Indians Love Paan! My Day Working with Pandit Outside Airlines Hotel in Bangalore

Indians Love Paan! My Day Working with Pandit Outside Airlines Hotel in Bangalore

I can’t honestly recall the first drag of a cigarette I smoked.  I suppose it was a cigarette a friend had stolen from their parents that 12 of us shared while standing around in a circle, thinking we were sooo badass but I honestly don’t remember.  I do remember smoking my first clove cigarette though, which my best friend and I smoked like crazy for two weeks during our freshman year at high school. We smoked on our way to and from school, after school, while trying to be cool at the mall…virtually everywhere.  Right up until she coughed up blood and we realized that maybe smoking was bad!  We stopped, like good girls.

I have recently re-discovered cloves again here in India.  The first time was at Skyye and I could smell them and that was it, I had to have one!  It’s not that I enjoy the physical act of smoking so much because frankly I really don’t.  What I love about clove cigarettes (Blacks is the brand here) is the sweet lingering after taste on my lips of the cloves.  It’s wonderful.  I know I shouldn’t like it but I do.  I don’t smoke much, a few a week, and I typically only get through about a third or half before I put it out.  But it feels quite naughty whenever I do because it reminds me of my rebellion as a teen, which is an added bonus!

After living so long in Barcelona, where it seemed like pretty much everyone smoked, I was pretty surprised to see no difference with the state of things here in India.  It’s common here in Bangalore to smell marijuana or hash being smoked on the down-low at bars and clubs.  In fact, India takes tobacco a step even further.  I never saw anyone “chew” in Barcelona but here people chew, they smoke…and as of today I have now learned that people shove tobacco up their nose too!

I swear to you, I have never seen anything like it.  I was on my way to work and Shiva had stopped for a light.  I was happily people watching and happened to glance over to the auto rickshaw next to us and my jaw dropped then and there.  A middle-aged woman wearing a sari was alone in the “auto” unscrewing a small silver canister about the size of a 35mm film canister.  She put her thumb and forefinger in and came back out with a pinch of reddish coloured herbs …well, what I thought was herbs.  She then took the pinch and – with ZERO attempt to retain any bit of lady-like appeal – shoved the pinch up her right nostril, moving her index finger around up there after to make sure it was going to stay in place, then repeated with the left side.  WTF was that?  Shiva (my driver) didn’t see it and I didn’t direct his attention to her in time, I guess I was mesmerized and spell-bound to a certain extent.

Well, it turns out that the reddish herbs in her canister weren’t herbs at all.  That was another form of tobacco here in India!  I have never heard of nose tobacco but indeed that’s what it was.

The other big tobacco product enjoyed here in India in paan.  And like so many things in India there is a sweet and a “not” version of the product.  In this case there is sweet paan and tobacco paan.  Thanks again to Shiva’s diverse contacts, I was able to venture over to a paan and tobacco guy for a few laughs and a lesson on paan and how to make it.

Let me set the scene for you first.  This little wooden kiosk is covered in sheet aluminum and couldn’t be bigger than three square meters, which is set up on a busy street, right at the entrance to the Airlines Hotel (famous more for their food and the funky restaurant than for the hotel – see my post about it here).  There are a couple dozen little tins on the counter with who-knows-what in them. There is a drawer for cash and a cabinet with supplies.  The guy in the kiosk – Pandit is his name – was sat down on a wooden box…sat with his legs crossed pretzel-style and … of course! … he was barefoot and working with his bare hands right above his feet!  (see my post on Indian feet here)  And when guys come up to buy stuff, he passes certain things OVER the counter and other things around the side in a way that looks like a shady deal is going down.  And as with lots of things I want to do, it seems as though street paan is an all-male sport!  I know that women do consume it too but I was the only woman at the paan guys shop…well, at least no other women came up to it during the 30 minutes I was there.

If you don’t know what paan is, it is essentially handmade chewing tobacco or sweet “chew” pouches that small kiosk tobacco shops like this one whip up in the moment when you place your order.  They are rolled into fresh leaves that are kept cool and moist in a bucket of water.  The kiosks keep several types of leaves in the bucket so that guys from Kolkata, for example, can enjoy paan with the leaves from their region.  Paan seem to be purchased one at a time.

The ingredients or their quantity will vary a bit depending on who is making it.  The typical ingredients were pretty mind-boggling for me because they actually include raw calcium!  Dang!  Didn’t know they sold that but it looked like concentrated milk more or less.

So here’s how it’s done: Pandit picks up the leaf that is requested or the standard deep green heart-shaped leaf from the betel vine.  He then uses a brush to wipe on a 2 inch line of calcium, then some Heerapanna veg masala, a small spoonful of a saffron blend and then he mixes that all up with his fingers (gotta love India!).  Next he adds a spoonful of coconut powder, some anise seeds, betel nut powder, some brown sticky goo that smells like honey and has rose petals and sugar in it called gulkand.  Next he adds candied cherries that have been infused with mint, some cardamom and last some betel nut.  He folds up the leaf into a little triangle, places that inside a tiny plastic bag and then wraps it up into a neat little package with a bit of yesterday’s newspaper.

A friend told me that lots of people keep the ingredients on hand at home and that wives will whip up paan for their men after dinner.  My guess is that this would be the tobacco paan?  A friend also shocked the hell out of me by saying the word SEX for the first time to me when he explained that both men and women will enjoy a sweet paan right before they have sex.  My guess is he was talking about him and his wife but he didn’t say… he did say that this was something newlyweds did (again, my guess is that he’s talking about first-hand experience!).

I tried the sweet paan that Pandit made for me and you know what?  The taste is amazing!  But I don’t like the way it instantly turned my tongue an orangey brown.  And it’s sooo damn big that I was a bit uncomfortable shoving the whole thing in my mouth.  Perhaps it might be better for women if it were a bit smaller?  On the plus side, my entire mouth and lips must taste so sweet and minty right now.  I understand 100% why this might be fun to enjoy just before heading off to bed 😉

XOXO Angela

© Angela Carson, 2011

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Angela Carson
Angela Carson

At 21 I left uni, jumped into my Jeep Wrangler, and drove from my native California to live an adventure in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I’ve explored 35 countries on 4 continents, residing in 7 of them (currently Kuala Lumpur is my home). I even have a private pilot’s license and was shot at once by bandits!

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32 Comments

    • 14/08/2011 / 13:31

      Wow, those are cool…but that woman’s canister wasn’t quite so elegant, trust me 🙂 –angela

    • 14/08/2011 / 12:38

      Hey, great links! Who knew that the nose stuff originated in the U.S.? Well, not me until now 🙂 Although to be honest, I never ever saw a single person in the US do it, nor in Europe… –angela

      • 14/08/2011 / 17:10

        Not sure about its origin in US neither have I have seen it in US , but its fairly common in Asia …

  1. pervy_mind
    13/08/2011 / 23:14

    “And it’s sooo damn big that I was a bit uncomfortable shoving the whole thing in my mouth”…lmfao!!!

    • 14/08/2011 / 12:30

      hehehe… yes, I meant that to be a bit naughty 🙂

    • Tess
      15/08/2011 / 02:32

      I guess that takes us back to ¨does size matter¨!!!!

      • 15/08/2011 / 18:49

        hahahaha… you crack me up. Miss you Tess xo

  2. 14/08/2011 / 21:15

    I’ve seen people in Louisiana dip snuff, I’ve seen people in Berlin snort snuff when I lived there too.
    I wasn’t quite as enamored of paan when I first tried it, I kind of liked the semi permanent terra cotta lip stain it gave me though.

    • 15/08/2011 / 19:05

      hahahaha i never thought of using as lipstick alternative 🙂 hehe –ange

    • 15/08/2011 / 19:03

      ??? I can’t tell if this is a backhanded comment I don’t understand or if you are really asking if I have seen a tiger ? haha I haven’t seen one heree yet …. — ange

      • 18/08/2011 / 16:18

        I assure you, this is not a backhanded comment 🙂
        There’s a Tiger / Lion safari just on the outskirts of Bangalore city (about an hours drive from the city center, depending on the traffic).
        just thought it would be a good suggestion, which you could explore and of course write about 🙂

  3. 16/08/2011 / 17:19

    Hey there!
    Is that you (posing with Alexa) on the 3rd page of Bangalore Times? 🙂

    • 16/08/2011 / 17:48

      Yes, my god I look so naughty! And we had been dancing like crazy so on top of naughty I am also sweaty! haha Was a fun night 🙂 You two know each other? I hear a girls night in the making! 🙂

      • 16/08/2011 / 19:39

        No I don’t know her… I was just describing it in detail in case you didn’t see it! 🙂

  4. Chandran
    19/08/2011 / 19:38

    Angela – very funny stuff! I read through most of your posts – they are spicy and interesting… So this is what you were up to, typing away, behind me while I was singing at Cafe Noir. Keep it going!! Chandran

    • 19/08/2011 / 21:46

      hehe, yep indeed! How are you? Wish I could be there tomorrow….I love sitting at Cafe Noir, writing, chowing down on my Homeland salad and sipping my wine. And of course listening to you rock on singing old school hits I so love and miss. Glad you found my blog! Hope you’ll keep reading. I’ll have to write one about you within the next couple weeks! Cheers, angela

      • Chandran
        20/08/2011 / 19:56

        I’ll be on good behavior, now that I know of your penetrative blogging style!! Check out my facebook page “Chandran Acoustic” – I keep updated when I’m playing and not. Next week I play Sunday, not Saturday. Look forward to your posts. Chandran

  5. Tarun Jaiswal
    10/05/2012 / 23:01

    oye khaye ke pan banaras wala,Khul jaye band akal ka taala.Phir to aisan karo kammal ki sidhi kardo sabki chal.Ki chori hudson Kinare wali.:P

    • 11/05/2012 / 00:08

      Hi Tarun, could you please translate that for me? I can’t have comments on my site that I can’t read 🙁

      • Tarun Jaiswal
        11/05/2012 / 08:14

        Sure Angela,Its actually about the Paan that you are having.In India and particularly in bollywood, there are several songs based on paan.So its one of the famous song from the movie “Don”.It actually describes the qualities of a paan in a comic way.There are different types of paans based on different ingredients and according to the region.Among them “Banarasi paan” is considered one of the superior paans bcoz of its qualities.Banaras is a region in the state of UP,u must pay a visit to Banaras to understand how different its is from Bangalore.Anyways coming to the translation part it says-“Whenever you have a banarasi paan,all your mental blocks go away.It means all your inhibitions it goes off and whenever you have it bcoz of its weed like qualities u get into a mood where you just want to be jolly and want the whole world to dance to ur tunes.The last line actually is “Ki chora Ganga Kinare wala” which means afterall the guy is from the banks of the river ganges which i have modified according to the writer of the blog which actually is as jolly and as carefree as the people from the bank of river Ganges. “Ki Chori Hudson Kinare Wali” It means after all the lady is from the bank of river Hudson.In case you want to listen to the song i am posting the link for it.-

      • Tarun Jaiswal
        11/05/2012 / 08:21

        I am sure most of your Indian followers can understand it quite easily 🙂

  6. Tarun Jaiswal
    11/05/2012 / 08:18

    I am sure most of your Indian followers can understand it quite easily. 🙂

  7. arindam
    13/05/2012 / 10:01

    Though it is long since this post was made, I would like to offer some correction on the topic. ‘Paan’ is actually the leaf and even the finished product. The tobacco which goes inside is called ‘Jardaa’.

    I have chanced upon your blog only yesterday and going through it from the first post.

    • 13/05/2012 / 11:17

      OMG that was a wonderful thing to wake up to today! I’m so happy you are starting at the beginning…at first it was just a way to keep my family and friends up to date so each blog talks about details of the day, the cats and silly things. Then later, you can see a change after I make my first friends and start socializing…and then the blog changes to be about just one topic and not about my day anymore. Anyway, hope you will add to the conversation and comment when the mood hits you 🙂

      Thanks for the corrections! My paan guru (pictured with me) didn’t speak any english so my driver Shiva had to translate everything so I’m sure there are more mistakes lurking in that article. –angela

      • arindam
        15/05/2012 / 00:13

        Yes, I observed the transformation, as I went along. Skipped the ‘Sunday Brunch’ articles, as though I am a foodie don’t venture out to those places typically. Some of my favourites in Bangalore Samarkhand (Gem Plaza, Infantry Road), Sahib Sindh Sultan (Forum Mall), Only Place (Museum Road), Koshy’s (St Marks Road), Jukebox (Koramangala) – smaller places, not sure if they serve alcohol, but amazing food, first three also has nice ambiance. Try ‘Oh! Calcutta’ in St Marks Road if you want to taste Bengali food – the region from where I and your ex colleague Paromita is from (and if I am not mistaken your blog follower Debjani too).

        Your style kept me on, however could not go through all the comments in there, few of them I had gone through, and they do add to the blog. At times felt commenting but utilizing time to read the next article got better off me. So may be if time permits I will go through a second scanning, and leave my thoughts.

        • 15/05/2012 / 13:02

          Thanks so much 🙂 Will keep your list in mind. Although my friends all tend to go to the 5 star hotels to eat or restaurants like Shiro, etc… although I have been to Koshy’s but just for a snack and coffee.

    • 15/06/2012 / 10:27

      haha, I don’t think Shiva or that paan guy I worked alongside know the word aphrodisiac so that explains how I missed it 😉

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