Amaan Akhtar shares memories surrounding a traditional dish that his family enjoys making and eating: samosas. Not only does he describe watching his mother make them when he was a child, but he also discusses also what this recipe means to him as an adult, and what familiar home cooked foods can mean to all of us.
Whenever a special occasion arises, the old family traditions are dusted off like the collection of holiday decorations, resurfacing to greet us for yet another festive season. Despite the novelty of these traditions having worn off, they still have a tender place in our hearts and minds.
And food is a great example of this.
We all have fond memories of our favourite cuisine and delicious treats. And usually, we reserve their tasty experience for that particular special occasion.
The food that I have the fondest memories with are homemade samosa’s. This delightful South Asian dish consists of a meat filling inside pastry that is folded into a triangular shape. While there are many variations on this recipe, including vegetables, chicken or just spices – Keema Samosa’s are still my favourite. I think it was the combination of ingredients which always lured me back for more: the curry’s spicy blend coated onto the mince-meat texture, and the complemented mix of peas and potatoes which truly tantalized my taste buds every time. The warm, welcoming outer layer of the crispy, fried pastry made any pastry lovers’ eyes drool as they set their gaze upon them. Serve it with a spicy mint chutney, and you have found a way to this man’s heart.
In fact, I became so fond of this cuisine, that I used to request it consistently during every special occasion. And this year is no exception – as my 24th birthday graced me with its presence, I placed yet another order of samosas within the Akhtar family household.
However, I remember vividly in my childhood that I did not enjoy this dish at all. I used to find the meaty filling unappealing and would only eat the end corners of each samosa – because I absolutely loved the texture of cooked pastry - and then proceeded to put the remainder of it back on the plate. To my mum’s dismay, she would then force herself to finish my partially-nibbled samosas to prevent any wastage and embarrassment amongst our relatives.
This unconventional eating method for samosas would endure for a while during my childhood.
And then for some reason, it changed.
I gradually became accustomed to the entire taste and texture of this food, savouring each bite as the flavoursome meal it is.
In retrospect, I slowly realised why this had happened. I have special memories with this food because it paved the way for beloved family moments that I will always cherish.
You see, while samosas are delicious savoury snacks, they are very time consuming and challenging to make. For the longest time, I didn’t appreciate the huge amount of effort and dedication my mum took to produce them. Firstly, she would have to prepare the filling by cooking the meat in a large pan, gradually adding spices and finely chopped vegetables to the mixture. Afterwards, the filling would be set aside while she prepared the dough – sifting plain flour into the bowl, adding lemon juice and salt, gradually working in the water to form the dough that would then be kneaded and set aside.
After all this effort, she then divided the dough into equal portions – rolling each one into a ball and flattening them out into thin circles using her trusty rolling pin. My mum would then cook each circle on a low heat for a few seconds, so they became firm and dry. Finally, she would cut them into halves.
The process then became a group activity, as she summoned in her group of little helpers – my siblings and I would march into the kitchen enthusiastically as the aromatic fragrance of cumin, garam masala and turmeric enticed our taste buds.
It was time to shape and fill the huge batch of samosas.
We would gleefully grab half a dough circle, form the cone, scoop up the filling and then seal them for frying. While this may sound like a simple process, it always took a long time. Sprinkled throughout this session would be fighting over cutlery to use for scooping and sealing, laughing hysterically as our hands were caked in dried-up flour paste, and witnessing our mum frantically make an extra amount of paste or dough for the filling that was always left over.
In hindsight, I will always cherish these family memories as joyous, wonderful occasions where we all enjoyed the process of making this beloved household cuisine. Although as we grow older, those unique family memories are harder to come across, with fewer experiences each passing year. Our lives get busier, and we don’t get to spend enough time having these kinds of experiences with our loved ones. Yet, whenever I see a samosa it always puts a wide smile on my face. Whether it is in the display of a shop counter or making them recently with my girlfriend on my birthday – they will always remind me of home.
I immediately reminisce about the arduous process of making them and enjoying their satisfying mouth-watering taste with delightful company.
Everyone has a special memory with food from their childhood, and I implore you to always cherish it, because our connection with food is a vibrant part of our humanity. And someday, when I have become a parent, I will share the wonderful process of making this delightful dish with my own children.
And hopefully they will have a similar fondness of this experience, and perhaps this memory may even have a permanent special place in their hearts as well.