The Samosa Trail: Here's The Real Story Behind Pakistan’s Favorite Deep-Fried, Golden Snack

By Sinwan Zahid | 5 Mar, 2018

I don’t remember a time there wasn’t a samosa in my life.

Despite having a weak memory (thanks to religiously avoiding badaams), I can vividly recall my first impression of a samosa: a golden, deep-fried triangle. It was my 5th birthday and my mother had set out the dining table with homemade foods and sodas. I was fixated on a khaki lifafa which was brought into the dining room and emptied into a dish by our helper, Shakeela baji. A red, runny chutney was also quickly poured into a small bowl and put next to me.

As explained to me by my mother in the years that followed, I broke the samosa from where it starts to curve (the crunchy part, yes), dipped it in its red, meethi chutney and took a bite in front of roughly twenty people even before I had cut the cake. Everyone laughed, for I seemed more in love with a “normal” samosa than with a grand cake that was supposed to be the center of my attention.

 

Source: mahammunawar.blogspot.com

From then on, we were inseparable. My fondest memory of samosay is, like everyone else, in Ramzan. There is nothing close to enjoying your samosa with a glass of doodh soda after a day spent fasting. Other times, samosay were brought to chai. And while everyone enjoyed their chai, I enjoyed my samosa – perhaps that’s the reason why I never in my life developed a liking for chai.

Samosay were and continue to be a part of our identity, our culture, and heritage. Samosay, to me, were ours. Made by us, eaten by us. Turns out, that’s far from the truth.

On the day I found out that the samosa is a foreign import I went through a number of emotions: shock, some more shock, anger (how dare they?!), insecurity, possessiveness, and total oblivion. We really do take our food seriously.

Many Google searches later I learned how this kickass snack had traveled all the way from Northern Africa to Central Asia and then onto our plates and into our hearts.

Owing to its shape, it was named samsa, after the Egyptian Pyramids. Historical accounts also refer to it as sanbosag (Persian) and it is believed to have come to Southern Asia via Middle Eastern chefs working for the Delhi Sultanate as noted by the great Sufi poet and scholar, Amir Khusro. Other literature says the food was in fact introduced by traders who ate it as a camp-fire food. Soon enough, a snack with very humble beginnings grew on the royalty and eventually became a food fit for the king himself.

Preparation of wada for the Sultan Ghiyath al-Din, the Sultan of Mandu. Samosas being prepared. Small inscription 'sanbusa', samosa. Ghiyath Shahi seated on a stool in a garden is being offered a dish, possibly of samosas. A cook is frying them over a stove, while another is placing them on a round dish. Opaque watercolour. Sultanate style. Title of Work: The Ni'matnama-i Nasir al-Din Shah. A manuscript on Indian cookery and the preparation of sweetmeats, spices etc., 1495-1505"* (BL)
Source: British Library / Preparation of wada for the Sultan Ghiyath al-Din, the Sultan of Mandu. Samosas being prepared. Small inscription ‘sanbusa’, samosa. Ghiyath Shahi seated on a stool in a garden is being offered a dish, possibly of samosas. A cook is frying them over a stove, while another is placing them on a round dish. Opaque watercolor. Sultanate style. Title of Work: The Ni’matnama-i Nasir al-Din Shah. A manuscript on Indian cookery and the preparation of sweetmeats, spices etc., 1495-1505″* (BL)

 

Samosay are a popular savory pastry even in parts of the west today. Perhaps the secret to its popularity and survival over centuries and centuries is due to how easily it can be tweaked and changed to suit the tastes of various cultures all over the world.

Despite most varieties being non-veg, Pakistan’s collective love is reserved for aalu samosas. Smaller samosas with a thinner pastry, also known as kaghazi samosay, usually contain chicken and beef mince, which unlike the former, can be enjoyed with tomato ketchup.

We also have a variety of semi-circle sweet samosas, yummy coconut and almond fillings with a crust deep-fried and served with thick sheera/sugar syrup. Mmmm yum. But I have to admit, there’s nothing better than going into a channa, meethi chutney covered samosa with a spoon – we’ve spent half our lives doing that in Main Market!

Moreover, we have our modern-day apple pie, s’mores, gulab jamun, peanut butter and chocolate samosas with ice cream for dessert, or the samosa a la mode. As of late, even pizza samosas have been introduced and have managed to completely revolutionize the samosa as a snack.

Source: Awesomosas/Facebook

Different and still very appetizing samosas exist in other parts of the world. For instance, in Arabian countries, we see a lot of spinach, feta cheese, and meat fillings in samosay too. Some places even have seafood samosas! It’s safe to say every country has its own recipes catering to their tastes and they only continue to get better day by day.

And while the samosa may not actually be invented by us, there’s a reason Indian/Pakistani samosas are known all over the world as an integral part of our food and culture. Taste test videos posted by foreigners on YouTube show the snacks all the time. Participants take a bite out of a samosa and just get lost in the herby, crunchy, spicy pockets of happiness we have to offer and the kind of love we put into them.

 

Are you in love with samosas and as surprised about its origin as I am? Let us know in the comments 😀

 

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Cover image via: fooddiaries.pk

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