Why chew paan when you can gulp it down? Mixologists give the humble betel leaf a facelift
As far as palate cleansers go, paan has seldom found a close second, on desi turf that is. It's perhaps why the latest mixology trick involves blending the minty flavours of the betel leaf with a drink that goes best with it - alcoholic or otherwise.
The result: now patrons can drink a paan as the sign off to a meal. The traditional leaf has found a nouveau twist in the several liquid experiments that sometimes even retain the core ingredients of the meetha paan - gulkand and supari, for instance.
While the idea of drinking something that involves customary chewing, might be hard to swallow, for guests, according to bartenders, what works is the freshness that paan induces, both in taste and as garnish.
Bambaiyya Paan Panna
At Jeon Rs 399
Cashing on our love for the meetha paan, chef Jerson Fernandes concocted this blend. Keeping the paan leaf as the main element, he incorporated the ingredients that go into it, for a liquid treat. Tutti fruiti, gulkand, thandai powder and coconut shavings are blended together. Add to that, a few lemon wedges, slivers of betel leaf mixed with chilled soda, and you have a refreshing all-season drink. "The betel leaf is a symphony of flavours – sweet, lemony, bitter and astringent, which balance the cardamom flavour released by the thandai," he says. The rim of the glass is lined with gulkand. "That is an in-house mixture made of sugar and rose petals, which offsets the bitterness and sourness." We are told the restaurant runs out of paan leaves every day. "The drink has no alcohol, which makes it popular across ages. Also, it acts as a perfect after-meal digestive," he says.
Madeira And Mime Rs 330
At Powai's Madeira and Mime, the names of drinks often elicit amusing reactions. "Here, Paan Brosnan and Paan Muchhadwal are on the same page," says owner Prashant Issar. "While Brosnan has a niche following, the Mucchhad cocktail is one of our highest selling drinks," he says. The latter is a sharp-tasting cocktail with a mix of vodka, clove, apple juice and paan flavour, whereas the shot is potent with paan extracts and vodka. Mocktail lovers have much to look forward to, too. "They are far more experimental. Alcohol lovers have their own set poison," he says. The paan sipper is a refreshing mocktail with pineapple juice and lime. "The pineapples cut the sharpness, lending a tinge of sweetness."
Craft Rs 450
This cocktail marries a classic Western favourite, the Jack Daniel's, with paan. The sweet flavour of the spirit is combined with the smoky, peppery flavour of the betel leaf. Tanai Sherali, beverage developer, says, "The magic of this drink lies in the betel leaf which lends the drink a natural herby flavour that is different from cardamom and aniseed. The spirit adds a neutral base and blends beautifully with the stronger notes of the paan. Paan has a distinct taste. It is a tad spicy, sweet and its bitterness is subtle, but enough to combat overt sweetness. Also, it adds a certain exotic factor to the cocktail." There are times when guests are unsure, but once they try it, they go for repeats. Another factor that made them introduce the drink, was demand for local produce. "We wanted to create something that was cool and was local too. This one struck ideal middle ground."
Summer House Cafe Rs 500
At Lower Parel's Summer House, the paan shot was borne out of the need to offer a flavour that could stand out in the wide array of drinks at the bar. "Paan has flavours that are refreshing and unique when compared to regular drinks," says Prashant Rane, bar manager. While the ingredients are sourced locally, he believes it's the twist given to them that makes a difference. "Here, betel leaves are chopped fine and mixed in vanilla ice cream. Both, refreshing flavours, they go well together. A dash of gulkand is added along with crushed fennel seeds. Mixed with vodka and ice in a shaker, it makes for a delightful experience," he says.
Paan Vannila Martini
United Sports Bar And Grill Rs 325
Sonali Mullick, mixologist and operational regional head at United Sports Bar, likes chewing on meetha paan after a heavy meal. "I'm a true blue Bengali, and there's nothing quite like a juicy mishti paan. So, I thought of incorporating the flavours in my drink," she says. Her experiment has turned out to be the bar's most successful creation. The taste is a combination of sweet and spicy that oozes out from the paan leaf when muddled. "We were sure that this is one drink that would sell after guests took their first sip," she says.
Art of Paan
Indigo Deli Rs 550
Ravi Aley, mixologist at Indigo Deli, who created the Art of Paan, a vodka-infused paan cocktail, is fastidious when it comes to his creations. "It took me around four months to get this drink right. I kept experimenting," he says. Aley's first experiment included betel leaves, kattha and gulkand along with betel nut. However, the effect was far from pleasing. "It just didn't taste right. Then one day, I came across a sweet supari at a paan shop and thought of using it in vodka. After two hours of infusion, I managed to get the flavours of betel nut and a hint of betel leaves." He then added cranberry juice for a crimson hue, which also blended well with the sharp taste of betel leaves and the sweetness of the supari.
Dhishkiyaoon Rs 420
The name of the drink often induces a chuckle among guests at this BKC resto-bar. Head bartender Chandrakand Shinde was looking at creating an after-dinner drink. Since meetha paan is the most popular post-meal go-to, he thought of marrying the two concepts in a cocktail. "Paan is everyone's favourite. We thought, why not have a cocktail that guests can enjoy after their meal, one that doesn't make them miss their paan. Also, the betel leaf has rich nutritional content. It's a little sweet and a little bitter - the flavour profile is ideal for a drink," he says. Whisky and paan syrup form the core of this cocktail, while supari, gulkand and coconut are blended later. For a smooth aftertaste, a wedge of pineapple and lime is added.
The Sahib Room & Kipling Bar, The St Regis Rs 900
Think this one might intrigue Agent 007? Even if not, the Paan Martini has been successfully satiating the curiosity of guests at this five-star hotel. Head bartender, Shivesh Kumar, says, "Most guests have heard of paan ice cream, paan kulfi. So, when we tell them of a paan drink, they are curious to try it, and eventually, they end up liking it because it has that refreshing aftertaste." It was during the bartenders' training session, that the drink was conceptualised. "I was feeling homesick, missing my father's paan case, and the aroma that surrounded it. That's how the thought of creating a drink with paan, struck me," Kumar adds. It comprises vodka, betel masala, gulkand and lime juice, shaken together, double strained and served with betel nut, cherry, betel leaf and rose petals.
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