Gone are the days when offering ‘Paan’ to guests as an appetizer in eastern households was considered an elite gesture as this tradition has been gradually replaced with tea, cold drinks or some other western snacks such as sandwiches in Pakistan.

Paan used to be treated as a traditional entrée making and the company would have realized that they were welcomed just like French welcome their guests with hors d’oeuvres. The old tradition of presenting “Paan” on different celebratory occasions such as Mehndi functions at weddings or ‘Daawat’ is also fading away from Pakistani culture.

Once considered a source of generating social harmony in the society is now confined to the old Paan shops where often senior citizens come with their old buddies late at night to have a chit chat. The younger generation has almost drifted away from having this unique eastern piece of fun food.

Paan was considered as part of the subcontinent culture which was also attached with migrated people from India (Muhajir). Nevertheless, Paan used to be a culture representing feminine delicacy, a gentleman’s supportive gesture, family bonding, hospitality, sharing, generosity and social cohesion. This trend is still in practice in many areas, especially in Karachi where the paan shops are still the center of meeting and greeting for those who consume it.

Many households had grandparents who used to maintain a proper container for making Paan called “Paandaan ”. It used to consist of small pots for keeping the paan ingredients and ‘sarotha’, a small gadget to crush chalia for paan. Besides, those who were not addicted to tobacco, they would consume meetha (sweet) paan. Meetha Paan somehow is still in demand especially when a group of friends visit old traditional markets.

One such shop is located in the heart of the capital where a very interesting combination of Paan and Royalty can be seen. Keeping up with the old tradition of Paan, ‘Rana Bhai Shahi Paandaan Walay’ at Daman-e-Koh has been the flag bearer of mixing Royalty and culture. He wears Royal avatar daily mimicking those from Mughal era and offers the Paan with manners of Royalty to his customers.

Rana Bhai told APP that he has been running this shop for over a decade now. “I’ve had many famous personalities at my shop over the years including the current Prime Minister Imran Khan, film actors Shaan, Javed Sheikh, sportsman Jahangir Khan, Javed Miandaad, Aqib Javed and the likes”, he said.

Rana Bhai said, “I love our culture and traditions. Unfortunately, the younger generation does not like Paan as much and prefers western fun foods. This trend is fading away and my shop was a symbolic gesture to preserve our culture, that’s the reason that I wear this royal avatar as well”, he added.

Javaid Ali, owner of the oldest Paan shop named ‘Sangam’ in Abpara market, said that Paan consumption has decreased rapidly over the past two decades. “Youngsters find Paan an old fashioned trend hence they prefer other tobacco consumption such as cigarettes. I don’t think Paan is addictive unless used excessively. It is rather a traditional flavored item that was famous for its taste and aroma”, he added.

In Pakistan, there are a number of other items for light consumption of flavor, depending on area, like Naswar in KP, supari and gutka in Punjab but unlike these items Paan contains numerous health benefits in it besides just being a mouth freshener.

It is made from betel leaves (paan patta) filled mainly with chopped areca nuts (supari), slaked lime (chuna), catechu (red katha paste), fennel (saunf), sweetened and mashed rose petals (gulkand) and elaichi (cardamom) among other items. Even those who don’t have Paan must have heard words such as Sanchi patta, katha, choona, saunf, supari or chhaliya and tambaku (tobacco).

Though it’s primary chewing betel leaf stimulates the release of saliva that further helps in digestion of food. It has anti-microbial properties that can protect the consumer from minor bacterial and fungal infections. It is also really good for people suffering from diabetes as it can regulate their glucose levels. It lowers cholesterol and protects the heart.

Pakistan grows a large variety of betel leaf, specifically in the coastal areas of Sindh although paan is imported in large quantities from India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and, recently, Thailand. The consumption of paan has long been a very popular cultural tradition throughout Pakistan, especially in Muhajir households which is now losing its charm as many other eastern traditions.—APP