Monday, May 23, 2016

The Paan trail

           In my travels for food, Benares holds a very special place for its 24 hour "naashta" culture and for the reverence for Paan. The paan is a matter of great study and every aspect related to it is either a custom or a ceremony. I have to say after the cooks (Or In Benares even before the cooks) it's the 'Paanwalas' that command the most respect and admiration. Like no two cooks can cook the same dish exactly the same way no two Panwaaris will make the exact same paan and people travel miles for their Panwaari, believing that he has the "Taste" in his hands. Distinctive varieties of betel leaf now grow, notably Bangla, Meetha, Sanchi, Kapoori, Devasri and Ambari.
             So lets look at the Paan through the lens of Indian History. The leaf of the Betel vine (Piper Betle) is usually chewed with the Areca nut (also mistaken to be the fruit of the same betel Vine and hence called Betel Nut sometimes). It's recognised in Sanskrit as being a south Indian Practice (then called Malaya). Its earliest North Indian references are in the Buddhist Jataka Tales. 
           However the world History is much older, proving again that Paan and paan-chewing, is a migrated influence from Vietnamese Subcontinent. An old Vietnamese book - "The Life story of Tan and Lang", is dated 2000BC and mentions the Custom; proving the practice to be common and extremely ancient in South east Asia. 
           The term "Betel" for leaf is said to have been coined by the Portugese and originates from the term "Vetthile" in Malayalam. However the astringent "Katha" usage in Paan, is believed to be of Indigenous origin mentioned by Charaka and Sushruta for its medicinal properties...

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