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On the trail of samosas in Delhi
Samosa, the wonderfully oily guilt laden anytime snack filled with potatoes, is actually a random eat, reached out to when the body needs some instant refueling. It is eaten without a second thought. So what can be different about these wonderful triangular contraptions which Muslim invaders / traders brought with them from Central Asian, to go on its trail? A lot my friends, the samosas served in Delhi to a large extent reflects the culinary antecedent of the maker and dishes out the unique flavor of the area. This list is by no means complete but simply whets up the appetite.
The ideal place to start seems with the bite sized samosas which was the inspiration for this piece. In off beat Shanti Mohall, near Gandhi Nagar market which is a haven for export fabrics, I was offered these very tasty light small samosas. Further investigation revealed it was made by Vinod Kumar, who hails from Farrukkhabad and his samosas are called Farrukkhabadi samose. The filling is mashed potatoes, really smashed to which salt and red chilly powder is added. Vinod Kumar says, “I keep the masalas light and not too heavy.” It takes off from the UP cuisine where the food is seasoned very slightly and is not heavy.
From the bite sized, it seems natural to foray into the giant sized ones. Yes, weighing between 300 gms to 350 gms each are these giant samosas from the classy Embassy Restaurant in the genteel environs of Lutyens Connaught Place, Inner Circle. Sunil Malhotra, Partner, Embassy Restaurant says, “we have been serving these samosas for over 60 years now. Since we were open throughout the day, there was a necessity to offer snacks. So serving normal samosas was not an option, which is why this large size was experimented with and was an instant hit.” The takeaway outside serves the traditional one filled with cubed potatoes, paneer pieces and matar (peas), with loads of green chillies. It is hot on the palate but the flavours are a distinct take off Punjabi cuisine from across the border. Inside, the restaurant also serves two variants - one filled with Pindi chole and the other mutton.
From the heartland of Punjab to the Bengali bastion of Chittaranjan Park, here one gets the Singharas as samosas are called. Filled with cubed potatoes fried with groundnuts, boiled chick peas and coconut bits add to the flavor. Dadu’s Cutlet in C R Park, market 2 is one such which sells wonderful singharas only in the evening. Offering Allahabadi samosas is Bengali Sweet House at Bengali Market, Connaught Place. As Girish Aggarwal, Managing Partner, says, “these are filled with well fried dal, which gives it a long shelf life and is ideal for travel.” How small? A kg of the samosas has around 100 pieces.
No account is complete without visiting the gastronomical belly of Delhi - Chandni Chowk. In Chandni Chowk the thumb rule for samosa is to use nearly all vegetables as per the season with alu being perennial. There is a samosa trail here itself. The first place that of Tewari Bros opposite Allahabad Bank. Ravi Tewari, owner is very knowledgeable on sweets pan India and makes a range of samosas. Siya Ram the samosa karighar / specialist says, “We make Mewa samosa with dal, kaju, kishmish which is fried and grounded into fine powder for the filling which are both sweet and spicy. The hare matar ke samose - green peas, kaju and kishmish in the filling. There is gobhi, gajar and green peas with special handmade masala and more.” A personal quirk which Siya Ram has introduced is a jala like design on the samosa. This results in the samosa having a double layer. The samosas are not heavily spiced a take off from Kanpur where Tewari hails from.
Then there is the theekha (spicy) gobhi samosa at Kanwarji Bhagirath Mal Dal Beeji wale. With over 150 years of tradition, the samosa is still prepared the heritage way with the special masala made in house. As Roop Narain Gupta the fifth generation of the family says, “these samosas can last four days easily.” The masala is finely grounded and the gobhi is literally dunked into it, retaining its flavor together with the masala. The taste firmly grounded Dilli ka.
No account of samosa is complete without referring to the Japani Samosa of Manohar literally a work of art. The shop dates to 1949 and traces its origins to 1924 in Lahore. Umesh Kumar Ratra the third generation running the place today does not have a clue as to why it is called Japani, probably due to the paper fan like shape of the samosa. Umesh adds, “it has a total of 60 layers. The samosa when it is made is more like a lump. On being fried it opens its petals like a flower giving it its unique shape.” As one eats through the incredibly crisp layers, the filling of alu, matar with very little spice hits the mouth light and heart warming. This is served with piping hot delicious Pindi Chane and an interesting pickle of lauki (bottle gourd) and mango. And if all that sets the tongue on fire, what else stroll back to Tewari Sweets for their sweet samosas. The small samosas are filled with khoya and dry fruits, deep fried and then dipped in chashni or sweet syrup. It is decorated with slivers of almonds and pistachios. The taste delicately sweetened. End of trail - pure bliss!