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Thursday, September 2, 2010

Chilling from the subcontinent

The many diverse cultures living in Houston have to find ways of dealing with our sometimes oppressively hot summer weather. The option of imbibing a cold beer at local ice house isn't available to observant Pakistani Muslims, but they find their way to some of the juice and snack bars around the city, as the Ramadan fast comes to an end, to indulge in freshly squeezed juices, shakes, smoothies, falooda, and maybe ice cream.

Pictured above are kulfi setting up in their molds. Kulfi are a non whipped ice cream, made by cooking milk so long that the concentration of solute is high enough to prevent hard ice crystals from forming, and are often flavored with rosewater, pistachios or saffron. The Pakistani tradition freezes them in these long conical molds with a stick, resulting in these extra long creamy popsicles.

But then I noticed that they carried paan flavored ice cream. Paan are a packages of areca nuts and calcium hydroxide wrapped in betel leaves, often flavored with various spices, sugar, and even tobacco, popularly chewed in south and southeast Asia, recreationally, medicinally, or often offered as a digestive aid. The chewing of paan stains one's saliva red, and compounds in paan are also suspected of being mildly carcinogenic (tobacco is a recent addition, and with that, paan chewing is definitely carcinogenic). People are known to chew six or more paan packages a day, and vendors of various paan types, from the hardcore to dessert paans (filled with coconut and sugar and fennel) are ubiquitous in India and Pakistan.

Then again, paan can also refer to just the betel vine leaves only.

So, I had to taste the ice cream. I discovered that in this case, the ice cream was not flavored just with the leaves, as I chewed on fennel seeds.

And that I don't like paan ice cream. At least, not this version.

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