Thought for Food Food

A meaty stuffing

Every now and then, I find myself standing in front of a small market in south Delhi, waiting, along with hordes of others, for my turn to get near a mound of samosas. So popular are these samosas that they sell out before you can say chutney.

Every time I bite into the hot and crispy casing of the popular Indian roadside dish, I marvel at the journey it undertook to reach our hearts in India.

Samosas, as food historians have told us, came from central Asia, though the stuffing there was usually one of meat. The name changed a bit by the time it reached India, as did the filling. Though in many parts of the country, keema-filled samosas are a real delicacy, in most places the filling consists of potatoes, or sometimes cauliflower florets.

Queue jumping

I have friends who sneer when I say that the samosa — as Indian as, say, queue jumping — actually originated from Uzbekistan. Now I have found the way to make them eat crow — with the help of a book recently gifted to me

If you love your street food, and enjoy historical anecdotes, The World’s Best Street Food — Where to Find It & How To Make It is for you. It lists street food from across the world — such as walky-talky (South Africa), kushari (Egypt), hot dog (U.S.) otak-otak (Indonesia) and bhelpuri (India) — and gives you a bit of history about the origin of the dish, along with recipes, of course. Here’s what it says about the samosa, or samsa.

“The samsa (sometime somsa) originated in the ancient city states of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva, located in modern day Uzbekistan. It was a popular street snack among merchants and Silk Road travellers, who stocked up on the meat pie before a long journey. Abul-Fadl Bayhaqi (995-1077 AD), a Persian historian, mentioned the samsa in his Tarikh-e Mas’oudi (Masoudian history). Samsas eventually made their way to… India, where it evolved into the samosa.”

The book carries the recipe for China’s tea eggs, a dish that I hope to rustle up one day. For this, hard boil six eggs. Cool, and then tap on the shell, cracking it without peeling it. Place the eggs in a pot. Cover with 2 teabags or 2tbsps loose black tea, 1/4th cup dark soy sauce, 1-2 whole star anise and enough water to cover the eggs fully. Boil and then simmer in the uncovered pot for 90 minutes, adding water as needed.

“Your resulting tea eggs, when peeled, should have a nice marbled look with egg whites being tan with darker streaks of brown. The yolk should be dark yellow, with a greenish/ gray tinge,” it says.

Uganda’s rolex

The book makes you travel countries and continents, and tells you about the difficult times that led to the creation of certain dishes. Take bunny chow, a dish of curry stuffed in a hollowed out loaf of bread that originated in Durban. It points out that in the Apartheid era, immigrant Indian plantation workers in Durban were banned from entering eateries. This prompted them in the late 1940s to create bunny chow so that they could carry their meals into the fields with them.

“The labourers ate the loaf, starting from the top or the side to the mushy, spicy centre. It needed no plates, no cutlery. The loaf was the ideal takeaway,” historian Dilip Menon says.

How did it get the name? “It is believed that the name originated from the city’s banyan trees, under which the vendors used to sit and sell the portable bread-loaf curries in the shade,” says the book.

I like the story of Uganda’s rolex, too. It’s an egg-chapati roll, quite like the ones we get in India. The word rolex, the book says, comes from rolled eggs and the dish originated in the eastern city of Jinja, where a sizeable Indian community lived.

The next time I eat a roll, I shall raise a burpy toast to history.

The writer, who grew up on ghee-doused urad dal and roti, now likes reading and writing about food as much as he enjoys cooking and eating. Well, almost.

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Printable version | Jun 18, 2021 11:14:19 AM |

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