For some Indians, the post-meal paan that blends betel leaves with supari nuts, choona and other assorted spices is a common delicacy to savour, even as the lesser mortals might not be able to stomach its intensely aromatic and peppery potency. Whether you want to spit or swallow, chewing paan supari brings with it a stimulating, psychoactive kick that is hard to shake off. Apart from being an everyday after-dinner sweetener especially when accompanied with the hugely popular gulkand (a sweet preserve of rose petals), paan is also indispensable at auspicious occasions especially in south India and Assam, a sweet staple in Bihar, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh, and, well, the genesis of a massive cleanliness issue in Maharashtra.
Though its origins are still enveloped in mystery, paan was an essential accompaniment of every cultured person in Banabhatta's seventh-century Sanskrit novel Kadambari. It also makes it to the 16th-century cookbook, Nimmatnama-i Nasiruddin-Shah i, which details the Sultan of Mandu watching its preparation with pride. Today, it is a mouth-sweetener, palate cleanser and symbol of hospitality all rolled into a neatly folded triangle pinned together with a clove, with fillings that range from candied fruit to edible silver and gold leaves served by your friendly neighbourhood paan-walla. It’s also got a major upgrade on the menus of restaurants around the country, with chefs reinterpreting this simple pleasure in their drinks and dishes. To get you the best of these, we went on a paan-popping spree. Turns out, there’s a paan-dora’s box out there.
Paan Cotton Candy
Dusted with a light flavour that dissolves at the touch of your tongue, the effervescent sweetness of the paan cotton candy makes it a melt-in-your-mouth favourite to break off and bite into, without having to worry about munching on leaves and whatnot. Bonus points for the nostalgic currency.
Where: Masala Library, BKC, Mumbai
Price: Complementary with your meal—it’s served as a palate cleanser between courses.
Served fresh in an Indian style kulad, this reimagined dessert combines the crunchy-peppery texture of paan with creamy layers of cheesecake for an effect that is refreshingly pleasant. Go for this one especially if you like your flavour strong and your sweetness diluted.
Where: Shalom, Chembur, Mumbai
Price: Rs. 309
Banarasi Paan Beer
A vodka-based syrupy concoction coupled with distinct flavours that include maple syrup, apple juice, bourbon whiskey, rose water, egg whites and paan, drizzled with a generous topping of beer. Definitely a lot to take in, but it tastes better than it sounds.
Where: JLWA, Bandra, Mumbai
Price: Rs. 575
A palate cleanser often served between courses or at the end of your meal, this digestive system saviour is worth a shot.
Where: Chutney Chang, Museum Road, Bengaluru
Price: Complementary with the buffet.
The Paan Cocktail
We swear by this masterful infusion of anise, gin, vodka, sugar and lime served fresh with a betel leaf. We associate various kinds of intoxication with Goa, but this is definitely one of the finer ways to go green.
Where: The Black Sheep Bistro, Panjim, Goa
Price: Rs. 290
Paan Paani Puri, Cheese Masala Roll and Laddoos
If you like stuffing your mouth with weird flavours, The Betel Leaf paan parlour is a standalone store that caters to every paan-tasy. From the minty notes of the special pani puri to the chewy punch of the cheese roll to the sugary moulds of paan essence, the options here are for those who want to go REALLY experimental, and go back with stories that make for great conversation starters.
Where: The Betel Leaf, Erandwane, Pune
Price: Rs. 20, 25 and 55 respectively
Evolution of the Paan
A gastronomic reimagining of everything that goes into the making of paan, this deconstructed dessert features caramelised kattha (areca), a gulkand macaron, frozen saffron foam, dehydrated betel-nut leaves, and aerated chocolate supari for an extra oomph-worthy kick. If elemental breakdowns are your thing, this is the place to be.
Where: Karma Kismet, Greater Kailash 2, Delhi NCR
Price: Rs. 200
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