Sunday, February 26, 2012

THE FRIED GOLDEN TRIANGLE- History and Controversies of Samosa

The father of all Indian snack: Samosa
THE FRIED GOLDEN TRIANGLE- History and Controversies of Samosa
Samosas are perhaps the most popular vegetarian (usually) snack you will see in India, you will notice them all over the country from small tea hut to big mall selling branded samosas. In India only you may find number of different types of samosas. The North Indian samosa contains a maida flour shell stuffed with a mixture of mashed boiled potato, onion, green peas, spices and green chili; however, meat-stuffed samosas are very common and popular in Indan town with Muslim population and all over the in Pakistan. The entire pastry is then deep fried to a golden brown colour, in vegetable oil. It is served hot and is often eaten with fresh Indian chutney, such as mint, coriander or tamarind. It can also be prepared as a sweet form, rather than as a savory one. Samosas are often served in Chaat(a kind of street food,mixture of lot of condiments,fried snacks,onion,lemon etc) along with the traditional accompaniments of yogurt, chutney, chopped onions and coriander, and Chaat masala.
In Southern part of India, samosas are slightly different, in that they are folded in a different way more like Portuguese chamu├žas, with a different style pastry. The filling also differs, typically featuring mashed potatoes with spices, fried onions, peas, carrots, cabbage, curry leaves, green chillies, etc.. It is mostly eaten without chutney. Samomas in South of India come in different sizes, and fillings are greatly influenced by the local food habits. Samosas made with spiced mashed potato mixture are quite popular in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
Home made,are not very crispy 
The Samosa probably traveled to India along ancient trade routes from Central Asia. Small, crisp mince-filled triangles that were easy to make around the campfire during night halts, then conveniently packed into saddlebags as snacks for the next day's journey. According to The Oxford Companion to Food, the Indian samosa is merely the best known of an entire family of stuffed pastries or dumplings popular from Egypt and Zanzibar to Central Asia and West China. Arab cookery books of the 10th and 13th Centuries refer to the pastries as sanbusak (the pronunciation still current in Egypt, Syria, & Lebanon), sanbusaq or sanbusaj, all reflecting the early medieval form of the Persian word: sanbosag. Claudia Roden (1968) quotes a poem by Ishaq ibn Ibrahim-al-Mausili (9th Century) praising the sanbusaj. By the early 14th Century, it was not only a part of Indian cuisine but also food fit for a king. Amir Khusrao, prolific poet of Delhi royalty, observed in 1300 that the royal set seemed partial to the "samosa prepared from meat, ghee, onion and so on".

 In 1334, the renowned traveller Ibn Battuta wrote about the sambusak: "minced meat cooked with almonds, pistachios, onions and spices placed inside a thin envelop of wheat and deep-fried in ghee". And the samosa obtained a royal stamp with its inclusion in the Ain-i-Akbari which declared that among dishes cooked with wheat there is the qutab, "which the people of Hind called the sanbusa".
Samosas ready for deep frying, McLeodganj, India
Roadside vender selling Samosas and other snacks, New Delhi
In July,2011, this snack item has been banned in Somalia by Islamist militants. The al-Shabab group, which has imposed the ban, states that the samosa is by and large a Christian symbolism, considering its triangular shape, closely relating to the Christian holy trinity. Moreover, the al Qaeda-linked militant group claims that the triangular shape of the food item is not in adherence with the Islamic laws.
Somali women selling Samosa before 2011 ban, Somalia 
The ban has been confirmed by Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper, which reports that supply of samosas (called sambusas in Africa) have already been stopped in and around the small towns of Somalia and its capital Mogadishu, for fear of extremist repercussions.
Is the samosa a symbol of western culture?   
Chronicling through history, the ban on samosas for its non-islamic nature is utterly paradoxical.The fried snacks have been popular in Eastern Africa, for centuries.The word samosa derives its name from the Persian “sanbosag”, and “sambusak” in Arabic. Tracing its origin to Central Asia, the snacks has been depicted as a “stuffed pie stuffed with minced meat, almonds, pistachio, walnuts and spices” served before the third course of a meal. The samosa was then brought to South Asian countries, India through Muslim traders, where it gained widespread popularity.  These triangular puffs are traveler-friendly, edible staples, adorning the South Asian snacks-platter. As history sheds light, samosa seems to have grown roots in the Muslim culinary culture and its flavor and favorability transcended culture and continents to be a coveted and cherished snack item across the world. That any food should be accused of ethnic origins,  by depraved extremist groups deprived of humanity, pushing a famine-sticken land to the throes of mass-death;  is testimony to the fact that the present mindless acts are definitely not carrying forward a golden legacy in the name of religion. It clearly defies all religious conventions, to be inhuman and even more to mete out atrocities, which claim to idolize a religion!
Tantric Origin of Samosa:
The morphology of fried samosa, also called singhara in Eastern India, in places like Calcutta,Guhawati, is same as that of Indian water chest nut, also known as Singhara. Water chestnut is used in Hindu rituals for worship of Divine Shakti in form of Goddess Mother.Singhara, water chestnut, is found in abundance in Bengal (ponds) and Kashmir (lakes). These were the two major centres of Tantra tradition in India and surprising. It is possible that since triads/triangle are so much in abundance in tantra philosophy that the triangular morphology of Singhara fruit was found to be apt to describe abstruse concepts. Triangular shape of samosa and name Singhara suggests some mystical link between tantra and samosa 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Tea Estates, Palampur 

While travelling in the lap of the Great Dhauladhar Mountains(which literally means white mountains), you are always awestricken with the scenic beauty  but there are few sights as beautiful as a well-maintained tea estate beneath the snow coved mountains. The acres of uniformly trimmed tea shrubs are just as delightful as the teas they produce. Palampur is surrounded by them. Be it the Kangra road or the Baijnath road or even the Dharamsala road, all run through tea estates for at least a few miles out of Palampur. I have travelled places around Palampur, Kangra and have also admired the beauty of this heaven. My last tour’s travel mates, Rocky Thongam and Hanish Mitra had always thought that in India, tea either comes from -Assam and Darjeeling, probably most of us think so and  if you are from south India, Nilgiri could be the third. But Kangra tea? There was a time when tea from this part of Himachal Pradesh ranked among the best in the world. 

Tea Estate owned by Calcutta based company, Palampur
In 1883, the Gazetteer of the Kangra District noted that tea produced in the region was “probably superior to that produced in any other part of India”. In the 1890s, almost 10,000 acres in the Kangra valley was covered by tea plantations. In 1892, the Kangra Valley Tea Company Ltd sold more than 20,000kg of tea in London. Between 1886 and 1895, Kangra’s tea won gold and silver medals for quality in London and Amsterdam.
Past of Brew:
William Jameson, superintendent of the Botanical Gardens at Saharanpur and the Northwest Frontier Province, was the man who brought the tea plant to Kangra. In 1849, he planted Chinese hybrid shrubs at three places in the valley: Kangra town (altitude 750m); Nagrota (870m) and Bhawarna (960m). Kangra town was too warm and dry, but the plants did well at the other two places. This was all the encouragement the local administration needed. Three years later, in 1852, it set up a commercial plantation at Holta near Palampur, at an altitude of 1,260m.
In the next seven years, a number of private planters, both locals and Europeans, got into the business. They set up 19 tea estates in the region, covering a total of 2,635 acres. In another 15 years, the area under tea had increased to 7,994 acres, and by the end of the 19th century, it stood at 10,000 acres and produced almost 1,000 tonnes of tea annually. At least 80% of these plantations were around Palampur, which had a congenial climate and abundant water.
Rocky Thongam in the Middle of Tea estate, Palampur
Dip in the Tea:
In the space of half a century, Kangra had entrenched itself on the world’s tea map. Its black and green teas were travelling to Afghanistan, Russia and Central Asia via Amritsar. On the other side, it could hold its own among teas from Assam and Darjeeling in the Kolkata market, from where they were shipped to Europe and America.The devastating earthquake of 4 April 1905 reduced the entire valley to rubble, crippling Kangra’s tea industry for years to come. The English planters, who had till then led the way with new techniques, machinery and marketing, left the valley for good.
The locals who took over the abandoned estates were unable to meet the same standards of quality and productivity, and Kangra’s tea started losing ground. In 1980, Kangra’s estates produced only 132kg of tea per hectare, the lowest in the country, and well below the 284kg that the English planters averaged in 1892.
Comeback trail:
 Happily, the worst seems to be over for Kangra’s tea. In the past two decades, the acreage under tea has started increasing, production is up, the quality of tea is much better, earnings are higher, even the estates are now a sight to behold. In 2006, Kangra also won recognition as a “geographic indicator” for tea like Darjeeling tea, Kangra tea has its own significant symbol: two leaves and a bud.
Lemon Green Tea, offered to me by a humble salesman
Flavor is the unique selling proposition of Kangra tea. The Chinese hybrid variety grown here produces a very pale liquor, which is the reason why Kangra does not produce any CTC (crushed, turned, curled) tea—the staple tea of India. CSK Himachal Pradesh Agriculture University in collaboration with Kittu Exports has open few outlets selling organic Kangra Tea (both Green/Black). University has tea estates of their own and has got SGS certification for being organic. Their tea is packed in fancy cloth bags, ideal for gift purpose. Salesman at the outlet near Holta Army Cantt is very friendly young Himachali man, he offered me piping hot lemon flavored green tea on a chilly rainy evening of 12-02-2012. That was my first introduction to amazing aroma of kangra tea.You will find all these estates an enchanting green from March to November, when the bushes are finally pruned and “rested” for the winter. We found most of the tea estates in rested phase during our trip. This also means that when plucking resumes in April, the first batches of tea are the richest in flavour.
SGS Certified Organic Kangra Green Tea in Gift Packs
'Rested' Tea Crop
CSKHP Argiculture University supported Outlet
The technical name for this phenomenon is “Spring Flush”, and if you happen to visit Kangra during April, do make the most of your trip by buying freshly produced tea, we were not so lucky as we had to buy old stock of this brew. You will find all these estates an enchanting green from March to November, when the bushes are finally pruned and “rested” for the winter. Rested? Well, they do tire of producing rich leaf after leaf for your cup, eight months in a row. So it’s only fair that they get some time to recover their strength. This also means that when plucking resumes in April, the first batches of tea are the richest in flavour.
HPTDC's Hotel Tea-Bud serves you excellently brewed kangra tea in these Cups 

Tibetans settled in kangra Valley prefer fermented version of kangra Tea