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Kunal Vijayakar on India’s love affair with the samosa

Nothing makes you salivate like the sight of a hot, fried samosa at a roadside stall. Kunal Vijayakar traces its origin, and lists the ones you must try in Mumbai

more lifestyle Updated: May 05, 2016 15:20 IST
Different parts of India serve the samosa with different accompaniments (HT file photo)

Nothing makes you salivate like the sight of a hot, fried samosa at a roadside stall. Kunal Vijayakar traces its origin, and lists the ones you must try in Mumbai.

Today, it could cost an average family of four about Rs 5,000 to Rs 5,500 to spend an evening in a multiplex. Say, Rs 500 each for the ticket, Rs 200 each for popcorn, add Rs 150 for a cola, multiplied by four. In the interval a slice of pizza, or a sandwich, or an imported ice-cream each priced anywhere between Rs 200 to Rs 400. So, on one evening, for 190 minutes of entertainment, you will have blown more than half of the building watchman’s monthly income.

Kunal Vijayakar remembers a time the samosa and a cold drink together cost only Rs 3

Not long ago, though, when we were in college, a matinee ticket at Sterling Cinema cost Rs 2. And a cold drink and a samosa together cost Rs 3. That one samosa could keep you satisfied till the hero beat up the villain and the police inevitably arrived for closure just before the big “The End”.

Those days may be long gone, but the taste of that Punjabi samosa lingers. Even today, if there is one thing that I cannot resist, it is a hot, freshly fried Punjabi samosa, all 350 calories of it.

Also read: Kunal Vijayakar takes us on a kebab trail across Mumbai

The fame of the samosa has reached far and wide. Nearly every city in northern India has a mustachioed halwai frying hot Punjabi samosas. The east has their version of the samosa as well. For example, the singadas in Kolkata. In old Delhi, a hot samosa filled with potatoes, peas and masala is served crushed, and served with dahi. In Mumbai, a Gujarati farsaan waala will serve you a Punjabi samosa with raw papaya and chilli chutney. At a Sindhi or UP shop, it’s served with sticky spicy tamarind and date jam and mint chilly chutney. And only in Mumbai can a samosa be had between two breads. Of course, at home, you can just dip it in some tomato ketchup. It all works.

But the origin of the ‘samosa’ is not sub-continental, and definitely not Indian.

Samosas at Café Irani Chaii in Mahim (HT file photo)

After all, what is a samosa? It’s pastry stuffed and deep-fried. It’s a food common to many cultures. Which puts the samosa straight in the families of the Portuguese Pastel, the Spanish Empanadas, Italian Calzone, or a South-East Asian Curry Puff.

Historians trace the name and the triangular shape to the pyramids in Central Asia, called ‘samsa’, and to the meat-filled Uzbek version Pompoqcha somsa (‘samsa’ with yeast dough). The word is derived from ‘sanbosag’ in Persian and in the North Africa Middle-East is referred to as sanbusak, sanbusaq or even sanbusaj.

Also read: Kunal Vijayakar on the pav wallas of Mumbai

Samosas at a street food stall in Marine lines (HT file photo)

My samosa experience started at a small shop at the foot of the Mahalaxmi Temple in Mumbai run by a man called Pehelwan. His samosas were small, stuffed with the most amazing mixture of potato and masalas, and we would order them by the dozens. They would arrive in a wicker basket lined with a week-old edition of a Hindi newspaper. I miss that samosa, but I have replaced my love for Pehelwan with a few others. Guru Kripa at Sion, Kailash Parbat at Colaba, Tiwari Brothers at Opera House, Dave Farsan at Babulnath, and Jamnagri Farsan at Portuguese Church (Girgaum).

Of course, the only thing that can beat the taste of a good, hot, deep-fried Punjabi samosa, is the now endangered crisp-fried kheema patti samosa. Let me know who makes them like they used to before.

Author and TV show host Vijayakar is “always hungry”. He tweets as @kunalvijayakar