Betel chewing has been enjoyed in South and Southeast Asia for many centuries. A quid made of areca palm nut wrapped inside a leaf of betel pepper vine which has been smeared with slaked lime, is stowed in the side of the mouth and chewed until it becomes finely ground. The juice of the Kun-yar as it is chewed is either spitted out in a crimson stream, or swallowed. Sometimes the areca nut is strong enough to give one a dizzy spell and most prefer to spit out the juice, thereby lessening the toxic effect of the areca nut.
Betel leaf, lime and areca nut make up the basic Kun-yar. But most prefer a lot of fancy stuff to be put in the kun yar to enhance it in a variety of ways: to give it a fragrant smell, to make it taste sweeter, or to give it a more lethal brew.
Thus, the ingredients contained in a Kun-yar may consist of spices such as cardamom, aniseed, and clove, They may consist of sweetened grated coconut, or may contain pieces of tobacco. You may make it very fancy by coating it with silver leaf and keeping it packed in ice. It is then called “Ice-cold Silver Kun-yar” and people travel miles to purchase it at special shops in town.
Betel was synonymous in Myanmar with goodwill, hospitality, geniality and social enjoyment, and everyone owned a betel box. Men, women and monks of all ages and ranks chewed betel. It was embedded in social convention and court ceremony, and betel quids were a token of favor in village courtship and royal courts.
Nowadays, betel chewing is frowned upon because of the unsightly splashes of crimson on walls and roadside left by indiscriminate betel chewers. Also chewing betel causes stains on the teeth; and more seriously medical research has shown that betel chewing can lead to cancer of the tongue and throat. However, that may be, betel chewers are still very prevalent in Myanmar, and one can see sellers at any busy intersection, offering quids of betel to drivers of the cars as they wait for the traffic light to go green. And at any street corner, you can find a little stall with a tray piled high in a most attractive manner with green betel leaves, and a little pot of lime and small canisters and bottles full of ingredients to suit every taste.
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