|19th Century Drawing of Areca catechu|
Betel nut (sounds like beetle nut) is something that I had never heard of before coming to Taiwan. I first heard about it when walking the streets of downtown Taipei with a friend. A religious procession/parade was going down the streets and many of the people in it were chewing on something and spitting out red stuff all over the pavement. I asked what it was and to my astonishment was told that it was some sort of a nut wrapped in a leaf, that is commonly chewed here. Although, it looked questionable, I immediately wanted to try it...
Betel nut, also known as bin lang by the locals, is somewhat similar to chewing tobacco in Western Culture.
The nut comes from Areca catechu, more commonly referred to as the Betel Palm, where it gets its name. The Areca nuts are harvested and wrapped around with a fresh Betel Palm leaf. Usually, you see people working at the betel nut shops wrapping them with the fresh leaves, before placing them in the window. The tree that produces the nut can be found in the tropical Pacific, Asia, and parts of east Africa.
How does one find betel nut? Betel nut stands are all very similar and easy to spot. Typically the stands are green with a half circle of flashing lights to entice the addicted betel nut chewers. These lights can be seen down many streets flashing in the night. Rumor on the street, is in some places, the people who sell the said betel nuts are promiscuous girls. These girls are sometimes referred to as betel nut beauties. Cigarettes are usually sold in these stands as well... Stands of pure sin!
To chew betel nut, you first bite off the pit on the end, put it in your mouth and begin to chew. You chew and chew and chew. Do not spit or swallow. There is a similar effect much like tobacco. You get a buzz that lasts for a few minutes. Unlike chewing tobacco, your mouth will become red, instead of brown. AND it is bitter, bitter, bitter.
Much like tobacco, Betel nut is addictive. The clientele for betel nut are usually city workers, prostitutes, taxi drivers, and vaguely the working class.
People could say that betel nut is not something to be chewed by a lady, much like chewing tobacco. Being a Texas girl, and having chewed tobacco at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, I could try and argue with that, but lets face it: this is not a face any lady should make.
|Mouth Full of Betel Nut, Y'all. |
|Betel Nut Wrapped in Betel Palm Leaf|
|Betel Nut, Beer, Cigarette, and Firework Vendor|
|Typical Betel Nut Bag|
|Bite off the end of the Nut - Thanks to my model and Professor of Betel Nut, Pete.|
|Biting off the end and looking like a fool.|