There’s a mustachioed man in a little box on 37th Avenue in Jackson Heights. On the outside of the box is a big heart around the word PAAN. Underneath is a catchy motto: Makes a Good Smell with your Breath! Paan are big green leaves stuffed with delicious mystery items. Coconut is the most familiar, plus cardamom, clove, and cumin.
One night, waiting for my Paan ($1), I tried to find out more from the men waiting in line (Mr. Mustache doesn’t speak English). One told me the leaves grow very close to the ground, almost on it. The next guy waved his arms up high and said “It comes from a big tall tree!” Wikipedia told me the leaves come from the betel pepper, which, and grow on vines. I asked if the leaves were used for anything else, and the first man told me Indians cook them in rice dishes, treating the leaves like an herb. The second man said they are never, ever cooked. All I can really conclude is that paan make a good smell with your breath. I tested it out, after eating a heavily spiced dinner down the street.