The consumption of paan (betel nut) has been popular throughout the subcontinent for centuries. It’s said that the Mughals were responsible for introducing this “delicacy” in Lahore, and from here it spread throughout the region. It’s also said to have become even more popular in Pakistan after partition, especially among the Memon and Urdu-speaking communities. While some households may consume it regularly, paan is also enjoyed in general as an occasional delicacy. Paan is almost always bought from street vendors, or paan walas, as opposed to being prepared at home, as was the norm in days past.
Paan is a sort of a ‘mouth-freshener’, and the Mughals usually ended their meals by chewing on it. You usually find paan in small shops (khokas), where you order your choice of paan. The variety includes classics like meetha (sweet) paan, paan without supari, and khushbu wala (fragrant) paan. The paan walas make you your morsel right before your eyes, then wrap it for you in a piece of paper (usually torn from magazines or newspapers).
The sitting area!
Before Panwaari, which opened its doors to the public on July 2 this year, no one really thought that you could sit in a clean, nicely decorated and air conditioned sitting area and be served clean and hygenic paan on your table. But Panwaari has made it happen!
“Our inspiration is the Mughal era, where paan was a symbol of hospitality and cultural sophistication,” said owner Saad Sarwana on his inspiration behind the Panwaari. “The difference between Panwaari and regular paan is the quality of ingredients; we use only imported ingredients and hygiene is something we never compromise on!”
Panwaari is located at the very heart of Karachi, near Bahadurabad. When you first enter this place, it gives you the impression of a small café, and looks nothing like your regular paan-wala! There is a small seating space right at the entrance; about 3 or 4 small round tables surrounded by comfortable looking chairs. The cash-counter and paan station are towards the back.
They have an extensive list of different paan flavors; some we have never heard of before. From Fruit-Flavored to Nutella-waari (as the name suggests, it’s a paan flavored with NUTELLA — and it’s heavenly!). They also have some special flavors for kids, such Chocolate Jimmies and Rainbow Sprinkles.
We were quite surprised to see that they don’t just serve paans but have A LOT of other things listed on their menu as well. From hot coffee to cold frappes and from freshly squeezed juices to iced teas, they offer a good range of drinks. What really jumped out at us on the menu was the many different flavors of ice cream they were offering; the most prominent being their Panwaari Signature Paan Ice Cream. Having never heard of a paan flavoured ice cream before, we were quite intrigued by the notion and quickly ordered one along with some paans.
The paans are usually made in advance and packed in cute little pyramid-shaped boxes, which, when you open them, hold not just the paan but also a piece of tissue paper and a spit pouch! Yes, you read that right, each paan COMES WITH ITS OWN SPIT POUCH! And wait there’s more; the pouch has a public service message written on it which reads as: “Pls don’t spit pan on paths and walls. It’s nasty!” How cool is that?
As for the flavor, the leaves are green and fresh (kept that way with the help of an automatic water-squirting machine) and the fillings are yummy; different for each particular kind of flavor that you order. You definitely get your taste buds satisfied without having to worry about issues like cleanliness and hygiene (their paan-makers wear gloves while handling the paans).
The ice cream took some time but when it did arrive, the presentation delighted us. The base of the ice-cream is vanilla (not made in-house), topped with all the stuff that goes into the making paan, including some pieces of the leaf itself. It’s like nothing you’ve ever eaten before, and we loved how it tasted. It’s packed full of flavor and you should definitely give it a go if you’re a paan enthusiast.
The price range isn’t as high as you would think. Their regular paans start from Rs. 50 and go up to Rs. 100 for flavored ones, as well as silver-coated ones (wrapped in chaandi-warq). If you’re in the mood for some serious indulgence however, then order their Signature Gold Paan, priced at Rs. 1,000 and made with 24 karat pure gold.
We love the idea behind Panwaari as it’s always exciting to see people taking the food business one step ahead in ways that are beyond what is orthodox.