishnu avatar) gave Amrut (ambrosia) to Gods after churning the milk ocean. The pot containing what remains of Amrut was locked nearby Indra elephant 'Nagraja'. From that pot, a strange climbing plant grew. With its heart-shaped leaves, Gods became ecstatic. Vishnu then asked Dhanvanbtari (Ayurvedic medicine father) to look at that plant. So he discovered about betel leaf and it stimulating properties. Since then, Vishnu used to give those leaves as a friendship and love gifts. We often associate pan with the Hindu trinity Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva. Areca nut represents Brahma, betel leaf is Vishnu and lime is linked to Shiva.
For the ones who whould try to chew:
- The most common paan, sada paan, is made of areca nut, lime and aromatic spices. For 1 rupee, you chew it, keep it on your cheek and then after maximum half an hour, spit it out.
- « meetha », made of coconut, candy, and gulukand (rose petals syrup) is one of the most delicious chew..
- Tambak paan is a quite new paan from colonization as it is made from tobacco.
- You can find as well small ready-made packets called paan masala. Pour it into a betel leaf that you roll yourself or just get it into your mouth, chew and spit.