Reference to samosas has been found in the works of Moroccan scholar Ibn Battuta and Indian poet Amir Khusrau, too.(IStock)
Reference to samosas has been found in the works of Moroccan scholar Ibn Battuta and Indian poet Amir Khusrau, too.(IStock)

Celebrating the saga of samosa: A week dedicated to the popular snack in the UK

With Leicester in the UK ready to pay an ode to the samosa, it is time we too acknowledge our humble home-grown savoury snack.
Hindustan Times | By Etti Bali, New Delhi
UPDATED ON APR 06, 2018 06:07 PM IST

Spanakopita in Greece, sanbosag in Iran or samboosa in Tajikistan call it what you may — samosa will always bring back memories of rainy days coupled with steaming cups of chai. The ubiquitous snack, originating in Central Asia, has been adapted by Indians with a fondness that breaks barriers of flavour, appearance and cultures.

And now, with organisers of Leicester Curry Awards in Leicester, England, hosting National Samosa Week between April 9 and 13, India’s favourite snack is expanding its global reach. Funds raised from this event will go towards charitable organisations. In a recent report published in Hindustan Times, Romail Gulzar, founder of the awards, said: “There’s a national food event for everything — from burgers to beer. So why not samosas? The savoury dish has grown in popularity among the South Asian community. We want to encourage people all over the UK to buy and make their own samosas during the week. They may even sell them at work and school to raise funds for local charities.”

So, what is it about this triangular piece of savoury dough that draws people? “Its charm lies in its cultural connect. The fried dough, stuffed with meat and cheese has been a part of most cultures, barring Eastern Asia. From Greece to India, it has been existing in some form or the other,” says chef Sabyasachi Gorai.

International recognition and nationwide love happens when a food dish becomes an intrinsic part of one’s identity. “What cheese and wine are to France, or pasta is to Italy, chaat and curry are to India. Our lineage and identity are shaped by food,” says chef Kunal Kapur.

Interestingly, this flavourful pocket of everything uniquely Indian has its roots in Persia. Merchants from Central Asia, on the Spice Route, brought a meat-filled savoury pastry called samsa with them. At that time, it was either baked in a clay oven, fried, or steamed. “It came to India from Persia, where it used to be filled with pine nuts and chicken mince. It is essentially a Central Asian snack, fried or steamed. Frying increases its shelf life,” says food historian Pushpesh Pant.

Reference to samosas has been found in the works of Moroccan scholar Ibn Battuta and Indian poet Amir Khusrau, too. “It is also mentioned in Ain-i-Akbari and in the writings of Ibn Battuta at the time of Muhammad bin Tughlaq in shahi dastarkhwan (royal spread),” explains Pant.

Chef Kunal Kapur and chef Sabyasachi Gorai.
Chef Kunal Kapur and chef Sabyasachi Gorai.

With time, the form and flavours of the snack were adapted as per the changing taste of the people. “Samosa is popular in India as the poor man’s food on the run,” says Pant.

In a country as diverse as India, it was much obvious that an iconic dish like samosa will undergo its set of experimentation and evolution, according to the changing palates. “In Amritsar, pounded coriander is used a lot, while in Varanasi peas and dry fruits are added to samosas, lending it a sweeter taste. In Rajasthan, samosa chaat is prepared the way aloo tikki chaat is made, with chutney and yogurt. In Hyderabad, onion samosas are made much like onion kachoris,” explains Kapur.

And how to prepare a perfect samosa? The secret lies in its entirety—the crust and the filling, says Gorai. “The skin has to be thoroughly cooked. Raw, thick layer of flour spoils the samosa. The trick is to cook it on low flame. Then comes the filling. A good samosa is a rarity. It’s a skill that a few can master,” he adds.

However, this iconic dish is incomplete without its companion — chutney (a spicy dip). “Chutney is the deciding factor of how good a samosa would be. It’s the humble companion that hardly gets acknowledged. But it’s important,” says Kapur.

Though samosa is one of the staple snacks in the Indian subcontinent, it has never been a fancy dish and it was much late in the day that it received acknowledgement from the Western culinary world. This definitely raises the question that do Indians realise the value of their cuisine and culture only when it gets validation from the West? With another country celebrating a week of samosas, Gorai says, “It’s not fair to blame Indians. It’s a worldwide phenomenon. In France, there was a time when people got really excited about curry leaves, but we’ve been eating curry patta since childhood. So it doesn’t excite us. When something has always been with you, you are not aware of its exotic factor. We tend to take a liking to a culture that fascinates us. I’m assuming that people in the UK and the US are finding samosas as an exciting new product, though every Indian restaurant always had samosa on their menu.”

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