Pan Chewing in Jackson Heights, Queens

Last Sunday on my, Indian Tasting Tour of Jackson Heights in the borough of Queens, NYC, I was surprised to see quite a few stunned expressions of my die-hard, cynical and long time resident, New Yorker’s faces, as we scoured the exotic streets of Jackson Heights together. But that is NYC”s great charm: it’s full of surprises, around every corner there is always something new to discover.

When we got to the point where we couldn’t consume another bite, I introduced everyone to the pleasures of pan. Pan-chewing is largely limited to South Asia and is chewed as a digestive after meals and at other times as a mild stimulant. An edible leaf is smeared and piled high with assorted ingredients, then folded and rolled into a cone and popped into your mouth to rest in the back, up against your cheek. For Westerners, it is a unique and strange sensation.

The rolled up leaf is rather big and forms a large bulge once inside your mouth, making it nearly impossible to converse. I had to convince more than a few to try it before they were willing. Once it is inside your mouth, it starts to ooze all sorts of  fragrant liquids. I had ordered sweet pans for us. I consider these to be “beginner pans.”  The traditional pan has betel nut inside which is the stimulant. It turns your inner mouth, tongue and teeth red, is very messy and not too appealing for your first go.

There we were in the middle of Queens, standing on the sidewalk, laughing hysterically with our cheeks puffed up with pan, trying not to drool as the mass inside our mouths was liquifying. In India, they leave the contents of the pan inside their mouths until it’s formed a huge puddle and then they often spit it out when they are forced into a conversation. Luckily, we found a trash can on the corner and we all spat out the remains of our pan.

The pan did just what it was supposed to do. It helped ease our full tummies and refreshed our breath too. So off we went, ready for the next course and another adventure around the corner.

If you are going to be in the NYC/Metropolitan area on Sunday, Sept. 9, 2012, and would like to experience India and Indian cuisine right in NYC, I am leading another, Indian Tasting Tour of Jackson Heights, Queens. Please email: travelwithnina@gmail.comImage


About ninagrandiose

I am based in NYC but travel regularly to India and Mexico. Both of these countries feel like home. In India I scour the country in search of fabulous textiles to incorporate into my clothing designs. I sit back and let the ambiance and wonder of India seep into my consciousness so I can be inspired to write about what India is for me. I bring a limited number of people to India on exclusive and intimate tours of my favorite hangouts. In Mexico I take in the natural beauty that surrounds me and dance the night away. I constantly give thanks for all this and am pleased to share it all with you.
This entry was posted in city living, india, Indian Food Tour, New York City, NYC, photography, Travel, Uncategorized, walking tour of Queens and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Pan Chewing in Jackson Heights, Queens

  1. Cynthia says:

    yes sir, and you spit it only when you eat pan which consists tobacco otherwise it is called masala pan and you can chew it totally and eat, nice blog.

    • ninagrandiose says:

      Thanks, Cynthia. I usually do chew the sweet pan until there’s nothing left. This was such a novel experience for everyone else that just getting them to put the pan inside their mouths was a big challenge! Thanks for commenting.

  2. biblioglobal says:

    The tasting tour sounds like a fun and creative idea!

  3. Hema P. says:

    Couldn’t have thought of a better way myself to introduce the various colors and flavors that make up India. Looks like your tours pack truly off-the-beaten-track experiences for those who are earnestly interested in India!

    Thanks for visiting my blog!

    • ninagrandiose says:

      Jackson Heights, NYC can seem as if it’s off the beaten-track but it is right in the heart of the very diverse borough of Queens…and simply by turning the corner one arrives in Latin America! I do lead tours both to India and in NYC. Thanks for your visit.

      Have you read, The Third Prince by Phiroz Ita…I think that’s his name….a fun read, same period with a twist and a very likeable heroine.

  4. yerfblog says:

    This is nice! I had my first paan guzzle in Jodhpur last week. Now I’m trying to convert my work colleagues! Shame I quit smoking recently, otherwise I would have definitely wanted to try the tobacco (normal) one. According to my local friends here, the sweet paan is usually taken by women and children, while the red, staining, tobacco paan is considered more masculine..

    • ninagrandiose says:

      I certainly hope that you won’t be overly influenced by the macho men of India and not enjoy a sweet pan when you are inclined to chew one! Though I am passionate about India and have spent much of my life in the pursuit and study of India’s fascinating history and culture, in the process of modernizing, India often mimics the worst aspects of the West. Smoking falls into that category, especially with young women….a pity, really. Thanks for your comment. Enjoy India!

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