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Sunday, January 17, 2021

The flying samosa

The deep-fried snack takes off in a helium balloon — to remind us that food is always about epic journeys

By: Editorial | Updated: January 13, 2021 9:00:16 am
We, RobotCapek’s robots — mechanised slaves that displace their masters — found echoes throughout the golden age of science fiction.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a flying saucer? No, mon ami, it is a flying samosa. Epic journeys are not new to this deep-fried snack — the sambosa arrived in India from central Asia in the 12th or 13th century, carried to the northern plains by waves of migration and invasions. But even by those exalted historical standards, a samosa that takes off in a helium balloon in an attempt to reach space is one spicy little wayfarer. The voyage began when the owner of an Indian restaurant in Bath, UK, thought of launching a samosa into space. Off it went, with a GoPro camera and a GPS tracker for company. The tracker bungled and so no one knows how high it went, but the contraption was finally retrieved from a field in northern France.

Food travels. And it is in the nature of kitchens, whether royal or commoner, to reject atmanirbharta and the tyranny of unchanging recipes. In its earliest avatars, the samosa was a fried tidbit, stuffed with meat and dried fruit, served to the rulers of the 13th century Sultanate of Delhi. A 15th century royal recipe book from the Malwa Sultanate lists khoya, ground wheat, and deer meat as samosa fillings. Qeema samosas have not gone out of fashion in the southern states. But in contemporary India, the samosa is as plebeian as it gets, being served at street corners and chaat kiosks, the perfect accompaniment to tea and rainy days; its filling (aloo) so commonplace it found a place in a Lalu Prasad Yadav slogan.

But even the potato, an import from the Americas that took root in our soil through British colonial efforts, is a reminder that natives and invaders, insiders and outsiders, are, ultimately, ingredients stirred into a complex history of human migration. Just like the samosa that found its way into a restaurant in Britain run by an Indian-origin man, and, after a little space odyssey, in a field in France.

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