This post is a part of the What’s On My Plate series
Picture: Fernando Monte da Silva
Samosas; the final frontier of culinary 'Indianness'
As a child, I grew up watching the X-Files and learnt that really, the truth was out there and that you could trust no one. As I grew up, I began watching conspiracy theory documentaries and learnt that maybe the true killer of JFK would never truly be revealed. Of course, then I really grew up and began working and mingled with all sorts and even have a colleague who is a conspiracy theorist and thinks I’m a member of the KKK and believes that every move I make is with 10 moves planned ahead. But that got me thinking, I love eating, I love talking about what I eating, and let’s not even get started on taking pictures of what I’m eating. What if there are conspiracy theories there too?
In our given political climate we must endorse the concept of ‘Make in India’. We must shun all ‘western ideas’, we must give up beef. Heaven forbid being caught red handed watching a Maddona video while eating cutlet pao. You’re likely to find yourself in the slammer faster than Rahul Gandhi can make an ass of himself, which is the speed of light. But I find amused derision in the mirth surrounding our ‘Indian-ness’ when it comes to our food, most of all. In conversation with an aging Parsi gentleman five years ago, at the now defunct Irani café, B Merwan on Grant Road in Mumbai, I learnt that the Samosa, which this country has widely used as a flagship for indigenous snacking, is not Indian at all. Though initially sceptical, I did my homework, only to learn that the aforementioned gentleman, who I had never met before, was spot on. The Samosa finds its roots steeped in the Middle East, having been brought to India only by traders in the 13th and 14th Century. Granted, Uttar Pradesh gets credit for the vegetarian Indian Samosa, but then again, Welfit Tailors in São Tomé makes the finest suits in Goa, and they certainly didn’t invent the concept.
My interest having been piqued, I researched what else had found its way to our not so little country and found adulation amongst the masses. The chills of horror that will creep up your spine when you learn of the betrayal of your homeland will astound you. You have even betrayed by that special someone that helps you start your day. The one you gaze at lovingly every morning. The one that tells you everything is going to be alright on a bad day. That’s right! I’m talking about Chai. What about Chai, you ask? Let’s see. Your tea was lovingly popularised in this country as part of the British Raj’s famous and favourite policy of divide and conquer. Wanting to break the monopoly that China had on the tea market, Britain began using India’s land to popularise the tea drinking habit and then export it to the world. If that isn’t betrayal, I’m afraid I don’t know what is.
This brings us to the first cousin of this beverage that has now broken our hearts. If you thought that Treacherous Tea was bad, what about Conspiring Coffee? I have never undertaken a drive south of Goa into Karnataka that has not consisted of drinks breaks and pit stops for ‘Philter Kapi’ (Filter Coffee for the gentrified). Coffee found its way to country three centuries after the advent of the Samosa, having been smuggled into the country at that juncture. After a rising demand for Filter Coffee, the Coffee Cess Committee popularised the concept in their first Coffee House in Bombay that was set up in 1936.
Think about that while you dip your Naan in your gravy and mull on some food for thought while you’re at it. Actually, don’t. The Naan is conspiring too. The word Naan is derived from the Persian word ‘non’. In keeping with its Persian connect, this bread, that is a cousin of Pita which extremely popular in the Middle East was originally cooked at the Imperial Court in Delhi during the Mughal era in India from around 1526.
These are just a few ‘foreigners’ in hiding. Foreigners we have all embraced and taken into our homes as one of our own. So if we must shun all things non-Indian, we must certainly shun these too. Apparently that is what it takes to be a morally upright citizen of the country: eat Indian. So ask yourself, have you been eating Indian? Or not really Indian after all?
More than half our 'Indian-made' concepts are foreigners living as illegal aliens. Prepare for their inevitable ban.
The next Indo-Chinese war will be sparked of by a cup of Oolong.
Stop being so 'me, me, me' about everything. So what if we copied something from someone else. I didn't see you complaining about it when you put your trousers on. We took that idea from someone else too.
Food is a huge part of any culture and for me, chancing upon a good meal is synonymous with having a great day. The What’s On My Plate series of posts is where I discuss food, great places to eat, and anything gastronomically moving. This could be anything from a great place to eat, to an obscure kind of food, to an origin story. After all, there is no love like the love of eating.