This is how you eat paan in India, it has been written. Go to a favorite restaurant and stuff your face till you can barely stand. Saunter down the promenade, lulled by the moonlit waves, tropical breeze and twinkling stars. Stop when you see a paan wallah, or betel vendor, ringing his bell as he pushes his truck.
“Sada or meetha?” he asks – plain or sweet?
“Meetha,” you reply.
He smoothes a tender betel leaf. With lightning dexterity, his hands fly over the containers crowding his truck. A little roasted fennel seed, some cloves, cardamom, betel nuts, tobacco paste, coconut flakes and rose paste are all stuffed into the betel leaf, which he folds into a triangle and nails together with a clove.
Without a word, you pop it in and chew. The sweet juices burst in your mouth with a tantalizing mix of flavors and textures – the refreshing cardamom, peppery betel leaf, biting cloves, tangy fennel and sweet rose paste. The experience is as seductive as a stolen kiss, as relaxing as an after-dinner cigar.
There is only one paan wallah in Singapore, and I’m his only non-Indian customer.
However someone is supplying ready made paans to Indian restaurants here; here’s a paan from the Banana Leaf Apolo: