Thursday, January 14, 2016

Nepali Paan Battaa - नेपाली पानबट्टा (After-meal Refresher)

Nepali Paan Battaa - नेपाली पानबट्टा (After-meal Refresher)

Excite your taste buds by slowly chewing small amounts of traditional Nepali whole spices after your meal.  You'll really appreciate the refreshing taste that is both a mouth freshener and digestive aid.

Nepali meals are always finished off with a special selection of fragrant whole spices, dried fruits and nuts, sweet or salted fruit nuggets (titauraa), betel nuts (supaari), and ready-made digestive powders.  A mixture of whole cloves, green or black cardamom seeds, and cinnamon sticks are often chewed and sucked to cleanse and refresh the palate. Some people find betel nuts the most satisfying and they chew them by themselves or with cloves and cardamom throughout the day.  A mixture made of fennel seeds, finely shredded betel nuts, and aromatic flavorings is also chewed to cleanse the mouth.

Nepalese also enjoy a popular digestive chew prepared from green betel leaves, locally known as paan.  The leaves are neatly rolled and folded into a triangular pouch that is filled with different combinations of ingredients, such as betel nuts, cardamom seeds, cloves, dried fruits, fennel seeds, and coconut chips.  The combination is usually chewed slowly to refresh the palate.  When habitually chewed, betel leave stain the teeth and turn the mouth a deep red color.  Betel leaf chewing is an acquired taste and some people find it too strong.

Many Nepali households own a traditional container, called a Paan Batta or Paanbatta, an elaborate box with beautiful carvings. The boxes are usually made of silver, but can also be made from anything, from wood to precious metals.  The bigger boxes have compartments to hold different ingredients.   It is customary at the end of meal for the host or hostess to bring out the Paan Batta filled with fragrant whole spices, betel nuts, or dried fruits and offer it to the guests, whether the occasion is formal or informal.  There is a custom in Nepal of presenting a silver Paan Battaa to the bride as a wedding present so that she may serve and impress her guests once she goes to her husband's house.

A Nepali Paan Battaa is usually carved with Astamangala (अस्तमंगल), which is a sacred eight auspicious signs. They are white parasol (protects from evil desire), two fishes (symbolizing rescue from ocean of misery and existence), conch sankha (melodious-sound), dhvja (protection from harmful forces), endless knot srivatsa  (wisdom and compassion), kalasa (spiritual wealth), lotus flower (purity), and chamaru (tantric manifestations). Each sign symbolizes auspiciousness. They appear grouped together as a decorative motif in metal, stone, wood, and painting.  These are believed to represent the gifts given by Sakyamuni on his attainment of Enlightenment of Buddha.

Here is another silver tray with several metal containers that are heaped with a variety of palate refreshers we call baasna aune masalaa haru (बासना आउने मसला हरु). The small round containers in the center hold all different variety of betel nuts or areca nuts (supaari) and other mouth freshener blends. They are thinly sliced supaari chips, shredded and fragrant, sweet thinly chopped ones, menthol flavored, roasted and chopped, silver-leaf coated whole cloves, green mukhwas blend with strong aroma, and candy and mint coated fennel seeds with nuts.  The tray is also surrounded by several variety of nuts, seeds and dried fruits.

This tray in the right has a well balanced blend of flavors for cleaning the palate and aid digestion - especially after a big rich meal. The combination of different dried fruits and nuts, whole or chopped into bite-sizes pieces, is another after-meal refresher in Nepal.  Sugar or rock candy is another popular item.  This popular dry fruit and nut combination is a natural energy booster and a cure for sweet cravings.  Here are some of the most common ones - raw almonds, raw cashews, walnuts, pitted dried dates, dried apricots, dried figs, chopped dried coconut, shelled raw pistachios, dark or golden raisins, puffed lotus seeds (makhanaa), and rock candy (mishri).

Close up of the tray
Stop at the outdoor market at Indra Chowk an Asan Tole area of Kathmandu and you will see a doko (wicker basket) full of fresh Nepali spices.  There is green and black cardamom, stick cinnamon, cloves and selection of  several variety of nuts, seeds and dried fruits in the indoor markets.
Let's take a closer look at this breath-freshener tray that was found in one of the popular Thakali restaurants in Pokhara, Nepal.  In the tray you will find a generous serving of fennel seeds, chopped betel nuts and rock candy.   Fennel seeds are used extensively as an after-meal digestive or palate cleaner after a spicy Nepali meal.  A small quantity is chewed slowly just like an after-dinner mint.  They are served toasted by themselves or with a combination of shredded coconut, tiny candy balls, roasted melon seeds, and tiny pieces of rock candy.  Sometimes the fennel seeds are coated with multi-colored candy coatings.
Fresh green betel leaves, locally known as Paan ko Paat (पान को पात).
Here in another breath-fresher tray where you will find a selection of chopped natural supaari (areca nut), green cardamom, cloves, fennel seeds along with toothpicks.  Cloves are the most common mouth freshener.  Aside from its culinary use, cloves are also used to freshen one's mouth.  Nepalese chew cloves throughout the day, alone or with green cardamom or black cardamom or cinnamon sticks and betel nuts.  Chewing cloves is certainly a cultivated taste, and at first, they can be biting sharp, hot, and leave a numb sensation in the mouth, but once you get used to it you enjoy the taste.  Cloves act as a quick home remedy for relieving toothaches by simply tucking them in the affected corner of the mouth and chewing slowly to release the oil.  This also helps to minimize tooth decay and eliminates halitosis.  Cloves are used to cure nausea and flatulence and to promote digestion, especially eating fatty and spicy food.
Images of Nepali hand-engraved silver Paan Batta ( नेपाली पानबट्टा) in different size and shapes given to me during my wedding time.  They have become antiques now.  As I have mentioned above, there is a custom in Nepal of presenting a silver Paan Battaa to the bride as a wedding present so that she may serve and impress her guests once she goes to her husband's house.

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