Back in the eighties, when Chennai was still a deliciously sleepy town, the Calcutta Pan Shop used to be one of our favorite little joints to hit. Every time we went for a drive, we would somehow end up at this little Paan kiosk, right on Nungambakkam High Road.
Paan is a kind of after meal digestive, made with betel leaf, betel or areca nuts and many kinds of sweetened and desiccated fillings. There are many different ways of making paan and it varies from region to region in India. It is used as a digestive and at many social occasions.
I went back after maybe two decades, and found that time has stood still at the Calcutta Pan Shop.
The owner Hari, who started this little pan shop in 1968, still sits in this 6×6 square foot space surrounded by neatly arranged shelves of everything you would look to find in a paan shop – such as suparis, churans, cigarettes, chewing gum, soft drinks and so much more.
The paan at the Calcutta Pan Shop still reigns supreme. My favorite is the Meetha Paan (sweet paan), which is stuffed with all kinds of sweet fillings like candied fruit and jams. I did find that he has upped his menu with the changing times and now offers things like chocolate and butterscotch paan.
Going back to the Calcutta Pan Shop was really a charming little expedition for me – not just for the amazing paan but also for the delightful dip into the past.