Betel nut chewing

Betel nut chewing Betel nut seller at the Hpa-An market.

Every street in Burma has a least one if not several one-man Betel nut stalls. There are everywhere. Even on the train, men walked the aisles selling them from portable trays.

Most men (old and young), some of the monks and older women chew on Betel leaves with areca nut (seeds of areca palm) with spices. It is a mild stimulant like coffee (makes you more alert), is supposed to be good for treating bad breath, kills intestinal parasites and helps with suppressing your appetite. Betel nut chewers have lips, gums and teeth permanently stained red and black. Heavy users can also develop sores in their mouth or even oral cancer. Chewing Betel nuts produces huge amount of red saliva which they spit out wherever. In busy city areas you have to keep an eye on spitting people if you don’t want to get it on your shoes or trousers, or step into some fresh spit. It is all pretty gross but red stains are part of Burmese scenery. You cannot escape them. Very often when talking to Burmese men I watched how they kept their parcel between their teeth and cheek while talking to me. Taking breaks from time to time to spit. One parcel can last from a few minutes to a an hour. Depending on preference.

Betel nut chewing Betel leaves to wrap the ingredients.

Betel nut chewing Plenty of leaves prepared for sale. Very unusual to see a Betel nut seller with white teeth. Female sellers admited the reason they didn’t chew was to protect their teeth. Most of the male sellers looked like very heavy users (from looking at their ‘bloody’ smiles).

Betel nut chewing Preparing Betel nut parcels.

Betel nut chewing Betel nut leaves (coated in lime paste) with areca nuts, dried mango, shredded coconut, cloves, cumin, aniseed, cardamom seeds and bits of tobacco fermented in rice whiskey. 100Kyats per parcel. This sweet version is popular with women.

Betel nut chewing ‘Bloody’ streets – Betel nut chewers marking their territory

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