Consumption of paan after meals is a traditional habit in India that is still followed in many cultures. Credit to its refreshing and medicinal properties, it never went out of fashion. But, the fads that have followed it are exotic, creative and even adventurous.
It’s a common site to find a small kiosk selling paan at the corner of any alley, a commercial complex or any other place that garners crowd, be it in big cities or small towns.
While make-shift stalls with tarpaulin roofs continue to sell the traditional paan, there are fancy ones opening in malls and at other city hubs, selling the fresh, leafy goodie and its modern, innovative variants.
Traditionally consumed as a mouth freshener and even as a digestive aid, paan is a pop of flavourful and fragrant ingredients wrapped in a fresh green betel leaf.
Kattha (cachou), chuna (diluted lime stone paste), saunf (fennel), gulkand (sweetened and mashed rose petals), elaichi (cardamom) are some common paan fillings and make for what is called a meetha or sweet paan.
The meetha paan is tobacco-free and it is zarda (flavoured chewing tobacco) or supari (betel nut), which are added for the extra kick.
Interestingly though, and to one’s luxury of choice, there are variations of the patta or leaf as well. While the desi, Banarsi and maghai patta hold a sharp and strong flavour, the meetha patta is the sweeter one.
Travel anywhere in India and you might come across a paan shop selling this age old tradition with minuscule twists, sometimes only in the names, which mend according to the language of the state.
In West Bengal, for instance, meetha paan would become mishti paan and saada paan or the paan with a flat taste would be bangla paan.
Still consumed in homes to put an end to a meal or at weddings commemorated in traditional styles, paan has a host of health benefits too.
Good health wrapped in green
The paan patta is said to have components that can reduce the level of sugar in blood, thus helping in treating diabetes. It is also believed to aid weight loss by working on cutting body fat. Chewing betel leaves in moderation also prevents oral cancer by maintaining the levels of ascorbic acid in the saliva. In ancient times, people would also cure wounds by using the leaves for bandages.
A small pop of flavours, fragrance and good health, the traditional paan is being creatively played with, in manners that are refreshing to the eyes and to the palate.
The same old make-shift shop with a tarpaulin continues to sell the same old traditional paan, but the options are aplenty now. Chocolate, blueberry, strawberry, raspberry, brownie, honey, almond, kiwi – the paan makers in India have given an exotic twist to the centuries old mouth freshener.
Being creative and rather adventurous, the many kiosks around India now sell the fiery paan. And, it literally is, on fire. Peppermint brass is added alongside other fillings to make it catch flames. Harmless as it might be, if the idea fire in your mouth doesn’t suit you, try the ice paan and enjoy the cool aftertaste in your mouth.