INDIA: The two most important members of the Indian street food community are indisputably the samosa and the kachori. Surprisingly, in spite of being a snack loved by millions in India, the world’s first fast-food does not have an Indian origin. This pyramid-shaped fried pastry snack is in fact Egypt’s gift to India. It has traveled from Egypt to Libya to Central Asia before arriving in India.
In early medieval Persian texts, you find mentions of the sanbosag, an early relative of the samosa and cousin of the Persian pyramidal pastry, Samsa, named after the pyramids in Central Asia. Even the noted Persian scholar Abul-Fazl Bayhaqi during the 11th century refers to the snack as an exquisite delicacy, served in the great courts of the mighty Ghaznavid Empire.
Historical accounts also refer to the delicacy as sanbusak, sanbusaq or even sanbusaj, all deriving from the Persian word sanbosag. These tiny mince-filled triangles were easy to make and eat around the campfires during night halts by traveling merchants and were packed in saddlebags as a snack for a long journey.
Today, a samosa is made with an all-purpose flour shell stuffed with fillings of a mixture of mashed boiled potato, onions, green peas, lentils, paneer, spices, and green chili. The entire pastry is then deep-fried in vegetable oil or ghee to a golden brown color and then served hot with fresh chutneys.
A samosa pairs perfectly with tea and this combination is the national favourite when it comes to friends or family gatherings, brainstorming sessions, and heated political discussions. From college canteens to railway platforms and airport lounges to food courts too, the samosa is ubiquitous.
Samosas at different locations
As a travel writer, I do a lot of traveling across India and get to explore the incredible culinary history of India and taste its authentic street food at different places. As a result, for samosas too, I have had the fortune of relishing various versions at different locations, from the regular meat/potato stuffing to spinach, corn, and peas to sweet halwa or coconut filling, and so on… I have even come across deconstructed samosas with cottage cheese, pasta, lentils, chickpeas, chocolate, mushrooms, seafood, and chicken filling, etc. Then there are mini cocktail samosa – dainty little things that are the perfect finger food to tuck into before dinner.
Various places in India have come up with their own variants. In Hyderabad, it is called lukmi, and is a favourite delicacy during the holy month of Ramadan. In the southern states of India, hey are folded in a different way, with fillings of mashed potatoes and local spices, fried onions, peas, carrots, cabbage, curry leaves, green chilies, etc.
Like Portugal, samosas are known as chamuças in Goa and are filled with chicken, beef, pork, lamb, or vegetables. In northern Punjab, it is stuffed with potatoes, cinnamon, peppercorns, cloves, green cardamom, cumin, and fennel, coriander, and dried pomegranate seeds, and you get onion samosa in Rajasthan. In Gujarat, they have tinier versions filled with French beans and sweet peas and also the Patti samosa with a cabbage filling.
In Odisha, West Bengal, and Jharkhand, they are called shingaras, and are a bit smaller compared to those in other parts of India with filling mainly consisting of diced potato (and not boiled like north India), and mixed with peanuts, raisin and one broken piece of cashew nut. Cauliflower samosa (shingara filled with cauliflower mixture), or phulkopir singara is also popular in West Bengal. They also have non-vegetarian varieties of shingara called mangsher shingara (mutton shingara) and macher shingara (fish shingara).
In Maharashtra, they have Samosa Paav, a samosa served in a fresh bun, and it is like an Indian samosa burger. Samosas are also served in chaat, along with the traditional accompaniments ranging from choley (chickpeas) to fenugreek seeds pickle, to tamarind and green chutneys, garnished with yogurt, chopped onions, coriander, and chaat masala. At places, it is also paired with a tomato and potato curry garnished with freshly chopped coriander leaves.
Modern takes on the snack are also in vogue and you can savour pizza samosas, samosas with a Chinese look with noodles fillings – called chowmein samosa, and also Szechwan samosa.
Sweet versions of samosa
I have also come across chefs experimenting and making sweet samosas. You get sweet samosas filled with a mixture of khoya (evaporated milk), sugar, dried fruits, and nuts and are known as Mawa or Gujiya Samosa. In West Bengal, they have narkel er shingara (filled with desiccated coconut), and Labong latika, a mawa-sttufed samosa sealed with clove and dipped in sugar syrup. Chocolate-filled samosa has also been tried and I love them.