15 August 2007

Desperate for a betel nut

I can't really remember when I last had a betel nut (probably the second year at the university) but I really want to go and fetch a pack for myself.

The betel nut (also called as areca nut) is the seed of the betel palm, a kind of palm which grows in Asia, the tropical Pacific and East Africa, and contains mildly intoxicating and slightly addictive alkaloids. It is consumed in different ways from region to region.

For example, whereas in Vietnam a betel nut is ground and chewed along with betel pepper (the leaf of an Asian evergreen climbing plant, which is not botanically related to the betel palm) and lime (the white caustic alkaline substance, not the citrus fruit), in India it is crushed, mixed with tobacco and spices and chewed like a quid of tobacco.

In Taiwan, instead of being ground or crushed, the betel nut is usually consumed whole. There are three major preparations:

  • The nutjingzai (菁仔, 'the nut'): the most popular one, a whole raw betel nut cut half way through down the centre filled in with the inflorescence of betel pepper and red paste (made of lime and herbs and spices).

  • Leaf-wrappedbaoye (包葉, 'leaf-wrapped'): a whole nut wrapped in a betel pepper leaf pasted with lime.

  • laoteng (老藤, 'old-stem'): similar to jingzai, but the stem of betel pepper is used rather than the inflorescence and white paste (only lime, without any spices) instead of red.
As chewing betel nut leads to the copious production of blood-red saliva, in Taiwan, a sobriquet, 'the red-lipped' (紅唇族 hongchunzhu), is given to those who have got hooked on chewing betel nut. In the past, when personal hygiene and public health were disregarded, chewers usually spat the debris together with gobs of red saliva on the street. It was said that unprepared tourists were often shocked when seeing a Taiwanese taxi driver, whom they thought to be suffering from his hard work, or, even worse, at the final stage of pulmonary tuberculosis, vomited up 'blood' straight down on the road.

Certainly, I would never spit out the bloody saliva on the street and I know the bloody fact shown by tons of medical research that chewing betel nut could lead to oral cancer and other oral-related diseases, but I'm still desperate for a jingzai.


阿牛 said...


Unknown said...

I am in your position.