This is a tribute to the humble samosa. Triangular, deep fried and stuffed with your own choice of goodness, the samosa aka the samboosa aka the samoosa has become that rare fare enjoyed across societal, cultural and national divides.
If Socrates or Diogenes lived today and claimed to be citizens of the world, they’d have to contend with the tasty triangular traveller, the samosa. In its 1,200 year journey, it has crossed borders, made friends with every local cuisine it met, enjoyed the company of princes and paupers and connected bellies way before Zomato.
Praise of the sanbusaj or sanbosag, the pyramid-shaped fried royal courtier stuffed with meat, lentils and dry fruit can be found as early as the 9th century, in Persian poet, Ishaq Al Mawsii’s work.
Throughout the ensuing centuries, hints of its fame can be found in Arab cookery books. However, unsatisfied with its regional popularity, the samosa made its next big jump to Central Asia in the 13th century, hitching a ride with traders, and finally making its way to South Asia.
And there, in India, it hit rock star status, was embraced universally and spent just as much time in royal courts as it did amongst street-dwellers.
It found trusty chutney and chai friends wherever it landed, sometimes travelling with them as it traversed the sub-continent.
In some places, like Punjab, it grew larger, often seen sporting a stuffed belly, while in others, like Burma and South India, it was much slimmer and flatter.
It went through a spectrum of doughs and folds, stuffed itself with every sweet or savory combination under the sun, went through a baked phase in Kazakhstan but more or less retained its structurally strong, thoroughly stuffed triangle-based shape.
And its adventures continue today, circumnavigating the world from China to Canada, connecting people through their bellies.
I have run into the samosa all over the world, but our closest friendship began when both the samosa and I were farthest from our origins in a little country called Canada.
When backpacking through Canada, I made friends with a Turkish-Canadian jazz metal drummer and his band, because of our mutual enjoyment of stuffed Punjabi-style samosas.
At least, I thought it was enjoyment; but after seeing my new friend eat his 17th samosa in one sitting, I realised, for him, it was pure, unbridled love. The best part is he wasn’t an isolated Canadian samosa-lover.
Throughout high-school and university in Canada, samosa sales were our best fundraising tool.
Cookie sales were passé and samosa, the 1,200-year-old new kid on the block, sold out within 30 minutes or less every time we had a sale, no matter how many samosas we got.
Sometimes, we had samosa sales twice every week and it was amusing to watch university students walk past pizzas, noodles and regular college fare to get in line for some spicy, stuffed, triangular goodness.
And beyond the entertainment, for a still-adjusting visible-minority new immigrant to a country where Indian food was ostracised for its foreignness, the samosa was a hopeful symbol of my heritage being accepted and celebrated.
To this day, my friend the samosa, reminds me of my continuing journey around the world and back again.
Canada may be my adopted home but my belly will always revere the samosa and if I am ever asked where I belong, my response will be, “Canadian, Bahraini or Indian, I consider myself a samosa of the world.”
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