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: email@example.com