History of Samosa: If not from India then from where? Know the Secret of its Invention
Samosas are a truly international food enjoyed by millions around the globe. Its biggest secret to popularity has remained the various varieties of fillings that cater to different tastes across the globe. This is one food that has travelled far and wide from Iranian plateau at the dawn of civilization to other regions of the world and has cleverly adapted to the local cuisine of the Indian subcontinent, Western Asia, Southeast Asia, the Mediterranean, and Africa due to emigration and cultural diffusion. While most of us assume that samosa has Indian roots. However, the triangular deep-fried pastry with mashed potato is native to Middle Eastern and Central Asian.
The taste of samosa transcends class and status. This delicacy has been quite popular in South Asian cuisine for the last eight centuries. It has been enjoyed in the court of various sultans and emperors and has certainly graced the streets of town and cities of India and Pakistan. This little snack made its way from Egypt to Libya to Central Asia and finally India. It was originally named as “samsa” after the pyramids in Central Asia.
Before the 10th Century, the Iranian historian, Abolfazl Beyhaqi, mentioned it in his book, Tarikh-e-Beyhaghi, where it was mentioned as “sambosa”. Between the 10th and 13th Century, Arab cookbooks mentioned this snack as “sanbusak” which was derived from the Persian word “Sanbosag”. It is believed that the Central Asian communities would prepare and eat samosa since it was convenient for them to carry, especially during their travels. Small mince-filled samosa would be prepared for quick consumption. Thanks to these travelling merchants, this stuffed triangle travelled from Central Asia to North Africa, East Asia and South Asia.
The samosa was introduced to South Asia during the Delhi Sultanate when cooks from the Middle East and Central Asia came to work in the kitchens of the Sultan. In the 14th Century, the medieval Moroccan traveller, Ibn Battuta, visited India and described the glittering banquets of Mohammad bin Tughlaq. According to him, all guests were served a triangular pastry packed with peas, pistachios, almonds and other fillings right after they sipped sherbet. After that, the rest of the courses followed.
Similarly, Amir Khusrau, the Sufi scholar and poet, wrote about how the samosas were enjoyed by the nobles of the royal Indian court in the year 1300. Even earlier, in the 9th century, Ishaq ibn Ibrahim-al-Mausili wrote about sanbusaj in a poem. This delicacy was also enjoyed by the Mughal emperors and it is proved by Abul Fazl, the author of Ain-I-Akbari and one of the nine gems of Akbar’s court, through his words.
It did not take a long time for the Britishers to fall in love with samosas. They took this tasty tidbit to the far corners of their colonial empire. Soon, samosas had captured the hearts of people everywhere, leading to many variations of this triangular delight.
While samosas set a craze amongst the people, the Portuguese introduced a type of tuber which revolutionized the Indian palate. The Portuguese called it batata and it used to be one of the core food ingredients of the Inca empire food pyramid. In the next few years, batata or otherwise known as potato became the centre of many Indian dishes. This was the core item that changed the sambusak. Now, sambusak is no longer the meat-filled savoury with pulao. It is a crispy triangular-shaped treat with delicious potato stuffing.
Traditionally, samosa is more commonly eaten in Indian and Pakistani restaurants. These two countries have their own variation of this popular snack. In India, samosa is typically stuffed with onion, green chillies, peas and mashed potatoes. They are usually served with mint chutney or coriander tamarind chutney. Northern states such as Delhi and Madhya Pradesh prepare their samosas quite large as compared to the other Indian states. They have their variation of adding dried fruits to their samosas.
Shingaras is a popular version of samosas in the eastern parts of India, which is seen in Odisha, West Bengal and Bihar. They are served with either chutney or ketchup. Shingaras taste sweeter than a regular samosa and they are filled with unmashed boiled potatoes with optional variations. A good Shingaras is distinguished by their flexy texture. In the south of India, samosa varies in the way it is folded and it contains a variety of fillings such as cabbage, onions, curry leaves and spiced mashed potatoes. They differ in size as well as their fillings since they are inspired by the local taste.
In Pakistan, most variation of samosa in the Sindh province and eastern Punjab are spicier and they contain fillings of various vegetables including mashed potatoes. In the West and North parts of the country, the samosas are stuffed with meat filling and are less spicy. In Pakistan, instead of potatoes, chicken or lamb is a popular food item. In Karachi, the Khagazi samosa which translates to “paper samosa” is quite similar to a spring roll because they appear thin and crisp. They are also unusually large and very spicy.
The people of Indian origin have played a vital role in popularizing samosa in different parts of the world. Samosa is prominently famous in USA, UK and other European Countries snack circle. Frozen samosas are easily available in the USA and in large quantities. Samosa is already quite popular in Arabian countries and their demand increases during the month of Ramadan. In Central Asian Turkic-speaking countries, the ‘somsa’ is baked instead of being fried. Minced lamb and onion are the most popular fillings but cheese, beef, and pumpkin are also popular. In the horn of Africa, the ‘sambusa’ is a staple of Ethiopia, Somalia and Eritrea. The snack is traditionally served at Ramadan, Christmas and other special occasions. Interestingly, Samosa was a part of the menu of former US president Barrack Obama during his stay in the White House.
Just as samosa varies across different countries, it also varies across our own country. Chole samosa is the most popular type of samosa that is found in every corner of our country. After being combined with chole bhature, it certainly is a yummy twist. Cooked with aromatic spices and seasoning, the soft filling complements the crispy exterior.
Some chefs combine the goodness of cheese with samosa which is irresistible. As soon as you tear open the samosa, the cheese oozes out of it, much to the delight of many consumers. For those who wish to stay fit and avoid fat, they can choose to treat themselves with onion samosa. It is as popular as the classic samosa and it adheres to the health-conscious part of society. Another alternative for the onion samosa is the carrot samosa which is also a healthy and tasty snack.
Although samosa is a spicy snack, it works as a sweet snack too. Sweet samosa or the Khoya samosa is a variation which contains coconut milk combined with dry fruits. It is usually served during a festive occasion and celebrations. Another ridiculous but widely accepted type is the chocolate samosa. While it is found to be weird, it is quite appealing to kids. The crunchy samosas are filled with either ordinary chocolate or even plain Nutella. Cauliflower samosa or Phulkapir Singara is a beloved variation throughout Bengal and best suited for those who love a spicy snack. Keema samosa is prevalent in areas which serve non-veg food. It is a delectable snack for all non-veg lovers.
Street food enthusiasts are quite familiar with samosa pav. Particularly found in Mumbai and Maharashtra, they have a very healthy competition with the famous Indian snack Vadapav. Here, samosa is served in a fresh bun and they are often referred to as the Indian Samosa burger.
Besides, people nowadays love to experiment with their food and this has led to experimenting even with the famous Indian snack, samosa. Some eateries have created some authentic veg, no-veg and sweet fillings such as pasta, chole, egg, chowmein, jam, fish, corn, carrot, chicken, shrimp and tuna.
A bunch of students of an elite college of Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) have even named a social app that they designed ‘Samosa’ to make chat fun by sharing punchlines, proverbs, corny love messages, witty responses, funny expressions and song clips from popular movies.
Today, samosa has become so mainstream that it is sold in major supermarkets. It is available as a ready-to-eat meal and as a frozen item. Probably, without samosas, all of us would be unsure of which snack we should have during the rainy season. It is definitely a globally accepted snack and undoubtedly, the brightest star in the constellation of Indian street food.