Embark on a flavourful journey through South Asian street food, an exuberant and diverse culinary tradition spanning India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Nepal. Explore the vibrant world of savoury and sweet snacks sold by street vendors, symbolizing cultural heritage and fostering community connections. Discover more and try our recipe to recreate these delights at home.
South Asian street food is a vibrant and diverse culinary tradition found across the countries of South Asia, including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Nepal. It encompasses a wide range of savoury and sweet snacks that are prepared and sold by street vendors in bustling markets and on busy street corners. South Asian street food holds immense cultural significance as it represents the region's rich culinary heritage and serves as a meeting point for people from various backgrounds.
Samosas are one of the most beloved and iconic street foods in South Asia. These triangular pastries are believed to have originated in the Middle East and were introduced to the Indian subcontinent by traders. Samosas have gained immense popularity throughout the region due to their irresistible taste and versatility. Traditionally, samosas consist of a crispy pastry shell filled with a savoury mixture of spiced potatoes, peas, onions, and aromatic herbs. The filling may also include ingredients like minced meat, lentils, or cheese, depending on regional variations and personal preferences. The samosas are typically deep-fried until golden brown, resulting in a satisfying crunch.
The history of samosas can be traced back to the Middle East, specifically to Persia (modern-day Iran), where a similar snack called "sambosa" or "sanbusaj" existed. The name "samosa" is believed to have derived from these Persian terms. During the mediaeval period, the samosa travelled to the Indian subcontinent through trade and cultural exchanges. It quickly found a place in the culinary landscape and became a popular street food item. Over time, samosas evolved to suit the regional tastes and preferences of different South Asian communities.
The Mughal Empire, which flourished in the Indian subcontinent from the 16th to the 18th centuries, greatly influenced the development of samosas. The Mughals introduced various spices and techniques that enriched the flavour profile of the filling. It was during this period that samosas gained recognition as a staple snack. Today, samosas are not only enjoyed across South Asia but have also spread to other parts of the world, becoming a global culinary sensation. From street food stalls to high-end restaurants, samosas continue to captivate taste buds and celebrate the rich cultural heritage of the regions they are found in.
Samosas are a popular snack with various regional variations found in South Asia and beyond. They are savoury pastries filled with a range of ingredients, such as spiced potatoes, onions, peas, meat, or fish. The shape of samosas can differ, including triangular, cone, or half-moon shapes. Here are some of the different kinds of samosas:
Indian Samosas: Indian samosas have a crispy exterior made from all-purpose flour (maida) and are filled with a mixture of spiced potatoes, peas, onions, and various aromatic spices like cumin, coriander, and turmeric. The filling is typically vegetarian, making it suitable for those following a plant-based diet.
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Bengali Singaras: Bengali singaras are smaller in size and have a flaky texture. They are filled with a mixture of diced potatoes, peanuts, and sometimes raisins. These singaras can be enjoyed as a savoury snack during tea time. There are also sweet variations available, filled with ingredients like coconut or khoya (reduced milk solids) and dipped in sugar syrup.
Hyderabadi Lukhmi: The Hyderabadi lukhmi samosa is a specialty of Hyderabad, India. It features a thicker pastry crust and a filling made of minced meat (such as lamb, beef, or chicken) along with aromatic spices. It has a rich and flavourful taste and is often enjoyed as an appetiser or as part of a festive meal.
Nepalese Samosas (Singadas): Singadas in Nepal have a filling similar to Indian samosas, including spiced potatoes, peas, onions, and various seasonings. They are a popular snack in Nepalese cuisine, sold by vendors in markets and restaurants.
Pakistani Samosas: In Pakistan, samosas come in various types. Vegetable- or potato-based fillings are common in the southern regions, such as Sindh and Punjab, while minced meat-based fillings are popular in the western and northern regions. The meat fillings can include minced lamb, beef, or chicken, cooked with spices and herbs for a savoury flavour. Pakistani samosas are often enjoyed with chutneys and are a staple during the month of Ramzan.
Burmese Samosas (Samuza): Burmese samosas, known as samuza, are a popular street snack in Burma (Myanmar). The fillings typically include a mixture of onions, potatoes, and minced meat, like chicken or beef. Burmese samosas are also used in a traditional salad called samuza thoke, where the samosa pieces are mixed with onions, cabbage, mint, and a curry broth.
Indonesian Samosas: In Indonesia, samosas are known as samosas. They are filled with a variety of ingredients based on local preferences, such as potatoes, cheese, curry, or noodles. Indonesian samosas are often served as a snack with sambal, a spicy chilli sauce.
Sindhi Samosa (Pakistan): The Sindhi samosa known as samoussas, is a popular variation in the Sindh province of Pakistan. It has a distinct flavour profile with a filling that includes a combination of potatoes, lentils, onions, and spices like cumin and coriander. It is often served with tamarind chutney and yoghurt.
Sri Lankan Samosa (Sri Lanka): Sri Lankan samosas feature a distinct spiciness and flavour influenced by the country's unique cuisine. The filling includes a blend of potatoes, green peas, onions, curry leaves, and a fiery mix of spices such as chilli powder and turmeric. They are usually deep-fried to achieve a crispy exterior.
Recipe For Traditional Indian Samosa
For the dough:
2 cups of all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons of vegetable oil
Water (as needed)
For the filling:
2 large potatoes, boiled, peeled, and mashed
1/2 cup green peas (fresh or frozen)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 green chillies, finely chopped
1 teaspoon ginger, grated
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, crushed
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon red chilli powder (optional)
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
2 tablespoons fresh coriander leaves, chopped
Salt to taste
Vegetable oil for frying
For the dipping sauce:
Tamarind chutney or mint chutney (optional)
In a large mixing bowl, combine the all-purpose flour, salt, and vegetable oil. Mix well until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Gradually add water and knead until you have a smooth and firm dough. Cover the dough with a damp cloth and let it rest for 15–20 minutes.
In a pan, heat some oil over medium heat. Add cumin seeds and crushed coriander seeds. Once they start to splutter, add the chopped onions and sauté until they turn translucent.
Add the green chillies, grated ginger, turmeric powder, and red chilli powder (if using). Sauté for a minute until the spices release their aroma.
Add the mashed potatoes and green peas to the pan. Mix well to combine. Stir in the garam masala, fresh coriander leaves, and salt. Cook the filling for 3–4 minutes, then remove it from the heat and let it cool.
Divide the dough into small, lemon-sized balls. Take one ball and roll it into a thin circle of about 6-7 inches in diameter. Cut the circle in half with a knife to make two semicircles.
Take one semicircle and fold it into a cone shape, overlapping the straight edges. Seal the edges by applying water to make sure the cone is tightly sealed. Fill the cone with the potato filling, ensuring it's not overfilled.
Apply water to the inner edges of the cone and press them together to seal the samosa. Repeat the process with the remaining dough and filling.
Heat vegetable oil in a deep pan or wok over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, gently slide a few samosas into the oil and fry them until they turn golden brown and crispy. Remove the fried samosas using a slotted spoon and place them on a paper towel to absorb excess oil. Repeat the frying process for the remaining samosas.
Serve the classic samosas hot with tamarind chutney or mint chutney as a dipping sauce.