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'nam Civilised' Versus Betelnut


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As we all know the first beer was imported in Siam from Europe.

No, not from Germany but from England!

This was towards the end of the nineteenth century. Soon after that the western civilisation 'contributed' also with whiskey to Siamese culture.

In the beginning beer was called 'civilised water' in Thailand.

We would call it anything, but certainly not this.

Because in many cases, after drinking too much of it, beer seems to remove a layer of civilisation rather than adding one. Beer opens some buttons of the mental 'corset' which we call civilsation.

Traditionally chewing betel, the Siamese 'chew', was the great distraction of men and women of Siam.

Even at the Court of the Great King Rama V at that time. If we believe Ernst von Hesse-Wartegg, a German nobleman with access to the court, the teeth of the Siamese nobility were black. It was said that when the King and his dignitaries received Europeans at the Court, they covered their blackened teeth with dentures of an immaculate white.

There is no antique shop without a collection of betelnut boxes or scissors to cut the nuts. Which sometimes are very beautiful decorated. So the betelnut must have been widely enjoyed in Siamese and later Thai society.

A couple of years ago in Maesai there was still a cart where they prepared and sold betelnut. I haven't seen it for a long time.

What is the effect of chewing betelnut, aside from getting black teeth? If you look at the two ladies on my avater it seems to make people happy.

Is it forbidden by law?

Limbo.

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Betelnut is part of thai culture.

My MIL still collects it and uses it as part of the decorations in our wat.

The last time I saw someone actually eating it was in Nan about two years ago. I was told it does give you a slight high.

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When I lived on Saipan I used to grow betel nut as a commercial crop. We usually sold four or five nuts for a US dollar.

It is still popular there and chewed by all ages.

Of course, I've chewed it many times.

In order to get the "high" and red colored juice you need to chew the betel with lime paste (usually made by burning coral) and pepper (peppercorn, not chili) leaf. The combination releases an alkaloid which gives you an interesting buzz. I liken it to having a beer and ten cups of coffee.

Some people chew the net alone. This produces no buzz, but is a habit sort of like chewing gum.

There are two sorts of betel nut that are commonly chewed. The one you see in Thailand has a red, very hard kernel in the nut. Popular in the Pacific islands is the white variety that has a smaller, softer kernel.

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Betel Nut use is a common sight in rural Issan. The ingredients and utensils are easily found in the markets.

The village elders tell me chewing betal nut numbs toothache and other aches or pains associated with old age. Unfortunately it appears the practice of chewing the leaf/nut/lime combination actually rots the teeth. I’m told the long term use of betal nut becomes mildly addictive.

The social interaction and toothache numbing benefits of chewing betal nut appear to cancel out any negative health concerns amongst the users.

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Betel Nut use is a common sight in rural Issan. The ingredients and utensils are easily found in the markets.

The village elders tell me chewing betal nut numbs toothache and other aches or pains associated with old age. Unfortunately it appears the practice of chewing the leaf/nut/lime combination actually rots the teeth. I’m told the long term use of betal nut becomes mildly addictive.

The social interaction and toothache numbing benefits of chewing betal nut appear to cancel out any negative health concerns amongst the users.

Betle Nut is indeed still very popular in Isaan.

In my wifes village nearly all the old people eat it ,even the monks in the temple.

I often leave the temple with a heaving stomach at the sight of the monk spitting into a plastic bag.

My wifes grandmother uses it and it seems it is mostly women that continue to do so in spite of the black,rotten teeth.

When she visits, which is not often thankfully,so goes outside to perform her disgusting habit.

Cigarette users aint so bad.

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Actually, betel nut chewing is good for the gums and teeth if you moderate the amount of lime used. The chewing action and abrasive qualities of the nut clean the teeth (like flossing) and stimulate the gums.

Using too much lime can irritate the mucous membrane in the mouth and eventually cause oral carcinomas.

People who spit while chewing are attempting to avoid the psychotropic action of drug and perhaps also the stomach upset from the alkalinity of the lime paste. Real chewers swallow....

:o

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Betel chewing is an acquired taste, and the lime will pickle your teeth until they are reduced to stubs after many years of indulgence. :D

The nuts grow on branches on the upper third of betel-palms, which grow as high as coconut trees. The disired form is the "mahk tem", the fully developed, soft & juicy nut.

Pick it too early, and you'll get alot of juice without much nut, pick it late, and it has already gone hard.

There is fresh (maak dip),and dried betelnut (maak haeng).

The dried one is reddish-brown, the fresh variety juicy and white/yellow in colour. As already explained, you spread some lime-paste (poon) onto a special leaf (bai plu), then slice/dice the 'nut' on top, fold the concoction into a ball and chew it.

Spit or swallow the red goo after a while, up to you, it is said to have medical properties: it kills off any worms you may have contracted from eating raw meat or fish (laab dip), some even say it suppresss malaria. :o

If you get the mix right, using the fresh nut, it is a considerable kick, specially after a few glasses of rice-whisky... :D But it only lasts a few minutes, though it maintains a very mild mellow 'high' for a while (perhaps due to the pain-suppressing properties). The crucial ingredient is the lime, take too little, and the dose will have little or no effect, too much will damage your gums, so they'll be raw for several days.

The dried nut is often mixed with condiments, such as liquorice, fennel seeds, Cardamon etc., it varies from region to region and from dealer to dealer.

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There is a stall in the market near the busstation, which sells lime (a purple variety I haven't come across before), gee-keeat (a liquorice-like black resin) and yah-sen (tobacco) to mix with your gear. You're expected to have your own supply of nuts and leaves...

On the other side of the border, at Mae Sai, there are numerous booths selling the mahk haeng variety in Burmese style flavour, 1Bt per wrap.

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As we all know the first beer was imported in Siam from Europe.

No, not from Germany but from England!

This was towards the end of the nineteenth century.

Limbo.

Looks like they didn't take well to the 'flat-ale' variety they got from the soap-dodgers! :D

The beer most locals drink in Asia is lager, often supplied in 600ml (about a quart) bottles. The taste for lager has evolved from the time Germany introduced beer-brewing to parts of China. Most famously this occurred when the Germans colonised the Qingdao province in the early part of the 20th Century. Occasionally, the local beer is a malt beer, an example being Singha beer in Thailand.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A430101

It took a Thai with a 'brewmaster' trained in Munich to launch a brand which proved to be the most successful for many decades since 1933:

Singha beer, in particular, is one of the most refreshing beers from the region, designed, as it is, to match up to some of the sweet and spicy flavours found in Thai cuisine.

Singha beer is a full-bodied premium lager beer, brewed in the German style, which produces strong hop characteristics. The finest beer, like the finest food, is produced from top-quality ingredients. Singha uses hops from the finest hop-growing regions in the world. The golden barley is imported from the UK, Germany, France, Holland and Australia. The clear water used by Boon Rawd Brewery, which makes Singha, is pumped from wells deep underground. It is carbon-filtered, sand-filtered and then treated to meet Singha standards of brewing water. Each consignment is carefully checked to ensure the highest quality.

http://www.jdwetherspoon.co.uk/magazine/comp_bangkok.php

And it is designed to be drunk with ice-cubes in the glass, one might add! :o

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  • 5 months later...

The betelnut box seems to have belonged to the Siamese 'regalia', like crowns and sceptres. The oldest picture I know with betelnut boxes is of King Narai of Siam and his nobles (publishes in a book of Father Guy Tachard in 1686).

Recently I saw in the excellent museum of Nan the silver betelnut box of the last King of Nan, (probably) given to him by King Rama V, when he was appointed vice-roy. It is in a showcase together with all his other marks of honour.

When 'everybody' in Chiang Rai was running/walking the Hash Harriers loop last Saturday, I had the pleasure to accompany a Toeng groom to the house of his bride.

In the house of the groom some elder were performing the traditional rituals which this occasion requires. A bowl with (among other things) betelnut had a prominent role in it.

My Thai is extremely lousy. They made a joke about 'flying kites' which I didn't understand, but it certainly seemed to be the joke of the day. And then we went of, the elder with the betelnut bowl in front.

Limbo :o

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Edited by Limbo
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