Samosa: The Story Behind India's Favorite Snack
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Samosa is the quintessential Indian snack, loved and devoured by Indians everywhere. It is practically a ‘national fast food’. Street vendors selling samosas in small stands or carts dot our cities, towns, and market places. The snack has so much room for variation that you will find people talking about samosas as kachhi, golese, pepita, aloo samosa, potato samosa etc. But how did this deep-fried, obviously less-than-healthy snack become so popular? And what does ‘samosa’ even mean?

The precise etymology of the name Samosa is lost in the mists of time, but the most widely accepted story about the name of this Indian snack goes like this: the Hindi word samosa is traceable to the Middle Persian word ‘sanbosag’, meaning 'triangular pastry’.Similar pastries are called ‘sambusak’in Arabic. Medieval Arabic recipe books sometimes spell it ‘sambusaj’.The spelling ‘samoosa’is used in South Africa. An alternate interpretation suggests the name of this snack is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘sam’, which means combine. Thus, samosaliterally means a snack that is made by combining and folding the ingredients.

The origin of the samosa is also unknown, with several claims that are in conflict. Some reports suggest it was brought to India by the Central Asian Mughals. It is believed that the samosa landed in the Indian subcontinent when Timur invaded northern India in the 14th century. It could also have middle eastern antecedents, as the Arabs and Persians were known to serve stuffed vegetables at their parties and celebrations. There is, however, a broader consensus that samosas are likely of Central Asian origin. Amir Khusro, the famous 13th century musician and poet of the Delhi Sultanate, noted in his writings that the princes and nobles of the court enjoyed samosas that were prepared using ghee, meat and onions. Whatever the origin, the samosa became a rage in Indiaandhas travelled forth to other parts of the world with Indian migrants. Besides the subcontinent, samosas are now a common snack in places like Nepal, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Uzbekistan, and in Southeast Asia and China. 

The main ingredients used in making samosas are potatoes, peas and maida (flour). The vegetables are boiled, mashed, and seasoned with spices like red chili powder, coriander, cumin, and mustard. Next, a large portion of this mixture is added to the flour and water to make a dough. The remaining vegetable mixture is filled into thin, round dough sheets and then baked. The baked dough is then folded over the vegetable mixture to create the famous triangular shape. Alternatively, samosas can also be made by shaping the vegetable mixture into balls and wrapping them in thin, fried dough sheets. The samosas are then deep fried to make them crispy and ready to be served. You can also make samosa using puff pastry sheets instead of wheat flour dough. It is just as easy to make and tastes great!

Besides the traditional samosa, there are many varieties that are popular in different regions of India.  Here are a few of the favorites:

  • Chili samosa: This is a common variation of the samosa. It is made with mashed potatoes and peas, seasoned with chopped green chili and spices.
  • Gobi: This samosa variation is made with gobi (cauliflower) instead of potatoes. 
  • Aloo samosa: Aloo samosa is the Punjabi version of samosa. It is made with a mixture of potatoes, peas, and usually includes other vegetables like carrots, turnips, etc.
  • Singara: The popular Bengali version of the samosa, it is usually more pointed, smaller in size because of its thinner coating, and contains a stuffing that includes cauliflower, peas and potatoes.

Over the centuries, the samosa has evolved to become a popular snack or entrée loved by millions of people. These days, it is also served as a main dish at smaller parties or get-togethers with a side of salad, chutney, or pickle.

One advantage for those who have a weakness for samosas is that they can be easily made at home with a little practice. You can also experiment with various fillings and spices according to your taste. The most important thing is to use the best quality ingredients available to give it the particular taste that you love.Of late, samosas are also made using different types of dough like wheat dough, puff pastry besidesthe usual plain flour dough. You can make them spicy or sweet, with different combinations of fillings, or your choice of sauces and chutneys. You can even include your choice of meat – chicken, mutton etc. - in the stuffing along with your favorite veggies. 

The next time you are craving for something spicy and sweet, make some samosas and enjoy the Indian flavours to the fullest.