Locals Eating Betal Nut


Training in Thailand - Locals Eating Betal Nut

During all my years as a soldier traveling the Pacific Asia rim I’ve always been fascinated by people eating what is called Betel Nut or known as Maak in Thailand.

During my cycling in Thailand, I’ve occasionally dodged the gooey black or red remains along the roadside. I’ve nearly been hit by the flying matter as I’ve ridden up behind a motorbike carrying old women in a side cart chewing and casually spitting out the remains as they traveled along unbeknown that I was in their slipstream.

So what is Maak?

Betel nut chewing has always been an important part of Thai culture and tradition. In the past, Betel chewing was a popular daily activity among Thais all over the country. Betel comes from the plant known as Areca catechu, which grows wild all over Thailand.

In order to chew Maak the traditional Thai way, three main ingredients are needed: Betel leaf, Betel nut and red limestone paste. Before a Betel chew, the Betel nut is boiled, sliced and dried. A popular method is to cut the Betel nut into four smaller sections before solar drying, since Betel nut can be very strong. After the Betel nuts have dried, they are normally laced on a string (usually as long as 50 cm) and hung around the house to use as needed; this is a popular method because the dried Betel nut can be stored longer. Additionally, other ingredients can be added such as Plai (Zingiber Cassamunar) or Tobacco.

Before chewing on Betel, most Thais would mix all the ingredients together. Interestingly, many elders with no or weak teeth would mix and pound all the ingredients to use without it being wrapped by Betel leaf.

Maak also plays a major role in Thai traditions and ceremonies such as:
- Life prolonging ceremony: There is a belief amongst Thais that Maak can prolong life; this is done by taking a small Betel tree and casting spells on it before planting it at a temple or a public area.

-Kan Tung is a decorated tray that consists of maak and other offerings in a ceremony where students show respect and gratitude toward teachers from both past and present.

-Buddhist rituals: Maak is used as an offering for spirit houses, and used during ordination of Buddhist monks. Only leaves from male betel palm are used in buddhist offerings.

-"Kan Maak" (Wedding ceremony): According to Thai tradition, a couple becomes engaged during a ceremony called "Kan Maak" which is held during a wedding. Kan Maak is a decorated tray where Maak is the key item on it.

Truck Sams on The Long Ride Home NOT chewing Maak in Thailand