Mohammad Faruk had little time for a break as he was preparing paan khilis (a piece of betel leaf prepared with different ingredients) one after another for his eagerly waiting customers. The front road of his store was jammed with vehicles that brought in customers from long distances.
Faruk runs Parvin Store, one of eight paan stores in Love Lane area, a hotspot for paan lovers in Chattogram city. Faruk prepares ten different varieties of sweet paan ranging from Tk5 to Tk500. And the main attraction of his store is "Bahar Paan".
A khili of Bahar Paan is sold at Tk500.
Bahar Paan has a 200-year long history dating back to the time of Mughal emperor Akbar. Aristocrats in that period had a special appetite for this particular variety. The Bahar Paan is traditionally served to the groom in a wedding ceremony.
Bahar Paan is prepared with ten additives including – gulkand (a sweet additive made from rose petals), cashew nut, prune, sweet cumin, and black cumin. Kasturi or musk, a strong-smelling reddish-brown substance which is secreted by the male musk deer, an important ingredient in perfumery, is also used in Bahar Paan.
Faruk said he bought 90 grams of Kasturi five years back for Tk60 thousand. He uses only a sprinkle of the ingredient for his most expensive product.
London-expatriate Arif Haque is one of the premium customers of Faruk. "Whenever I come to Bangladesh, I stop by Faruk bhai's store to taste the Bahari Paan," he said.
"However, I do not buy the paan unless Faruk bhai is present at the store in person. I find a unique delight in the paan he prepares with his own hands," he added.
Among other varieties, Faruk sells Boxirhater Paan at Tk200, Noorani Shahi Paan at Tk100, Benarsi Shahi Paan at Tk50, Elachirsha Shahi Paan at Tk30, Elachi Shahi Paan at Tk20, Jafrana Shahi Paan at Tk10 and the most common paan variety at Tk5.
Traditionally a favourite of the elderlies, betel leaves have been getting popularity among the young generation in recent years.
Betel leaves cultivated in Maheshkhali upazila of Cox's Bazar mixing with various sweet additives are most popular among the paan lovers.
The usual paan khili includes lime, jorda (smokeless chewing tobacco), betel nuts assembled on the betel leaf and has been generally preferred by the older people. But the sweetened paans have way more ingredients than these.
"The sweet paans have become popular among the youths and the restaurant-goers. Nowadays, many corporate houses also use the desserts to treat guests at different events," Faruk said.
Aminul Islam, a young customer of Love Lane's paan stores, said, "People of my age often come to Love Lane area to taste the diverse flavours of paan khilis prepared here."
Driven by the success of Love Lane area, paan stores have now been mushrooming throughout Chattogram city.
Amir Ali Khokon, the owner of Delowara Foods, has two stores at the GEC intersection and the Khulshi area of Chattogram city and supplies paan khilis to the restaurants.
According to him, sweet paan khilis have now become an integral part of meals in Chattogram as their demand continues to rise. The Benarsi Paan, sold at Tk300 per khili, is the most expensive at his store. The paan variety includes almost 80 ingredients.
"At present, Chattogram city has 25 paan stores, outside of Love Lane. The business keeps growing more than ever," businessman Mohammad Jewel said.
"Every day on an average one lakh pieces of sweet paan are sold in the city with a market value of Tk5 lakh," he added.