When one speaks of snacks, there’s nothing quite like the deep fried, golden brown savory packets known as Samosas. This snack is not just ours to cherish, but an international, centuries-old food. While these stuffed snacks are believed to be a perfectly South Asian cuisine, it originated from the Middle East and Central Asia sometime before the 10th Century AD. Due to the cultural exchanges which took place on old trade networks, samosas made their journey all the way to Asia in the 13th-14th Century AD.
Originally named ‘Samsa’, the snack reffered to the shape of the pyramids of Egypt. Similar names can be found elsewhere. Samosas are called ‘Sambusak’ in the Arab world, ‘Sambosa’ in Afghanistan, ‘Singara’ in Bengal, ‘Samsa’ in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and the Xinjiang province of China.
Samosas were introduced to South Asia during the time of Delhi Sultanate. Sufi Poet Amir Khusro (1253-1325) noted how Dehli nobles ate samosay prepared with meat, onions and clarified butter (ghee). Famed explorer Ibn-e-Battuta, described a dish in the court of Muhammad bin Tughluq (the Sultan of Dehli from 1325-1351) called a ‘samushak’ or ‘sambusak’, a small pie with minced meat, nuts and spices, which was served before the pulao (rice and stock).
Depending on the region, there are varieties of fillings and folding techniques to be found for samosas. The most common shapes are those of the pyramid and crescent. As per the filling, they can be filled with meat, mashed potatoes, vegetables, peas, cheese, chocolate and much more.
Some samosas are thick and sturdy, while others have a thin cover. The pastry itself is made from flour or filo pastry, which makes samosas crispy on the outside and hot on the inside.
In South Asia, Samosas are generally served hot with chutney dips (mint, coriander, tamarind) and a yogurt dip to compliment and enhance its flavor. In some places, these snacks are also served with potato curry (Alloo tarkari). Another type seen in India and Pakistan is that of the crushed samosa, mixed with chickpeas and cubes of boiled potatoes, dipped in yogurt sauce. This dish is known as Samosa chaat, and it is a very popular streetfood on either side of the border.
This dish is particularly vital to South Asians in the month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast. Breaking the fast feels almost incomplete without some sort of samosa. At a certain time before breaking the fast, shops will sell fresh samosas to long queues. Others prefer making them at home, as an individual or group activity. The filling is often prepared beforehand, and some people go so far as to make the pastry from scratch, though ready-made pastry is easily available.
In Karachi, notable examples of these flavorsome delights include the famous Fresco Bakery on Burns Road, Karachi’s oldest food street. Fresco Bakery samosas are very well-known for their half moon shape and beef stuffing. United Bakers, Dilpasand and Khatri bakery are also very popular places to acquire these snacks. Another legendary place worth mentioning lies at the heart of the University of Karachi (KU). ‘Qasim Samosa Shop’ at PG canteen, serves the amazing ‘One Bite Samosas’, known for their delicate size and affordable price. Students and faculty come from different corners of the campus grounds to satisfy their cravings for this samosa. This humble shop in KU is almost 50 years old, and has been lauded and well-documented as a part of Karachi’s university culture.
Samosa is the most versatile of the snacks that can be found whether it is at the corner shop, as street food, or at office meetings, even at the hi-tea menus of fine restaurants. Be it a sudden arrival of guests, random family gathering at evening tea, chit chat with university friends or a rainy day with a loved one, samosas easily available. Everything perks up with the crunchy, chutney soaked bites with the aroma that lasts.