Even if you are not a paan connoisseur, you must have heard words such as Sanchi patta, katha, choona, saunf, supari or chhaliya. The word tambaku (tobacco) was also added to my meagre paan vocabulary when the paanwallah mixed up an order and handed my mother a paan filled with tobacco instead of giving her the regular saada khushboo she wanted.

Paan, used as a mouth freshener as well as for a bit of mild intoxication, courtesy the tambaku, today carries various concoctions inside the folds of the betel leaf.

Yes, the katha (catechu mixed with water to make a paste), choona (crushed limestone power), saunf (fennel seeds), supari or chhaliya (diced areca nut) are still around but there are many more ingredients that make up the modern paan.


What goes inside a paan? Here is a list to help you chew it well


Let’s begin with the betel leaf. The most sought-after here happens to be the big heart-shaped Sanchi patta (leaf). It can be grown here as well. Still, no paan shopkeeper would admit that the leaves he uses have been grown locally. “They are imported from Bangladesh,” they announce.

Katha is a must in all paans
Katha is a must in all paans

When prodded about it growing here as well, you are promptly informed that it is just not the same thing because the flavour cannot be matched with the imported leaf. Thus you have stacks of Sanchi patta soaked in stainless steel buckets full of water under the paanwallah’s counter. You can also store the betel leaves by wrapping them in moist muslin cloth, one is told.

Broadly speaking, four types of paan are sold in Karachi — Meetha (sweet), sada khushboo, Raja Sahib and tambaku. All paans have the choona and katha as the base followed by whatever else you want in it.

Have your pick
Have your pick

Then the meetha paan may also have sweetened grated coconut or khopra, a sweet brownish qiwam or paste, which looks a bit like semolina halwa but is called Lazeez. There are a variety of other qiwam for paan available here.

The paanwallah may also add a mint-flavour creamy white or red ingredient to it which is simply known as ‘cream’ but which looks a bit like vapour rub. Shaan, a colourless sweet liquid or kranti, a coffee-coloured liquid, which gives off a sweet aroma may also be added along with tiny silver balls (khushboo) for added aroma. Supari and chhaliya are another addition along with a cardamom and a pinch of Rasna powder, an Indian product with minty flavour as well as aroma.

Lazeez: the ingredient that makes a difference
Lazeez: the ingredient that makes a difference

The khopra going into the paan also has food colour giving it a yellow or red colour. It also has sugar and glucose added. But for diabetics, there is also the plain variety available. Their paan will just have mint, saunf, supari and cardamom. If they like khopra, they can have plain kind without the glucose, sugar and food colours.

The sada khushboo paan will have all these save the sweetened khopra. The Raja Sahib paan — it’s not clear which particular prince this is named after — too leans more towards the fragrance rather than sweetness. But it can have more varieties of supari such as the Sunny supari that is a Raja Sahib must along with these red colour things that resemble electronic components but are actually sugar-coated supari known as Anmol.

Many people prefer a bit less of one ingredient and maybe a little more of another to come up with their unique designer paan. Your regular paanwallah would always know what you like or don’t like in your paan and make it for you without your having to remind him again and again.

This brings us to the tambaku or tobacco paan. That’s where the paan also becomes complicated because every tobacco has its own unique taste and fragrance. Thus, we have Raja Jani, Shahzadi, Azizee, Najma, Zahoor, Baba, Johnny Walker, Lighthouse, 800, Muradabadi, 120, Mumtaz, Lal Tambaku and Ratna tobacco, the last two of which happen to be imported from India. A paan with several kinds of tambaku is known as a mix-patti.

All ready to be bought and consumed
All ready to be bought and consumed

These days you also get to see many fancy paans moving away from tradition for they may have fresh pineapple pieces inside or they may be dipped in chocolate to coat and seal up the leaf with the other ingredients inside besides adding to the taste. Some may also be topped with a cherry. They call these fusion paans. Besides the new fancy look and flavours these also carry fancy prices, though purists will scoff at labeling them paans.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, November 27th, 2016

Opinion

Climate & youth

Climate & youth

Disillusionment and anxiety are on the rise among youth as they confront the diminishing prospects of a better tomorrow.
Our exclusivity syndrome
Updated 17 Oct 2021

Our exclusivity syndrome

Pakistan needs at least a minimum level of inclusivity that can keep alive democratic values.
Shafqat Kakakhel
Updated 16 Oct 2021

Shafqat Kakakhel

COP26 has to achieve consensus on several issues.

Editorial

Carnage in Kandahar
Updated 17 Oct 2021

Carnage in Kandahar

Pakistan’s anti-extremism policy is in many ways half-baked and inconsistent.
17 Oct 2021

Sanctity of contracts

PAKISTAN is facing yet another international dispute before the International Centre for Settlement of Investment...
17 Oct 2021

New sports policy

THIS week, the Pakistan Football Federation Normalisation Committee chief Haroon Malik was in Zurich to hold ...
Diminishing freedom
Updated 16 Oct 2021

Diminishing freedom

DESPITE the serious reservations of digital rights activists and tech companies, the federal government has...
16 Oct 2021

Dirty politics

IN her outburst against Prime Minister Imran Khan this week, PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz may not have taken names but...
16 Oct 2021

Decreasing emissions

THE announcement by SAPM on Climate Change Malik Amin Aslam that carbon emissions in the country came down by 9pc...