Every region in India has its own version of paan and almost everyone in India eats it, if not loves it. But there is something about Banarasi Paan that sets it apart. Is it the leaf, the material, or is it the preparation? It’s hard to choose but one thing is clear, there is no paan that tastes like Banarasi paan.
While paan is evolving in new avatars across the country – think chocolate, butterscotch paan and even blueberry strawberry paan, in addition to social media-friendly ‘fire paan’ – in Varanasi it’s still served the classic way is done. ate together Katha (catechu) which is an extract of the acacia tree, chose (limestone paste), Betel (betel nut), and in some cases tobacco, this is the quintessential old fashioned paan that lets you enjoy the subtle nuances of each ingredient.
Banarasi paan is being prepared. photo credit: special arrangement
story of banarasi paan
Paan is considered auspicious in Varanasi. It is believed that the first betel seed was planted by Shiva and Parvati on Mount Kailash, from where they brought it to Kashi. Since it is the city of Shiva, it has become a part of life here,” says Rajeev Manhar, vice-chairman of Brij Hotels, who lives and works in Varanasi.
The folklore here also connects betel with betel. Ramayana, “It is said that when Hanuman went to Sita in Ashoka Vatika and had nothing to offer her as affection, he plucked betel leaves and quickly made a garland out of it. And hence, betel leaves are offered to Hanuman even today, especially in Varanasi,” says Rajeev.
“Pan is a way of life in Varanasi,” says Anubhav Sapra, founder of Delhi Food Walks, who has been traveling to Varanasi for several years to research street food and create history. “I have tasted paan from across the country. , But I’ve never eaten anything like Banarasi paan.” According to him, paan here is far beyond snacks, mouth fresheners or condiments. It’s a feeling.
it’s all in the leaves
Every region has its own favorite paan. “The way the leaf is treated in Varanasi (in a process called to cook which literally means cooking but the ripening of the leaf) which makes it softer than any other, which is why Banarasi paan melts in your mouth,” explains Anubhav.
folded banarasi paan | photo credit: special arrangement
Interestingly, the leaf that gives Banarasi paan its identity is not grown in Varanasi: it is from Bihar, Bengal or Odisha.
“Out of 90 varieties of betel leaves grown in the world, about 45 are found in India. A lot of it also comes from Bangladesh, which has suitable climatic conditions for cultivation,” says Rajeev. While Bengal and Bangladesh are known for the amount of leaf produced, it is the Bihari Maghai or Oriya Jagannathi leaf that is grown in Varanasi. Popular. Maghai leaves are used from December to May, Jagannathi is used from June to November.
Banarasi Paan is popular for its cultural significance apart from its taste and finesse. In Varanasi, paan shops can be found on every corner, and also on the banks of the Ganges. Everyone has their favorite stall, and each Panwari (Paan makers) have their own style. Banarasi paan became popular during the time of Bachchan. Yes sang a song about it. But it gained more popularity recently when Modi ji talked about it,” says Rajan Chaurasia, second-generation owner of Ramchandra Chaurasia Tambul Bhandar.
According to Rajan, what makes Banarasi paan special is the cooking process. “The leaves are smoked in a dark room with special coals and wood and checked frequently. This not only bleaches the leaf, especially the maghai, but also makes it so soft that it melts in your mouth.” It melts as soon as it leaves.
Generally four types of paan are made in Banaras. Always or plain which is made only of betel nut, catechu and lime, Sweet or sweet – plain paan in which the leaf is sweet and sweet of gulkand which is paan made with diamond-pearl chutney (a sweet mixture) and Zarda Which is made from tobacco.
Over time these stalls have become community spaces where the local people congregate. “Paan shops are places where local people hang out and discuss local politics, happenings in the city and comment on matters of universal importance. This is the common thread that binds the people here,” says Rajeev.
Banarasai Paan at Brij Ram Palace | photo credit: special arrangement
And does the GI tag matter to the public? “Most people in Banaras don’t even know we now have a GI tag,” says Rajeev. For the common man, he says, paan has been a way of life in Varanasi since its inception and a tag means something. Will not change either. For the rest of the world though the recognition will help people understand the nuances of paan in this city.