The story of humble “Paan”

Tambula, as the betel preparation is called in Sanskrit, is derived from the term tamra meaning copper indicating red colour. This red colour is alluded to because of one of the most popular ingredients of paan namely catechu or katha. According to Sushrata, the patriarch of ancient Indian medicine, paan keeps mouth clean,  strengthens the voice, tongue and teeth and guards against diseases. It is also said to aid in digestion and purify blood.

The heart-shaped betel-leaf, or piper betel, is preferably plucked when it is till 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 a period can harm and plant. The betel creeper are usually cultivated under the shade of large trees or under the protection of high bamboo or thatched roofing.

There are three different types of Paan leaves.

  • Kalkatta
  • Banarasi
  • Maggai

Kalkatta paan is dark green in colour, compared to that Banarasi paan is lighter green and Maggai is available in both shades but it’s much more smaller in size than both Kalkatta and Banarasi paan. Out of all the three types, Kalkatta paan preparations generally are most preferred.

One of the most important ingredients of a betel preparation is the areca nut This seed, locally known s supari is the most popular substance in a paan. Its narcotic value, which is appreciated by all chewers of paan is due to an alkaloid called Are Colin which is produced when lime is added to paan. Its stimulating effect increases with excessive chewing. These chemical substances reduce inner restlessness and tensions in habitual paan eaters. However, these ingredients can also cause nausea, giddiness, perspiration and initial symptoms of poisoning in those who are not used to paan.

A small content of a volatile oil called betel-oil, in the leaf creates the desired spicy, aromatic and fresh taste in the mouth.

The oils contained in the betel leaf support the stimulating effect of the other ingredients.

The other contents of a prepared paan-roll are basically added for their flavouring and refreshing value. Of these catechu might be the most popular. It is a reddish solution of the heart-wood of the tree Acacia Catechu Wild, locally known as katha. Its astringent and disinfecting principals are the ctechin and catechu tannin causing contraction of the gums. It is therefore, considered a means of preserving and cleansing the mouth and teeth. This liquid causes the redness of the mouth and saliva while chewing the betel leaf.

There are many different varieties of Paan preparations.

Sada  , Meetha  , Sada Meetha  , 120  , 160  , 300  , 600  , Bhola Tambaku.

All these varieties of preparations are made in all three types of Paans i.e. Kalkatta , Banarasi and Maggai.

Posted in Cuisine | 3 Comments

Kolkata : the varied hues : food and beyond

Kolkata: “Amar Prem”…….. and Sharmila

I like Kolkata for all that it offers!!.Kolkata always reminds me of Rajesh Khanna in dhoti in “Amar Prem” ( Remember “ I hate tears” dialogue of his!) with his head in Sharmila Tagore’s lap soulfully singing “Chingari Koi……” , a lantern swinging from the thatched roof of the wooden boat as it serenades on the waters of hoogly under the Howrah bridge.

That’s Kolkata, still lost somewhere in time, desperately clinging to old world charm, unmindful of changes happening all around the world.Infact, the minute you land in Kolkata, the 19th century air hits you ( even the air is so musty & soporific), the creaky all yellow wobbly ambassador completes the picture. 

I like the stillness, laid back ambience that permeates the city (please don’t take in derogatory sense!).It still carries a long overhang of the “Raj”. Unfortunately, as is with the industrial climate of the state, West Bengal has not packaged its culinary jewels properly.

Bengali cuisine is one of the most underrated cuisines of India next to Wazwan (we shall touch upon that later!!).Here are some jewels:

“Aheli” at Peerless Inn (next to Oberoi Grand) is a pure unadulterated Bengali joint. The waiters are extremely helpful and ever-ready to engage in a discussion (so typical of a Kolkata resident) on anything. These highly opinionated waiters give you a run down on each dish as if his forefathers had invented the dish. It’s highly informative.Non-vegetarian should straight away order Pona Kalia with Radha Ballavi and steamed rice ( Pona Kalia is Hilsa curry-a fish full of bones- as per old Bengali saying-more the bones, more delicious is the fish, Radha Ballavi or lucchi is a jumbo sized hybrid of puri & bhatura).This dish denotes the Zen and Tao of eating. Sink your teeth into the succulent flesh of a freshly caught hilsa, smell its aroma, close your eyes and well-you, the dish, the fish, all become one and you nearly reach a cosmic nirvana. I would call this as a Karma dish. No dish delivers you such a cosmic experience like this one. Vegetarian should order Aloo-Posta ( Posta is khas-khas or poppy seeds) with lucchi.Aloo posta is another dish which mesmerizes you, if this doesn’t try the dish made of banana flowers. For more adventurous try the Papada Jhal (crunchy fish in mustard oil).The aroma permeates each and every cell of your living body and one needs to experience it.Don’t forget to ask for tomato chutney ( loads of it)

There are many Chinese joints on parks street going by the names of Waldorf, Mogambo.All of them are immensely passable and churn out pedestrian stuff. You need to hit Mainland China again (this guy is doing great) or hit the hutment’s of Tangda.Eat Chinese food under a lantern where desi hooch and manchow mingle freely. Skip the desi hooch though.

If you are in love with pastries & coffee, you could try the old trusted “Flurys” on park street. Although I personally don’t fancy the place and its stuff.Bijoli Grill is another good joint although pedestrian.

I do not have a sweet tooth, but I like Bengali sweets. Their Sandesh, Rosagolla, Kancha Golla is mind boggling. Kancha Golla is a paneer ball which is very less sweetened. Its excellent stuff. In Kolkata, visit any Mithai shop (incidentally Mumbai doesn’t have a single decent mithai shop! You can kill me for that!!), and a dilliwallah would be shocked to see the affairs at K C Das (world renowned for its Rasgullahs). They are very small, have no concept of presentation, the guys who shows you different mithai’s would most likely be wearing a yellow banyan (vest for uninitiated) and the whole place give a “run down” feel. But the mithai is great. Ucchi Dukan fika Pakwan fits the bill in reverse!! In Delhi you get it at numerous Annapurna shops- churning out good old faith full stuff.

Outside Kolkata, it is very difficult to find a good Bengali food joint. In Delhi you could taste Bengali food at O Calcutta at Eros Towers, Dilli Haat or head towards opposite Chitaranjjan Park.”Babu Moshai” is a small joint” and “City of Joy” also does some justice. Also there is Chowringee somewhere near Mayur Vihar (I can take you there but forget the address) which churns out good stuff..In Mumbai, hit “Oh! Calcutta” opposite Mahindra heights in Tardeo.





Posted in Cuisine, Kolkata | 2 Comments

Corporate Mantra

Steve Jobs- Modern day Chunnilal ( of Devdas-do you remember!!).

Devdas would have been an ideal experimental sample for Mr Maslow ( remember Mr Maslow proposed the pyramidical structure of needs, wants, desire and did he say “self actualization”). He would have presented a pattern to fox him.For the uninitiated, Devdas is a story of a corporate lawyer of early part of last century set in East India who falls in love with Paro & vice-versa but because of status differences cannot marry her, is longed by a nautch girl Chandramukhi, becomes a drunkard and dies as a drunkard at the doors of Paro-boom that’s it. Everybody should see the movie-actually it should be integrated into corporate ethos of companies!!.

Paro was Devdas “need” and then became his “desire”. He didn’t get her anyway.

Devdas was “desire “of chandramukhi but later became her “need”. She didn’t get Devdas anyway.

Devdas was “need” of Paro but later became her “desire”. She didn’t get Devdas anyway.

Only Chunni Lal ( Chunni Lal was Devdas drunkard buddy who was truly in transcendal mode-lived for others so as to say!!) remained happy till end.

Confused: even Maslow would have trampled over his pyramid if Devdas was born couple of decades later!!. Actually every corporate man/woman has Devdas in them who always struggle between his needs & wants and lands up nowhere. For a modern day Corporate Devdas, Chandramukhi represents material comforts, money etc. and Paro represents transcendental ( I always get these spellings wrong, maybe the concept is skewed, I don’t understand it anyway).He always yearns for Paro although Chandramukhi entices him.He abuses chandramukhi whenever she comes near him ( always has guilt associated while acknowledging  her), and only gets a fleeting glimpses of Paro.He dies a drunkard torn between the two after getting none to his satisfaction. It’s Chunni Lal who lives a satisfied life. It is chunni Lal for whom the world converges and he lives for others and also enjoys himself.

Corporate lesson- be a Chunnilal and be happy-don’t get bogged down into differentiating needs & desires ala debate on tools & processes!!.Just be yourself, learn to enjoy yourself. Modern day Chunni Lal was Steve Jobs.


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Hello world!

Today virtual Sanjay takes birth.

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