Paan - the naturally flavoured mouth freshener - dates back to ancient Indian culture and practises. It symbolises perfect hospitality rendered towards any visitor. Its preparation varies from place to place. Old Delhi still has its charm.
Can you take us to paan bazaar, we asked the rickshaw wallah. “I know every street, every corner of this area,” said the rickshaw wallah. Then we cycled through the maze of streets in Old Delhi. Chandni Chowk has a large number of galis
(lanes) and each one is different, with its own atmosphere and smells.
We set off, past the Chandni Chowk and the Ballimaran, and the Khari Baoli, and a hundred other bazaars, until we finally reached this paan bazaar.
Paan bazaar, an alley market in Sadar Bazaar, offers a glimpse of Indian culture in Old Delhi. In India, paan has been playing an important role in the social life and customs of people for hundreds of years. In the court of the Mughal kings and others rulers, the betel leaf or paan was offered as a part of hospitality, friendship and love. This bazaar is well known for paan and its products that attract a large number of customers from across the city.
The bazaar has more than 100 paan shops. There are at least 50 varieties of paan available at paan bazaar from rupees two to rupees 400 per doli. A doli contains 200-250 paan. You can get a Golta Madrasi paan, Bangal paan, Banarasi paan, Jagatnathi Desi paan, Dholak Pakistani paan, Hydrabadi paan or Afsana paan on the spot. The best betel leaf is the ’Magahi’ variety (from the Magadha region) grown near Patna, in Bihar.
These paan come to the mandi
(market) from all over India. The delicately flavoured paan from Bengal is known as Desi Mahoba. Maghai and Jagannath are the main paan of Banaras and Orissa. There are a variety of betels leaves grown in different parts of Indian and the method of preparation also differs for place to place, since different places have their own taste or style of making it.
Paan is very popular among local people. It is made up of green betel leaves with a paste of lime and a brown liquid adding either tobacco or sweet essences depending on choice of the person. Chewing paan can turn the mouth red says the paan vendor. Most of the related ingredients added to its making are found in paan bazaar. The products are manufactured in a highly sophisticated plant with modern technology
under utmost hygienic conditions retaining freshness and high nutritive value while processing.
For authentic and mouth-watering taste, they use sachi
paan leaves, chuna
, clove, cherry, flavoured saunf
, masala cherry, sugar, artificial sweetener, menthol, date, saffron, condiments, sada bahar
, white gold, Tan Sen, pistachio, rose katri
, anis, raisin, coconut, chaman bahar
, coriander powder, jaggery, permitted food colours, cardamom and different flavours in different proportion and in different varieties as ingredients.
Manoj Kumar, a paan lover, says his favourite is the Banarasi paan, which is delicious and non- habit forming. By keeping the paan naturally flavoured, it can retain the freshness within the mouth, leaving the mouth fresh and good. It is a perfect mouth freshener and a digestive substitute.
But what is so special about this paan bazaar that attracts elite people? “Our paans are popular because we have always maintained a high standard. While other paan-wallahs use cheap betel leaves, we still sell the leaves that come from Maheshkhali. We never compromise on the quality of the ingredients,” says Aman Rehman. We also take care of our client’s likes and dislikes, he added.
The heart-shaped betel leaf, or piper betel, is preferably plucked when it is still young and tender and its taste is the best. The cultivation of this creeper needs a lot of care and attention. Dryness and exposure to the sun for too long can harm the plant. The betel creepers are usually cultivated under the shade of large trees or under the protection of high bamboo or thatched roofing
The most important thing in making paan is the way it is done. Old hands work magic in preparing paan. A dash of chuna, a spot of kathha, zarda, chikni and qiwam and behold! Your favourite paan is ready.
Moin, as he is popularly known, is a master in putting the ingredients in right proportion. His paan shop - just a stone’s throw from Chandni chowk - is the oldest one in the area.
There was so much to see, smell, taste, and feel in India that you can find nowhere else.