snacks and addictions

If you see red stains on the sidewalk in an Indian city, it’s likely they are selling paan nearby. This snack is the only nasty one I am going to write about, so I’m getting it out of the way first. People use it after the manner of chewing tobacco, after they roll some betel or areca nut (Areca catechu) and perhaps tobacco and some other flavors and ingredients into a paan leaf, which is also called a betel leaf (Piper betle) although the plant it comes from is an entirely different species .

I found lots of information online about how healthy the paan leaf is; it is related to kava, so maybe that’s true. But I’m afraid that doesn’t make the whole concoction any less toxic. “Paan (under a variety of names) is … consumed in many other Asian countries and elsewhere in the world by some Asian emigrants, with or without tobacco. It is an addictive and euphoria-inducing formulation with adverse health effects.”

Kate pointed out these paan preparers to me and that made me curious enough to read more about the whole thing. In some places paan is outlawed because the chewers often spit on the sidewalk and it makes an unsightly red mess. It is possible to find recipes in which the betel nut part is optional, so you could eat a non-toxic version if you’re interested. Let me know and I will ask Kate where she found it. 🙂

So, that’s usually a bad sort of snack to be in the habit of eating, but Indians are great snackers all around, and you are in luck if you are looking for something spicy and crunchy. There must be a hundred snacks in this category that I haven’t tasted, but I’ll tell you about a small sample.

This flaky stuff below, poha chivda, is the first such food I encountered. The main ingredient is rice made into crisp flakes about the size of regular rolled oats, to which other very spicy ingredients are added. I can’t personally eat it tidily other than with a spoon out of a cup, but I think it must commonly be eaten out of hand, too. I found a recipe for it which I am linking to just so you can see a better photo of this snack that I love. The main ingredient would no doubt be hard to find in the U.S.:

Bitter gourd is battered and deep fried to make a food that is even more fiery than the above. Eating a whole 2″ diameter ring of this snack keeps me warm for quite a while:

Outside the famous Mary Mount church at Bandra Fort is a snack stand that caters both to tourists and to church people who might need one thing or another as they go in to worship and/or come out hungry:

We came upon a coconut stand, and Tom bought a fresh coconut that was served with a straw. Then he was given a scoop made from a slice of the fruit, with which to scrape out the creamy pulp that was left after we drank the coconut water.

Another favorite of Tom’s is sev puri, which is sold at the same snack stands as pani puri which I mentioned before. I have eaten it two or three times, when we stop on the street and two or three of us stand at the counter and share one of these savory bowls. I know, it looks a mess, but you get to watch it be assembled from several ingredients that combine to deliver a flavor punch with crunch on top. Highly recommended!

The moong dal snack below was offered in our hotel room last week and I have no idea what it is like because I’m saving it for something or other:

So far, the store pictured below was my favorite food shopping experience, for the large variety of dried fruit, snacks and sweets available there. Here Kate and friend Krishna are trying to get the attention of the busy clerks:

And it was at this store that I was introduced to the amazing dried apricots, no bigger than 1 1/2″, with pits intact. The flavor is sunshine bright, and they make a nice little nibble.

It would be easy to become addicted — but I’m counting them as health food!

9 thoughts on “snacks and addictions

  1. The Moong Dal seems to me to be very close to our roasted and salted soybeans. They used to be one of my favorite snacks, but they’re getting hard to find for some reason. They are delicious, and I’ll bet the Moong Dal is, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I did a little more research and found that the snack is made from mung beans, “moong” being another word for them. Vigna radiata. Also called “green gram,” which phrase helped me on my path to the answer. 🙂 On the back of the bag it says, “Split pulse moong.”

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  2. Oooh, it sounds right up my street there! I adore salty and spicy snacks! Interestingly, I’ve just finished a book set in Mumbai in India and read various passages involving people chewing the betel nuts and leaves and thought it seems a horrid idea (esp as the descriptions involved Spitting which I loathe!) . When I lived in Indonesia, I ADORED the variety of salty snacks available there! My favourite were the Cassava crisps and battered tofu!

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  3. There is a pretty large Indian grocery store on our way back from our far-away church and they had a whole WALL of what we call ‘Indian Junk Food’ … mainly bright fried snacks curry coloured! We love it! My Husband had Indian roommates years ago and was introduced to this there… I love Indian food, must try to make some more soon! 🙂

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  4. So interesting! I’m sure it doesn’t take long to get over the American picky-ness that I feel when I go to another country (especially hot countries). YOU are an amazing adventurer, GJ!

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  5. Those look like some good snacks to me. It appears many are fried. I wonder what types of oils they use for frying? The dried fruit would be so delicious. I’m into dried figs right now and it goes fine with my Whole30 eating.

    Thanks for sharing all these interesting things with us, Gretchen. How is Baby Raj doing?

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  6. I looked at the recipe you linked to and am sure I would like it too. I just finished reading a charming little cookbook from the 50s about Indian curries, chutneys, etc. and realized that I love most of the ingredients in these foods. As with any cookbook I read through, I made a list of recipes I want to try, many from this one. I love curries eaten out but have always thought them to complicated to try at home but now I want to try.

    Will you be cooking some of these new foods when you return home? Or maybe you already have been?

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