Main Course

Au Bon Paan

Rico heads to Artesia to sample the digestive aid/breath freshener, which Chaitnya Vyas expertly crafts with a variety of flavors at K.C. Paan & Chaat House.

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Photo Credit: KC Paan

Paan is an item, often chewed in India and elsewhere. It is the leaf of a betel plant, wrapped around sweet, savory or aromatic spices, candies and betel nut. It has kind of a mild caffeine effect. Essentially, you chew the paan and it perks you up, freshens your breath, and supposedly acts as a digestif.

Just outside L.A. is a man named Chaitnya Vyas. He’s is among the very few in California who make fresh paan. At his shop, K.C. Paan & Chaat House, he offers up many different kinds of paan, including what he calls “The Mouthful,” which has dozens of ingredients. When Rico went to his shop, he taped Chaitnya making a smaller one: the K.C. Special Paan, which was still super complicated. He started by laying down a leaf. Click here to watch how it’s made and see Rico’s reaction.

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Chaitnya Vyas: It’s a betel leaf.

Rico Gagliano: So, that’s the betel leaf?

Chaitnya Vyas: This is the betel leaf. We got it from Hawaii. Hawaii people, they grow it. And now, I’m putting this, the lime.

The heart-shaped betel leaf, pictured to the left. Rico Gagliano: I see. So, you’re taking the leaf, and you put some kind of white, milky lime juice on it.

Chaitnya Vyas: Right. We are mixing it on a leaf.

Rico Gagliano: And what is this you’re putting on? You’re using something that looks like a large makeup brush to put on — what is this?

Chaitnya Vyas: That is a kattha. The red thing is a kattha.

Rico Gagliano: What is that?

Chaitnya Vyas: It is a root of the tree.

Rico Gagliano: So now, the leaf, which is, you know, I’d say it’s the size of maybe an oak leaf, but it’s kind of a heart shape. And now you’re using this little…

Chaitnya Vyas: Now, I’m using the fragrance, which is made with the honey and menthol.

Rico Gagliano: Honey and mint or menthol?

Chaitnya Vyas: Menthol. Also, we are putting…this is called a hira moti, which makes your breath fresh. Then after, we are going to put the shredded betel nut.

Rico Gagliano: So now, shredded betel nut is going on here. It’s kind of orange.

Chaitnya Vyas: This is sweet one. Sweet leaf, sweet one.

Rico Gagliano: So, is there sugar in that?

Chaitnya Vyas: No. They make it with sugar water. They dip it, then make it dry, and it comes like this.

Rico Gagliano: So, you shred the betel nut, and then kind of dip it in sugar water and let it dry out.

Chaitnya Vyas: Right. So, this is the all mixture, and it has a fennel, fennel candy, date.

Rico Gagliano: I’ve actually seen this sometimes at Indian restaurants. It’s like a mixture of fennel seed and some little candies. Like rice grain sized candies.

Chaitnya Vyas: Right. You are right. OK, now we are going to put the sweet coconut.

Rico Gagliano: Wow, there is a lot of stuff in this! Now powdered coconut’s going in there?

Chaitnya Vyas: Yeah, powdered coconut. It’s sweet.

Rico Gagliano: Oh, that looks delicious.

Chaitnya Vyas: OK. Then after, we are going to put the tutti frutti.

Rico Gagliano: Did you say tutti frutti?

Chaitnya Vyas: Tutti frutti. Here is the tutti frutti.

Rico Gagliano: These almost look like little shredded gummy bears or something.

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Chaitnya Vyas: Yeah. It’s not a gummy, but it looks like that. Then after, we are going to put the rose-flavored date.

Rico Gagliano: Rose-flavored dates.

Chaitnya Vyas: Now the final stage. We are going to put the rose petal. Real rose, made with real rose.

Rico Gagliano: This looks almost like a marmalade made of rose petal?

Chaitnya Vyas: This is rose petal, yeah.

Rico Gagliano: And it’s kind of reddish.Every color in the rainbow is going on top of this betel leaf now.

Chaitnya Vyas: Right. Then after, we hold the thing, and start to fold it. There you go.

Rico Gagliano: Right, making like, a little tri-corner…

Chaitnya Vyas: Triangle, here you go.

Rico Gagliano: Making a little triangular pocket.

Chaitnya Vyas: And there’s the paan. That’s your paan now. All right.

Rico Gagliano: Now, what I have here is something… it looks almost the size of like, a spinach pie, but it’s with a wrapping that also makes it look like a grape leaf, like a triangular stuffed grape leaf. It’s huge. It’s probably about the size of the palm of my hand. Do I just put this all in my mouth?

Chaitnya Vyas: Everything, you need to put in mouth. And put it by the cheek.

Rico Gagliano: Here we go. Should I be chewing on this at all?

Chaitnya Vyas: Yeah, keep chewing, and swallow the juice.

Rico Gagliano: The flavor of this thing is incredibly complex.

Rico talks to Chaitnya while enjoying some paan.
Rico talks to Chaitnya while enjoying some paan.

Chaitnya Vyas: Right, right.

Rico Gagliano: There’s kind of a mintiness.

Chaitnya Vyas: Minty.

Rico Gagliano: Also, I’m getting the sweet from those kind of little candied rice-looking things.

Chaitnya Vyas: Rice candies, then the menthol ball, then the rose petal, date, and the…you call that gummy bear, but it’s a tutti frutti. So, all the sweetness is coming from there.

Rico Gagliano: Yeah, now I’m getting the sweetness. I got the first hit of menthol, but now I’m getting the sweetness. It’s really lovely, and I can tell that my breath is going to be a lot fresher when I’m done.

Chaitnya Vyas: Absolutely. Absolutely, and it going to be helpful to your digestion system.

Rico Gagliano: I feel like I could chew this for forever. How big is the mouthful? This isn’t even the biggest you’ve got.

Chaitnya Vyas: The Rajwadi has 28 product. You want to look at the Rajwadi, how to make it?

Rico Gagliano: I think if we go through the 28-product one, you’re going to take up the rest of my radio program. It’s only an hour long.

Chaitnya Vyas: Right, right, right.

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