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Monday, May 17, 2010

A Samosa To Remember

Ok, it's time to talk seriously about a topic about which I am particularly passionate: Samosas.

(This photo was stolen from the internet. I can't even give the credit to someone because it came up so many times when I googled samosa. My camera is broken and this is a new blog. Give me a break, and please don't sue me over some kind of copyright infringement. PLEASE.  only my boyfriend reads this anyway)
Now, I've always known and recognized that I love samosas.  When I see the word samosa, I feel warm and loved. When I think about the different possible fillings, I feel excited  I would like to write an adaptation of Jimmy Buffet's "Cheeseburger in Paradise", substituting in samosa instead.  It wasn't until a two weeks ago, though, until I realized that samosas may actually play a larger role in my pursuit of happiness than I ever thought. It was a Friday night and we were going to a friend's birthday party. We walked in, there was a sprinkling of people, and some music playing.  In the middle of greeting some people, I noticed the table of food behind them.  On it were plates of samosas. I immediately proclaimed, "This is the best party ever!".  I realize now, that I have an affliction.  In a daze, I walked away from whoever I was talking to to grab one of those tasty pockets to discover what was inside.  It was a meat samosa. Meat samosas aren't even my favorites, but still, I was in heaven. 

I honestly don't know where my love for samosas stems from.  My mom never made them, in fact, she generally doesn't even like any kind of greasy food.  I share this obsession with nobody in particular, and yet everyone in general. I remember arriving in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, only to discover that lentil filled crispy samosas were on the menu for breakfast at every cafe in town.  I have nothing but fond memories of Ethiopia. In Nairobi, I popped into the little shop every day on my way home, picking one up as an after-lunch, pre-dinner snack.  They guy at the shop laughed at me everyday, and still, I couldn't not go. The underground stations in London even! How they have them right next to the pasties, taunting you to take one on your way down to the the tube, and again on your way out. (I am well aware that Transport for London actively discourage eating scented food on the tube. And I don't like eating on the tube myself, I'm just saying, the option is there. Don't get all London commuter on me.)

So, the other day, I started thinking about this.  My best friend Jenn, can take or leave samosas.  But we have never been obsessed with the same foods, so that's not a surprise. But, the more I thought about it the more I realized, I'm pretty sure that the city from which I hail, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, could very well be obsessed with them in some kind of discrete, underground way.  Now, before I get into this, I realize, samosas can be found everywhere, and so there is a kind of general love for samosas around the world.

But while we Haligonians struggle to find stalls of shops that offer decent burritos, jacket potatoes or savory pies, you never have to walk far to find a samosa.  And this is a province with less than one million inhabitants, of which something like 95% are of Scottish, Irish, English, Welsh, French, German and Dutch descent.

The fact that you can find samosas across the entire town, one might predict that the samosa market is now saturated in this city of less than 400,000.  However it turns out that, in the business world of samosas, always room for one more. The recent opening of Serious Samosas attests to this. And this is not just limited to the city of Halifax.  In the (relatively by Canadian standards) nearby cities of St. John and Fredericton, they also share this healthy, if not curious, love for samosas. CaveatDoctor, with his love of the samosa industry, writes about a third samosa stall opening up at Boyce's Farmer's Market in Fredericton. Population: 50,000.

Now, I think it would be useful to stop and take a look at the history of this entrancing, pocket-y delight that tantalizes the tastebuds. Why, you ask? And to that I respond, why not?

It turns out that samosas actually originated in Persia, like so many other culinary successes.It was called sanbusaj, and we only have to look over at Samosa Connection to get the facts and history of this tasty triangle. However, I can summarize:

What seems to have happened was, the sanbusaj was not content to stay in Persia and be enjoyed by the Persian people alone. Despite its love for its homeland, it knew that it had more out there to see, it had something it could share with the world. I imagine that the people of Persia were initially hesitant about one of their own leaving them to go off to strange lands. But the sanbusaj would have assured them that it was not leaving in its entirety. No matter what happened out there, the sanbusaj would always be Persian first.  And so, the sanbusaj put on its backpack and traveled the world, much like Marco Polo, or Ferdinand Magellan.

Now, while the sanbusaj recognized that it had intrinsic qualities that could be enjoyed by populations across the world, it also knew that it had to adapt to local tastes in order to be truly accepted. Whether this meant adapting its filling, its wrapping, its shape or its method of cooking, the sanbusaj was willing. The sanbusaj discovered that while it originated in Persia, other cultures had so much to add, so much to give it.  And so over hundreds of years, the sanbusaj developed friends and family in the form of  Singara, smosasumosa,  சமோசாsamosa, sambusak, سمبوسك‎, samsa,  somsa, sambusa, самбӯса, سنبوسه, samuza, chamuça. Resulting in what we have today.  Sanbusaj(s?) that come in triangles and tetrahedrons, that can be adapted to vegetarian, vegan, lactose-intolerant, gluten-free diets. 

And so, as much as I believe that the maritime provinces are a special, magical part of the world, I know now that their love for samosas is a love that transcends provincial, national, and state boundaries. It is not surprising that this little guy, hailing all the way from Persia, is able to slip into Eastern Canada's farmers markets, which pride themselves on organic, local produce. 

I would like to take this moment to suggest that the samosa be nominated as the international food of peace, for its demonstration that globalization does not have to include domination. As a disclaimer, I realize that with that last statement I have lost all credibility with any of the readers I may have had (Basically just Roddy, but he knew what he was getting himself into when he started dating me).  

But to bring it back, I found a good samosa recipe, at The Tamarind Tree.  You can click there to get their  recipe, OR you can embrace the adaptive mantra of the samosa/sanbusaj and just, make it however you want! 

Get crazy, experiment with flours and water, the different types of fillings, and the way you cook it.  Try a feta cheese, pesto and potato filling. Whip up a dhal and throw it in there. Bake it, boil it, deep fry, pan fry!!  Just make sure that when you make it, you make it with the spirit of the samosa ever-present in your mind!

Finally, in honour of Persia, I will link to this cookbook, from the food family that brought us the sanbusaj.


UPDATE 19/05/10:  I found this samosa-taco recipe at the Cooking Photographer.  I mean, could the timing be any more perfect? Look at the continued evolution of the samosa.  Just look at.. :)


  1. wow, that really made me want a sanbusaj! bring on lunch time!!

  2. thanks roddy. lone reader. :)



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