Flaming Fire Paan Is The Indian Street Snack That Requires Courage

In India, street food snacks take on an extensive array of forms, including paan, a stimulating digestive. This tasty nibble wraps fillings such as chopped nuts, spices, fruit preserves, and flavored pastes inside a betel leaf, which is a popular psychoactive. In addition to inducing a buzz, the snack invigorates the palate with a range of vibrant flavors, most of which are sweet.

Among its abundant renditions, a new style of paan is taking the snack to a bold new level: Some shops are setting it on fire. Just prior to serving, paan shopkeepers ignite the snack, which diners quickly consume while it's still aflame. In addition to creating a unique sensation (how often do you get to literally eat fire?), the act enhances the aromatics of the paan's ingredients.

A shop called Galaxy Paan, based in Rajkot, India, claims to have invented this flaming paan style in 2016. However, its exact origins are uncertain, with many similarly fiery versions arising across India. And with such an eye-catching appeal, it's no surprise fire paan has taken social media by storm. 

Fire paan is bringing new attention to an old tradition

Paan — which refers both to the snack and the betel leaf itself — represents more than a stimulating buzz and burst of flavor. It's consumed across Southeast Asia and is interlinked with many important traditions. Yet it's especially noteworthy in traditional Indian cuisine, where it has been part of ceremonial enjoyment for thousands of years. Paan is consumed at festivals, offered during regional holidays, and relished after meals.

However, in recent years, the substance has lost popularity in India, largely due to health concerns. The betel leaf's effects can be addicting (via Britannica), and it's necessary to spit out the chewed remnants, which is a process unappealing to some. As a result, paanwala — paan makers who have preserved various methods of serving the leaf — have worked to introduce newer, fully edible versions of the snack.

From precisely such a constantly evolving culture emerged the fire paan. The owners of Galaxy Paan reported that it necessitated 45 days of tinkering to craft their ignited dessert, which is stuffed with cloves. Other fire paan combinations across India include flavors like chocolate and strawberry, hoping to entice customers with a sweet tooth. Although the snack may look intimidating, sellers claim it's completely safe to consume, given how quickly the fire is extinguished — so if you happen to be in India and can work up the nerve, fire paan could be a memorable way to experience the street food.