For Betel or worse.

21 February 2016

Some sireh, anyone? My Malaysia experiences the art of sireh or betel leaf-chewing in KL.

Chewing betel leaf is a traditional past-time practiced by many communities throughout the Indochina region. While many of us might remember our grandmother’s tepak sireh (a traditional betel leaf-chewing kit, usually made from bronze) during our younger days—betel leaf-chewing is still popular throughout the region. Folks from border-states such as Kelantan or Perlis still enjoy this natural delicacy (betel leaves are also consumed for their medicinal benefits—among them to ease constipation and used an analgesic) by whipping up a concoction of part betel leaf, some areca nut powder, and a bit of calcium hydroxide paste—locally known as “kapur”.

As I was capturing these moments, one sireh seller stopped me from taking his pictures, and instead offered me to try his wares. The bittersweet mix somehow feel familiar—as it takes you back to a simpler times, to that moment when your grandmother rests after a hard day’s work enjoying her sireh.

Today in Kuala Lumpur, the assimilation of different cultures and ethnic groups within a dense area sees an intriguing revival of sorts of this habit. What used to be a traditional delicacy is now a staple in the foreign worker community in modern Kuala Lumpur. Now would be a good time to go tell your opah that sireh is making a comeback in this modern metropolis.

By Smek Almohdzar

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