• Want fiery refreshment? Try this paan. (Instagram: maysaarefeen)
This unconventional snack is heating up street food stalls and social media.
Siobhan Hegarty, Farah Celjo

19 May 2017 - 4:22 PM  UPDATED 19 May 2017 - 4:25 PM

If you haven't seen, tasted or heard of paan before, it can be a little difficult to place what it actually is. Basically, picture a betel leaf – you know, that lovely edible wrapper frequently used in Thai cuisine – encasing a red berry, which is confusingly known as an areca or betel nut, along with other spices, seeds and, quite possibly, a sprinkling of tobacco.

When chewing paan, one is left with a bright red residue that can be swallowed or spat out. For this reason, it's common to see crimson splatterings on streets, sidewalks and even walls across paan-loving countries, like India and Bangladesh. (If you notice an abundance of red tongues and inner-lips in such countries, you can usually blame the paan for that, too.) 

People with a penchant for paan believe this chewable treat freshens one's mouth. What is less publicised though, is the connection between paan and mind-altering effects. See, both betel leaves and betel nuts are psychoactive products, which means they can be used as a recreational drug, or taken for medicinal or therapeutic purposes. 

In New Delhi right now, one paan stall is taking this snack to even more mind-bending levels, by setting the leaf alight. Yep, it's called #firepaan

Rather than turning paan chewers away, the stall – Thakur's Odeon Milan Paan at Connaught Place – is attracting queues of iron-mouth eaters, and setting social media on fire. Offering an array of paan flavours, including chocolate, butterscotch, clove, flirt and competition. (Okay, we're not sure what the last two mean, either.) 

When it comes to their house special, fire paan, the staff at Thakur's feed the flambé leaf directly into diners' mouths, magically avoiding any burns. 

In this 101 India video, one paan maker says it's relatively safe, provided sudden movements don't occur. 

"It is only risky when people get nervous and move back," he says.

The jury's still out on whether fire paan is a crazy gimmick or unmissable food experience, but if one thing's for certain, it's that this trend is seriously hot.  


Have we got your attention and your tastebuds? The Chefs' Line airs 6pm weeknights on SBS. Check out the program page for episode guides, cuisine lowdowns, recipes and more.


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