As I finished my lecture at India Habitat Centre, a person approached me and congratulated me for the way I presented the history of Delhi. He gave me many points and asked if I would like to dive deeper into the history and try to find out the history of every single locality of Delhi. While we were talking, he gave many pointers to work on, one of which caught my immediate attention. This person, named Nataranjan Bohidar (Roni) wrote me this:
The Greek influence in India is to be sought in the fact that the greatest mathematician of 3-d triangles, the father and inventor of TRIGONOMETRY, was Pythagoras…and he comes form the Greek town of Samos, which is the name that we still call the Samosa by …and the
samosa by shape must be a tribute to this 3-dimensional genius, PYTHAGORAS ! What are the chances it came to India from Greece …what
are the chances Pythagoras born 150 years in Samos before Alexander, was well known to the military commander and his Generals introduced samosa to Alexandrias all over the world and so too to Sikanderpur?
Note: India-Pakistan has multiple towns with name Sikanderpur. These are the territories given to nobles of Alexander (locally known as Sikander) after Alexander’s alleged victory over India, who established townships and named after him.
This made me thinking, is really my favourite snack an instrument to learn the 3-Dimensional triangle.
A quick search on Wikipedia revealed that the word Samosa can be traced to Persian word sanbosag. In Arab countries, the name changed to Sanbusak or Sanbusaj. Afghanis call it Sambosa and Tajakistan knows it by name Samboosa. Turkic speaking nations call it Samsa and Portuguese speakers call it chamuça.
Samosa is a triangular fried pastry with savory filling within a finely milled wheat flour. In its initial days, Samosa was filled with ground lamb, beef or chicken. However in India, Potatoes cooked with onion, peas and spices is filled. It got associated with Indian subcontinent during the Mughal Period (16th century). It has been an important snack prepared in the royal kitchen. Interestingly, there is also a building in Akbar’s capital Fatehpur Sikir, which goes by the name “Samosa Mahal”. It got its name due to its 3 sides. This triangular palace with multiple rooms and a small gusal-khana was built for one of the nobles of Akbar’s court. Name of this noble is no longer known. The landscape of this building has changed slightly with time.
Oldest written reference of Samosa is by Abolfazl Beyhaqi (995 AD – 1077 AD), an Iranian historian, who mentioned about it in his work Tarikh-e-Beyhaghi. This work is the most authentic account of Ghaznavid empire, which was spread from Iran to Afghanistan (including parts of Pakistan and India). Based on this account, researchers deduced that the Samosa originated somewhere in Middle East before 10th century. It should be noted that this land was part of Ancient Greece till 7th-8th Century. The island of Samos, from where Pythagoras came is situated to the immediate west of this mainland Abolfazi talked about. We know that Pythagoras was very famous in this region because we get his image and work depicted on coins from 3rd century.
Some claim that Samosa was introduced in India by traders from Middle East in 13th or 14th century. Hazrat Amir Khusrow, the famous sufi mystic, poet and disciple of Khwaja Nizamuddin Auliya (ra), who also worked as the royal poet in the court of Slave emperors wrote in 14th century about Samosa, prepared with meat, ghee and onion. Ibn-i-Battuta, the famous Moroccan traveller, who visited India during the reign of Muhammad bin Tughlaq wrote about a small triangular patty, which he calls Sambusak (the name Samosa is known by in Arabia, from where Battuta came). He says that Sambusak is stuffed with minced meat, almonds, pistachio, walnuts and spices, was served before the third course, of pulao.
In 16th century, Akbar’s minister Abu’l Fazl ibn Mubarak wrote a complete account of Akbar’s administration, known as Ain-i-Akbari (Constitution of Akbar). He mentions the recipe for Qutab, which he says, the people of Hindustan call Sanbusah.
While samosa originally started with a filling of minced meat and became popular as a potato filled pastry, there have always been experiments with it. These days shops across the globe serve samosas filled with various items like macroni, pasta, noodles, cottage cheese, cauliflower, meat, mushroom, peas, and almost everything else that can be eaten. Interestingly, the most popular filling of Samosa, Potato is also not from India. It originated in Peru somewhere between 8000 and 5000 BC. Like potato, many other common food items that we consume in India were traded into the subcontinent.
I will now stop writing and head to my nearest Samosa shop. Time to pay tribute to Pythagoras.