It was a small shop in Rajgarh (Rajasthan) where I was properly introduced to the Indian paan.
Being a small town, this place still has a lot of paan admirers who frequent the Paan shops religiously. I watched with interest while the paanwala washed the paan leaves, smeared katha on it, sprinkled chuna, put gulkand and colourful sugar coated fennel seeds on it.
Then he gracefully rolled the leaf in a triangular shape and secured it with a clove.
We asked for two meetha (sweet) paan. My husband initiated the conversation with the Paan wala. A few minutes into the conversation and we knew that this shop had been in their family for as long as he could remember. His grandfather used to work here and then his father followed.
After his father, he carried on the shop but he wasn’t sure if his son would like to work here.
“Children these days are getting education and they don’t like this kind of work anymore. But I will do it as long as I can. This is all that I know and I like my work. People from all over the town visit me. They get together here and talk about their daily lives. This has become a part of my life now.” He said with a smile on his face.
Not being comfortable trying it in the shop, we took our paans and decided to enjoy those at the comfort of our home.
What is Paan?
Paan is basically a traditional Indian preparation used as a mouth freshener and digestive. It is usually made up of betel leaf, Chuna/Slaked Lime Paste (Calcium Hydroxide), Katha (Acacia Plant’s bark, Supari (Areca nut), Gulkand (rose jam), Cardamom, coconut, sugar, fennel, saffron, silver foil. The ingredients may vary according to the shop, customer and place. Betel leaf is smeared with Katha Paste and then Chuna is sprinkled on it.
All the ingredients are put on the leaf and then the leaf is folded and sealed with a clove or toothpick.
Paan has been a symbol of love, hospitality and has an important role to play in many traditional Indian rituals. Paan tends to leave red stains on lips and teeth which made it quite popular among women during older times.
It was loved by the rich, influential, ordinary and poor people alike.
People who have special skills of making Paan are known as Panwaaris or Paanwalas in the northern part of India. These Panwaaris/ Paanwalas may house their business in small stalls, shops or even in showrooms. Though this was a very popular business in earlier times, it has seen some decline.
Types of Paan?
Mainly there are two main types of Paan- Meetha Paan (Sweet Paan) that contains ingredients like gulkand, fennel, mint, raisins, saffron etc making it very flavourful and sweet. This can be consumed by anyone. This is the type of Paan that I have tasted a few times.
Then there is the other paan that may contain some or all of these- Katha, Supari, Tobacco and similar other spices.
Regular consumption of this type of paan that contains areca nut and tobacco can have bad effects on a person’s health. These days there is a huge variety of paan available in the market that you can try.
Paanwalas have come up with some contemporary twists to the good old paan. These are usually named based upon the main flavour of that paan.
The price of these paan usually starts around INR 10 and can go up to INR 5000.
Some of the interesting ones are-
- Banarasi Paan
- Elaichi Paan
- Dry fruit Paan
- Chocolate Paan
- Rasmalai Paan
- Kesar Paan
- Navratan Paan
- Pineapple Paan
- Fire Paan
Some of the Paanwalas and their shops have become famous tourist places in India because of the variety of flavours they offer to their customers. Nowadays, there is no limit on the ingredients that can be used in Paan.
Ingredients used in paan may vary according to the shop and the place. Many shopkeepers offer customised paan where the ingredients can be chosen as per your taste.
Paan Walas are experimenting a lot in order to retain their customers and attract new ones. In addition to the basic ingredients like Betel leaf, Areca nut, cardamom, cloves, fennel, saffron, a lot of new ingredients have come into the picture like chocolate, berries, ice cream, mango, pineapple, honey, syrups etc. which have been used to create many other concoctions.
Should I chew the paan or eat it or simply keep it in my mouth?
If you are wondering what is the right way to chew pan then, take the pan and place it in your mouth on a side between your teeth. Chew slowly and relish the flavours. If your paan is devoid of harmful substances like areca nut, slaked lime, tobacco etc, then you can gulp down the juices that are formed in your mouth. When there is no more flavour left in the chewy material, dispose it off in a dustbin. Now, that’s how I eat paan!
Does Paan make you high?
This actually depends upon the ingredients used in the preparation of Paan. In low doses, chewing betel nut produces a stimulant response similar to caffeine or nicotine. In high doses, it produces cocaine-like effects. It can also give euphoric side-effects like feeling happier and more energetic.
Many variations of Paan that contain Areca nut and/or tobacco have negative effects on the health if consumed. People who consume these kinds of Paan are more at the risk of suffering from bad gums, bad teeth and oral cancer.
It can be very harmful to pregnant women as betel nut can cause damage in the development of the unborn baby.
Paan has been a part of Indian tradition and hospitality for centuries. Paan is known to aid digestion and also acts as a mouth freshener. Many people offer it to their guests after meals.
Betel leaves are full of riboflavin, vitamin C and calcium. Chewing betel leaves stimulates the formation of saliva that leads to better digestion and also improves appetite. Its cooling effect helps in providing relief from headache. Cloves, fennel and gulkand give you a fresh breath and lead to better oral hygiene.
If your paan contains substances like betel nut, tobacco, slaked lime, you should spit while chewing on paan. Gulping the saliva down, while chewing paan can make you feel choked.
Paan contains lots of flavours and has some health benefits too. Most of the people who chew paan regularly are the ones who have become habitual or addicted to it.
Many people chew paan and spit anywhere around without giving it a thought. They are the kind of people who have literally made it their mission to paint the town red. Many monuments, roads and public places in India have been destroyed with these red stains.
Paan flavoured candies and sweets are also available in the market. If you want to try paan, choose the ingredients carefully and avoid the ones containing tobacco and areca nuts.