Sunday, April 15, 2012

You Don't Spit Out Sweet Paan

"You want to try some paan?"

"No!" I am sure I looked horrified, but smiled nonetheless.

"Why not?" he laughed.

I wrinkled up my nose and grimaced.

"Isn't that the stuff that's red and you spit it on the sidewalks all over India?"

He laughed.

"Yes. But no. I don't want you to eat that kind. I'm talking about sweet paan."

We were walking down a sunny street in a small town in New Jersey. One, of course, heavily populated by the large Indian community that lived nearby. That's why we'd come here. I had come in search of a diya (oil lamp for altars and prayers), more clothes for work (salwar kameez), and to fix one of my silver-belled anklets. I also wanted burfi, and bad.

And so we were walking.

"You want to try new experiences, right?"

And with that logic, we stepped into a sweet shop and made our purchases. Two boxes of burfi, a sweet lassi (a yummy yogurt drink), and -- with trepidation -- sweet paan.

The sweet (Meetha) paan I ate was: a betel leaf wrapped around coconut, rose paste, candy-coated fennel seeds, and ... other stuff. The idea is to stick the whole thing in your mouth at one time, bite into it, and hold it there while you suck out the juice. Bite and suck. Repeat.

 It's really sticky.

 The paan we were served were too large to fit in all at once, so I bit it in half. 
(This is what it looks like inside.) 
Once it was munched down enough, I put the other half in.
This is what you look like with your cheeks full of meetha paan.

Final result: I'm sold. I like it. At first explosive taste, it was ... like ... eating incense. We bought several wedges (I'm sure that's not what they call them anywhere but on my blog) in town, and ate them up within a couple of days. They are traditionally eaten after a big fancy meal, like at a wedding. But I'd eat them after any meal. Probably a good thing I don't live in New Jersey then. I'm sure they are loaded with calories.

Another humorous account of a first time paan-eater.


Jennifer said...

My boyfriend (who is Indian) just gave me my first Meetha Paan. I'm sitting here in bed, chewing this- while my mouth is numb. It's comparable to the fennel meetha that restaurants around here keep at their door.

Regardless, I'm glad I found your blog! I also love Indian culture (for obvious reasons). I look forward to reading

Valerie Willman said...

Sweet! Thanks so much for commenting.
What do you think? Are you hooked on it?
I just visited Edison again last week and had more. I should check our local Indian grocery for it. I never thought it until just now. Thanks! :)