Samosa and chai are the best travel buddies you will find when you make your way through India. And it seems that they served the same purpose through history too!
They were easy to pack into saddlebags and took care of the next day’s journey!
The snack was not just popular, it was already versatile. A thirteenth-century Baghdadi cookbook, Kitab al-Tabikh (The Book of Dishes), offers recipes for three versions of the sambusak. One, filled with meat and flavoured with coriander, cumin, pepper, cinnamon, mint and pounded almonds; the second with halwa; and a third with sugar and almonds.
In fact the sambusak, sanbosag and the sanbusaq as it was varyingly called, finds frequent mention through history. It was probably through the merchants who traveled on the old silk route or the Arab traders who traded along the Indian coast, that the samosa came to India.
The first reference to the snack in India comes from the chronicles of the Moroccan traveler Ibn Battuta in the 14th century CE. He made a note of a meal in the court of Muhammad-bin-Tughluq, and referred to the sambusak– ‘A small pie stuffed with minced meat, almonds, pistachio, walnuts and spices’. According to food historian Colleen Taylor Sen, ‘The samosa is mentioned by the Persian historian Abul-Fazl Beyhaqi, one of the Navratnas of Akbar’s court, in the 16th Century as sanbusa or qutab (a Turkic word still used in Azerbaijan for samosa). Abul-Fazl described it as ‘A dainty delicacy, served as a snack in the great courts of the mighty Ghaznavid empire. The fine pastry was filled with minced meats, nuts and dried fruit and then fried till it was crisp.’
Today there are more kinds of samosa than you can count on your fingertips. The purely vegetarian, potato filled, popular variety is probably an Indian innovation. But given the fact that the potato itself came to India only in the 17th century CE (and was made popular, much later), means that the street variety of samosa is of a more recent origin.
DID YOU KNOW!
Over the last few decades, many new versions of the samosa have been cooked up, be it the local variants like the singara in West Bengal, patti samosa in Gujarat, paneer samosa in Punjab or even the chowmein samosas and pasta samosas you may have come across!
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