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!