Patiently wiping the betel leaf, applying the right amount of sunnambu on it, placing the betel nuts without dropping a few pieces, tactfully folding the leaf into four – for many, the experience of a good meal is incomplete without the ‘Vethalai-Paakku'.
However, many, who like wrapping up their lunch or dinner with it, are finding it increasingly hard to indulge in the practice, as the leaves have turned dearer. Depending on the locality in the city, one leaf costs anything between 50 paise to a rupee.
Availability of betel leaves has also become scarce, say consumers.
The scarcity is an issue, as betel leaves are used extensively for pujas and festivals, says K.V. Sivaswamy, a resident of Bhuvaneswari Nagar, Chromepet.
“It is becoming very difficult, particularly for those who take it regularly. It is said that the leaves aid digestion and have certain medicinal properties too,” he adds.
S. Ramasamy, a retailer who sells betel leaves in Zam Bazaar, says that until a few months ago, he would buy one kouli (100 leaves) for Rs.10 – Rs.12 in the wholesale market.
“Now it costs about Rs.80 or more. Customers who would buy 10 to 15 koulis for weddingsor other functions now buy only two to three,” he says. One basket, which he says cost around Rs.220, now costs Rs.1,300.
“My supply comes from Andhra Pradesh. It has been hit as there has been a problem in cultivation there,” he says.
Wholesalers in Koyambedu confirmed that the price of betel leaves had risen sharply in the last few weeks, but said they were not sure if the problem was to do with cultivation.
Supply to Chennai came largely from Theni, Periyakulam, Rajahmundry, Kumbakonam and parts of Andhra Pradesh.
But those like R. Vijayalakshmi will be glad that they started growing betel leaves in their kitchen gardens.
“I like it after a meal and we also keep requiring them for pujas. I find this easier, instead of running to the shop in the last minute,” she says.
Keywords: betel leaf price