India Myanmar (Burma)

Intoxicants in India and Myanmar: Cheeroots, Betelnut, and Beedi’s

February 22, 2017

The title refers to the most common intoxicants in Myanmar and India (Ex-British Raj territory). If traveling to these countries, it is important to understand what these are, how to consume them, and what it feels like.

Cheeroots: Cheeroots are tobacco, bark, stems, roots and sundry leaves wrapped in a corn husk or leaves from a bidi tree and tied with a red silk thread. Often they are flavored with anise, tamarind or banana. They became popular among the British during the days of the British Empire. The word cheroot is derived from the French word “cheroute”, which comes from a Tamil word meaning “roll of tobacco.” They come in small and large. The price for one set of wrapped Bidi like shown in the photo would be about 1250 Kyat (1 USD).

Betelnut (Paan Masala in India): Betelnut is characterized by the unsightly red spit that stains the ground and teeth of the consumer. Betel is a mildly narcotic nut (seed) that comes from the betel palm ( Areca catechu ). Used for at least 2,500 years, it is popular in India, South Asia, China, the Pacific and Southeast Asia. It is used to fight internal parasites, as a mild stimulant, and is rumored to remove bad breath, despite making the mouth a gross red color. Betelnut causes cancer of the throat, mouth and esophagus, like chewing tobacco. The betelnut is usually sucked on or chewed like chewing tobacco. It is seasoned with tobacco soaked in alcohol, spices, calc (limestone paste), then wrapped in pepper leaves. Everybody chews betelnut; an estimated 10-20% of humanity regularly chews it, according to WHO. 

Bidis: Bidis are the Indian version of Cheeroots. They are essentially the same, except in India they are much smaller. In India they are closer to the size of a joint as opposed to a cigar, like in Myanmar. They go out if you don’t smoke them fast. They are used as a quick head-high-booster. 25 rupees (30 cents) for a pack of 30 small bidis. They are sold wrapped in newspaper from every street stand in India.

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