A Return Journey for Vada Pao

Although it’s widespread in India, the samosa is not originally from India. There may be a metaphor in there about the Aryan Invasion Theory, but let’s ignore the metaphor and focus on the food. Here’s a Quartz story about the origins of the samosa:

From Egypt to Libya and from Central Asia to India, the stuffed triangle with different names has garnered immense popularity. Originally named samsa, after the pyramids in Central Asia, historical accounts also refer to it as sanbusak,sanbusaq or even sanbusaj, all deriving from the Persian word, sanbosag. In South Asia, it was introduced by the Middle Eastern chefs during the Delhi Sultanate rule, although some accounts credit traders for bringing the fare to this part of the world.

The post seems to have been written by a Pakistani person, so it focuses more on the Pakistani keema samosas, while briefly acknowledging that in India, it has been vegetarianised, so that the samosa filling has become potato instead of meat.

I never knew until I was out of school that samosas could come with meat instead of potato and peas. By that time, I had already gone off samosas forever. This was because of how bad potato samosas in Delhi can get, especially when you’re trying to make them as cheap as possible. Of course, for government canteens, which operate on lowest financial bid contracts, making things as cheap as possible is imperative, so there is nothing quite as awful as a government samosa. It is the nadir of cost cutting, and features the coming together of:

  1. The worst quality of potatoes (and Indian potatoes are already pretty bad compared to potatoes from the rest of the world)
  2. Deep frying the samosas in dalda instead of oil
  3. Watered down tamarind chutney

Now consider the vada pao. This, unlike the samosa, was almost certainly created in India. And it started out vegetarian. It has always been a deep fried mashed potato ball stuffed inside a bun.

What if we sent the vada pao on the reverse journey of the samosa? That is, from a vegetarian potato beginning; we turn it into a meat item? We mince various kinds of meat, fry each in besan (or maybe even another sort of batter), and then put the result into a pao. And after various experiments, we figure out the best possible meat and batter combination and end up with something that’s more expensive, but far tastier and healthier than a potato burger. If it works, we could give the recipe to Central Asia, as a way of saying thank you for all the samosas.