fried wonders

A short history of the samosa

The samosa is the most delicious little immigrant South Asia has ever seen.

Here’s a shocker: our very own samosa was never ours. You read that right. The neatly folded, tightly packed savoury goodness that we thought belonged to South Asian soil actually travelled here all the way from Central Asia centuries ago. But thanks to its amazing social networking skills, it cleverly adapted to the local’s tastes and happily settled among its culinary brethren and became one of them.

This is one food that has travelled far and wide, and like any popular traveller has left its footprints along the way. From Egypt to Libya and from Central Asia to India, the stuffed triangle with different names has garnered immense popularity. Originally named samsa, after the pyramids in Central Asia, historical accounts also refer to it as sanbusak, sanbusaq or even sanbusaj, all deriving from the Persian word, sanbosag. In South Asia, it was introduced by the Middle Eastern chefs during the Delhi Sultanate rule, although some accounts credit traders for bringing the fare to this part of the world. Nevertheless, from its humble beginnings ‒ in older days, people would cook the mince-filled triangles over campfire and eat them as snacks during travel ‒ samosa has come a long way. And after having earned the blessings of the Indian royalty, the snack soon became food fit for the king.

Today, samosa is a popular snack in many parts of the world. Perhaps its biggest secret to popularity and survival over the centuries is its different varieties of fillings catering to carious tastes across the globe. In Kazakhstan, for example, a somsa is typically baked and has a thicker, crumblier crust. Fillings generally range from minced lamb and onions, meat, and even pumpkin. The Hyderabadi luqmi, on the other hand, is strictly meat-filled and far crustier than the regular samosa consumed elsewhere in India and Pakistan. In the Middle East, the semicircular sambusak is stuffed with feta cheese, onions, minced chicken and meat, spinach, and in case of Jewish cuisine, mashed chickpeas.

Perfect snack

But for us, samosa is the gorgeous, deep fried, twisted pack of spicy goodness that oozes with chicken, meat or potato. Few family gatherings or iftar parties are complete without this signature snack. And what does one do when guests arrive at a short notice? You guessed right. There are few snacks that couple as perfectly with tea as samosa, and the chai-samosa team is probably the reason behind thousands of brain-storming sessions and heated discussions. Be it an evening chat with friends at the street corner khoka, or a sophisticated business meeting in an air-conditioned room, the call for a samosa remains a constant. What can be better than biting into a hot, karahi-fried, chutney-coated snack, inhaling in its herb-essenced scent, munching on spicy, meat / vegetable filling, crunching on a coriander seed, tasting that teasing taste of ginger-garlic … you get the picture.


The diet conscious ‒ and to be fair, the health conscious, too ‒ would sigh, and perhaps nibble at the tiny piece of the crisp pastry to satisfy their craving. Not that you can blame them; who would have thought that one serving of potato-filled samosa is laden with around 300 calories? Even those tiny, bite-size ones have 28 calories each. And we have all discovered much to our dismay that it’s impossible to stop at one. One bite a time, and before you know it, you’ve covered half your calorie quota for the day with just two samosas!

Looks so easy

When I was studying at university, one of our favourite pastimes would be to hang around a canteen that serves ‒ and I stand by it ‒ the best samosas on the face of this earth. But for me, the most fascinating aspect was watching workers at the canteen fill those samosas. In one fluid movement, they would flip a samosa patti into an inverted cone, fill the pocket with stuffing, and flip the patti over to form a smooth bulging triangle. Encouraged by how easy it looked, I decided to try it at home, only to discover that the art of samosa-making is no mean task. Rest assured, my respect for the workers increased multi-fold.

But for those, who are willing to toil and master the art, the varieties they can experiment with knows no limits. From the regular, meat/potato stuffing to spinach, corn and peas, to sweet halwa or coconut filling, the list is endless. The adventurous few may even want to foray into seafood samosas. Just dip them into chutney of your choice (those who even imagine samosas with ketchup, please reassess your priorities), and savour the taste that has weaved its magic forever.

This article originally appeared on Dawn.com.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

How sustainable farming practices can secure India's food for the future

India is home to 15% of the world’s undernourished population.

Food security is a pressing problem in India and in the world. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), it is estimated that over 190 million people go hungry every day in the country.

Evidence for India’s food challenge can be found in the fact that the yield per hectare of rice, one of India’s principal crops, is 2177 kgs per hectare, lagging behind countries such as China and Brazil that have yield rates of 4263 kgs/hectare and 3265 kgs/hectare respectively. The cereal yield per hectare in the country is also 2,981 kgs per hectare, lagging far behind countries such as China, Japan and the US.

The slow growth of agricultural production in India can be attributed to an inefficient rural transport system, lack of awareness about the treatment of crops, limited access to modern farming technology and the shrinking agricultural land due to urbanization. Add to that, an irregular monsoon and the fact that 63% of agricultural land is dependent on rainfall further increase the difficulties we face.

Despite these odds, there is huge potential for India to increase its agricultural productivity to meet the food requirements of its growing population.

The good news is that experience in India and other countries shows that the adoption of sustainable farming practices can increase both productivity and reduce ecological harm.

Sustainable agriculture techniques enable higher resource efficiency – they help produce greater agricultural output while using lesser land, water and energy, ensuring profitability for the farmer. These essentially include methods that, among other things, protect and enhance the crops and the soil, improve water absorption and use efficient seed treatments. While Indian farmers have traditionally followed these principles, new technology now makes them more effective.

For example, for soil enhancement, certified biodegradable mulch films are now available. A mulch film is a layer of protective material applied to soil to conserve moisture and fertility. Most mulch films used in agriculture today are made of polyethylene (PE), which has the unwanted overhead of disposal. It is a labour intensive and time-consuming process to remove the PE mulch film after usage. If not done, it affects soil quality and hence, crop yield. An independently certified biodegradable mulch film, on the other hand, is directly absorbed by the microorganisms in the soil. It conserves the soil properties, eliminates soil contamination, and saves the labor cost that comes with PE mulch films.

The other perpetual challenge for India’s farms is the availability of water. Many food crops like rice and sugarcane have a high-water requirement. In a country like India, where majority of the agricultural land is rain-fed, low rainfall years can wreak havoc for crops and cause a slew of other problems - a surge in crop prices and a reduction in access to essential food items. Again, Indian farmers have long experience in water conservation that can now be enhanced through technology.

Seeds can now be treated with enhancements that help them improve their root systems. This leads to more efficient water absorption.

In addition to soil and water management, the third big factor, better seed treatment, can also significantly improve crop health and boost productivity. These solutions include application of fungicides and insecticides that protect the seed from unwanted fungi and parasites that can damage crops or hinder growth, and increase productivity.

While sustainable agriculture through soil, water and seed management can increase crop yields, an efficient warehousing and distribution system is also necessary to ensure that the output reaches the consumers. According to a study by CIPHET, Indian government’s harvest-research body, up to 67 million tons of food get wasted every year — a quantity equivalent to that consumed by the entire state of Bihar in a year. Perishables, such as fruits and vegetables, end up rotting in store houses or during transportation due to pests, erratic weather and the lack of modern storage facilities. In fact, simply bringing down food wastage and increasing the efficiency in distribution alone can significantly help improve food security. Innovations such as special tarpaulins, that keep perishables cool during transit, and more efficient insulation solutions can reduce rotting and reduce energy usage in cold storage.

Thus, all three aspects — production, storage, and distribution — need to be optimized if India is to feed its ever-growing population.

One company working to drive increased sustainability down the entire agriculture value chain is BASF. For example, the company offers cutting edge seed treatments that protect crops from disease and provide plant health benefits such as enhanced vitality and better tolerance for stress and cold. In addition, BASF has developed a biodegradable mulch film from its ecovio® bioplastic that is certified compostable – meaning farmers can reap the benefits of better soil without risk of contamination or increased labor costs. These and more of the company’s innovations are helping farmers in India achieve higher and more sustainable yields.

Of course, products are only one part of the solution. The company also recognizes the importance of training farmers in sustainable farming practices and in the safe use of its products. To this end, BASF engaged in a widespread farmer outreach program called Samruddhi from 2007 to 2014. Their ‘Suraksha Hamesha’ (safety always) program reached over 23,000 farmers and 4,000 spray men across India in 2016 alone. In addition to training, the company also offers a ‘Sanrakshan® Kit’ to farmers that includes personal protection tools and equipment. All these efforts serve to spread awareness about the sustainable and responsible use of crop protection products – ensuring that farmers stay safe while producing good quality food.

Interested in learning more about BASF’s work in sustainable agriculture? See here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.