Guest Post – How to Try (Where to Buy) Betel Nut in Taipei, Taiwan

How To Try Betel Nut in Taipei

A practical guide to buying betel nut for your first and ONLY time

Disclaimer: Chewing betel nut is a dangerous habit to pick up with a high probability of leading to an oral cancer – a cancer that you are 50% likely to die from

Betel Nut in Chinese

Betel nut is called 檳榔 (Pinyin: bīnláng) in traditional Chinese. Betel nuts come from the Areca palm and are chewed as a stimulant. They are used across Asia (by almost a tenth of the world’s population) with especially prevalent use in Taiwan where they are known as “Taiwan’s chewing gum.” Betel nuts are used by all demographics, but are most popular among working-age men, who use the nuts to stay awake for long hours of work in industries like driving, construction, and fishing.

How to chew Betel Nut

Some users say betel nut cures a hangover in no time.

The betelnut is not really a nut, but a fruit categorized as a berry. As the husk ripens and turns green, the nut inside becomes soft enough to cut or eat. People chew the nut rolled in a small bit of leaf. It brings an explosion of flavor that is equivalent to roughly 6 cups of espresso. Patrons describe the experience as if an “anesthetic had been applied to their mouth” and taste as “acird flavors with a woody texture.”

Where to Find Betel Nut in Taiwan

Betel nut can be found everywhere in Taiwan. They are sold frequently at ‘corner stores’ that sell cigarettes, betel nuts, and beer all in one place. To find one just look for any store like this that looks like picture below with the words 檳榔 on it and you’ve found a place to buy betel nut.

If you’re on the highway then you’ll probably see the neon-light glassbox shops with  women inside. Those are also betel nut shops.

These bright neon signs above glass box stores are staffed by scantily clad women known as “Betel Nut Beauties.” Betel Nut Beauties are young women in revealing clothing who sell betel nut and cigarettes in brightly lit glass enclosures along the highway. The neon-topped kiosks appear in urban, suburban and rural settings alike and are a trademark feature of Taiwan’s cities and countryside.

Betel Nut Shops in Taipei

If you’re in Taipei, you can use Google Maps to find the nearest betel nut store near you. Many are low-tech and might not be listed — but if you search 檳榔, you’ll find results like the ones below.

Taipei Betel Nut Shops

  1. 三德檳榔          110台北市信義區永吉路130號
  2. 店小二檳榔店         105台北市松山區台北市松山區光復北路142號
  3. 紅兵檳榔店        110台北市信義區林口街56號
  4. 王牌檳榔         10491台北市中山區建國北路一段28號
  5. 王牌檳榔        10491台北市中山區建國北路一段28號

How Much Does Betel Nut Cost in Taiwan?

It general costs about 50 NTD (台币) to buy a bag (包) of betel nut (檳榔). A small bag will usually come with 5-7 nuts in it. Just one single nut is usually referred to as a unit (利). Noteworthy, this is the same phonetic sound as the word li which means “tits.” At seedier places you will see signs for “buy one bag get two units free” which carries a much different meaning.

Chinese Words to use with Betel Nuts

To order betel nut you can usually get by with basic Chinese. “I want to buy this,”  “我要买这个” will get you pretty far. But we’ll teach you a few extra words you might need to get the transaction done. Also, trying to use some Taiwanese will make you look cooler!

 

Chinese

Pinyin

Taiwanese

English

檳榔

bīn láng

 bin néng

Betel Nut

bāo

bāo

Package (Unit)

 lia̍p

Piece (Unit)

嚼 (槟榔)

jiáo

 pō͘

Crew (betel nuts)

菁仔

jīng zǎi

Cei à

Betel Nut with inflorescence Piper betle

幼的

yòu de

iù à

younger Betal nut

结冰水

jié bīng shuǐ

 Kiat bing zueì

Freezed Water

The Dangers of Betel Nut

Qui Zhen-huang with photo of oral cancer lesion

The Taiwan government is looking to curb the use of betel nut for multiple health reasons. Each year, 5,700 Taiwanese men are diagnosed with oral cancer of which 2,300 will eventually die from. Around 9 out of 10 oral cancer patients in Taiwan have a habit of chewing betel nut and Taiwan’s incidence/mortality rates for oral cancer rank among the top two or three in the world.

Regular betel nut chewers have red-stained lips and teeth. But over the long-term, betel nut causes hundreds of tiny abrasions to form in the mouth creating an entry point for many of the cancer-causing chemicals. Precancerous chewers develop white or red lesions inside the mouth, that can rapidly progress to grotesque flesh-eating tumours.

Unlike other cancers, Betel nut induced oral cancers are difficult to hide, leaving sufferers physically and psychologically devastated. Sometimes, even after surgery, they still can’t perform basic functions like expressing emotions because the lower jaw also has to be cut depending on the scale of the cancer.

The Taiwanese government is helping people detect the disease more quickly by providing one million free screenings to help people quit betel nuts. In 2013, these measures helped cut betel nut usage rate in men by nearly half. At the same time, the government is trying to reduce the domestic supply of betel nuts by offering subsidies to farmers to cut down their trees and plant alternative crops like tea, citrus fruit or mango.Some 4,800 hectares of betel nut farming lands looks to be replaced

Also, since 2014, anyone caught spitting betel nut juice in the capital of Taipei is fined and required to attend withdrawal classes. Plus, the betel nut beauties have been subject to clothing restrictions.Taiwan is also trying to incentivize local farmers to change crops and cut the supply of the betel nut. Some 4,800 hectare of betel nut farming land is expected to be planted with crops

Author Bio: Sam Silverman

Sam works as CEO of TutorMandarin – an online learn Chinese tutor service that focuses on teaching students how to speak Chinese using an innovative learn Chinese app and PC Software. The APP is free to download and comes with a free 1-on-1 class, 2 unlocked courses, a full language evaluation, and daily Chinese articles. Sam has lived in China for 5-6 years in Beijing and Suzhou as well as Taipei for over a year. He has been studying the Chinese language and Chinese culture even longer.

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