Vietnamese Betel Chewing
Chewing betel has been a traditional custom of Vietnamese since Hung Vuong dynasty. A piece of betel is a reminder of the famous Vietnamese folk tale “Trau Cau,” which contains a meaningful lesson of brotherhood and marital loyalty. Betel is commonly used in traditional occasions such as weddings, guest visiting, and commemorating. There is an old saying in Vietnam which says, “Every conversation starts with a piece of betel.” That came from a tradition when Vietnamese people used to offer betel to guests who visit their house. Betel is also indispensable in a com-memorial feast to show respect to ancestors and in a wedding gift of a groom’s family to a bride’s family. Betel is considered as a symbol of the affinity between a husband and a wife. Moreover, Vietnamese chew betel to protect and strengthen their teeth. They believe that the astringent taste of betel bring health benefits to teeth and gums. Betel is also a traditional medicine to cure malaria.
Offering guests betel and areca According to the authentic custom, a bowl of clean water along with a spoon should be offered to guests so they can wash their mouth before chewing betel. The host will then serve a tray of betels including a dish of betels, a dish of arecas, a pot of lime water, black powder (for blackening teeth), a knife, paper, a pipe to spit out a chewed betel quid and infusion of betel leaves. Middle-aged people may chew the raw betel to enjoy the astringent taste. Old people may put the betel in the water pipe to soften it before chewing. The tools used to display betel and areca are made from different materials, from copper, silver to pottery, platter, lime-pot, a spatula to spread lime on a betel leaf, spittoon, and a knife. Decorative patterns on these tools are usually the carving arts of homeland scenery, flowers and leaves or animals.
The art of preparing betel quid In order to prepare a fine, elegant betel quid, it requires the artist to be skillful in folding the betel leaves into a elegant shape. Phoenix Wing Betel Quid – The art of preparing betel quid of Hanoian “Little areca goes with green betel leaves,” is the common description of betel in Vietnamese literature. Hanoian specifically and the Vietnamese in general used to consider preparing betel quid as a form of art. The betel quid of the North Capital needs to be mentioned when speaking of the special betel quid – the Phoenix Wing Betel quid. With the same materials used to make betel quid along with the advanced skills of the women of the North Capital, a piece of Phoenix Wing betel has its own unique attractiveness. The Vietnamese believe that a look of a betel quid can reveal much about the personality of the person who prepares it. For instance, a not so neat and nice betel implies that the person is clumsy; betel quids with unequal size reveal the person’s poor evaluating skill; or too much lime on a betel leaf suggests the person is extravagant. Hanoian have their gracial way of chewing betel. Instead of chewing both the betel and the root together, they chew each separately. The areca will be crushed and the betel root will be dipped in lime before being chewed. The old Hanoian chew betel to create a reddish shade for their lips, blacken their teeth and create a line on their lips that so-called ‘the pencilled lips with betel juice’.
Today, in Hanoi, only people above 60 years old maintain the custom of betel chewing. Therefore, it is rare to see people offering each other a beautiful piece of betel like the one that A.de Rovides, a French, has talked about in 12th century “Hanoian have a habit of carrying a bag filled with betel and areca around their bellies. They left it opened so they can offer some betels to their friends when greeting.”
Ending Nowadays, despite the fact that this tradition has become less popular, the symbol of betel still remain its deep meaning and important role in many fields like medication, sociology and culture. Its simplicity, on the other hand, still plays an indispensable role in major occasions and celebration of Vietnamese. Betel brings out the elegance and simplicity of Vietnamese cultural heritage.
Source: The Pavonis Organization Fanpage