16 March 2008


I don't get along well with flowery foodthings in general (jasmine tea, I'm looking at you), so I never got into paan.

There are small stalls and stores all over India that have leaves painted on the outside. These places are surrounded by moustached men at the most ungodly hours of the night. Overcome by curiosity during another motorcycle ride around Pune, I asked my friend what they were. I was guessing this was a place to get an alcoholic beverage, some kind of Maharashtra moonshine, under the guise of consuming healthful and herby things.

He explained that it was a digestive you eat after a large meal, but plenty men tend to abuse it and have it more than they should. He ran in to buy me one for Rs5. So out he comes with the most syrupy and flowery thing ever.

It consisted of dried fruit with rose flavor and sugar, wrapped in a betel leaf and sprinkled with grated coconut. The first bite was actually alright, but it was a weird sensation, eating through the tangy leaf into a sticky incense ball of tough fruit, and pushing the coconut bits around in my mouth. I thought, how is it possible that people abuse something this cloying?

Well, maybe the answer is that betel leaves are also used to make (presumably non-sweet) paan with tobacco or other natural stimulants. It would be much easier for me to fathom them being habit-forming in those incarnations.

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