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Biting into Japani samosa

No one quite knows why this samosa in Old Delhi is called Japani. But its soft inside and crisp cover can very well send you home drooling, says RAHUL VERMA.



Snacks with history ...The Japani Samosa shop at Lajpat Rai Market in New Delhi. Photo: R.V. Moorthy.

ONE WAKES up on a Sunday morning to a dark sky and knows there is something urgent that needs to be done - have a crisp samosa. And if you are one of those who gets these strange food yearnings when everything around you starts to glisten with rain, you would very well know that the rain does a mean tango with some special kinds of snacks. All across the city, there would be umpteen numbers of people who start frying pakoras the moment they see dark clouds. A good life, one often feels, is a book in hand, with a plate of pakoras and a hot cup of tea on a rainy day. There is another thing that the rain-gods always seem to bring to mind, and that's surely a samosa. The best thing about a samosa is that you can get it in nearly every corner of the city. To top it, there are all kinds of samosas. In some of the Bengali sweet shops in Delhi, you can get a `singara' - which is a samosa with a special kind of potato filling, not as spicy as the normal Dilliwallah samosa.

Japani samosa

There is one shack in Mayur Vihar Phase II where the samosas are so good that people start lining up for its hot fare well before the huge iron kadais are put on the fire. In Jama Masjid, you get a delicious keema samosa, and in Multani Dhanda - in Paharganj - there is a sweet shop that sells samosas stuffed with boiled moong dal.

But Delhi's really unique samosa is not your regular triangular flour puffs. It is the Japani samosa found in an Old Delhi lane.

A Japani samosa is actually not a true-blue samosa. It certainly does not look, taste or behave like the conventional samosa. It's a big, layered puff pastry - something like a cheese puff - with a delicious filling of lightly spiced potatoes and peas. The samosa is doused with a layer of chholey - and the two together are like those unforgettable pairs of Hindi cinema - say, Raj Kapoor and Nargis, or Dilip Kumar and Madhubala. Or, if you insist, Govinda and Dilip Dhawan.

If willing to undertake it, the journey for a Japani samosa can be nearly as exciting as the food itself. Walking through the narrow lanes of the Walled City, enjoying the colourful battle of words between a speed-loving rickshaw-puller and all the local people that his vehicle insisted on hitting, might as well add an extra flavour to it. If you are lucky, what can make the trek even more exciting is the experience of trailing behind a train of donkeys, who would steadfastly refuse to give you the right of way.

Walk up to Jama Masjid and then take a rickshaw to Moti Cinema Hall. After getting down at the mouth of Dariba, the old silversmiths' hub, take the road between Moti Cinema and Lajpat Rai Market. And right there is Manohar's Japani Samosa.

Poetic logic?

Nobody quite knows why the samosa is called Japani. Umesh, the friendly owner, doesn't know the reason, but knows that it has been called so since its very inception in 1949. Maybe - if you want to stretch your history dates a bit - the name comes as an offshoot of the war. Or maybe there is no real reason. Japani, after all, is as good a name as any and has some poetry to it. And it sounds better than Papua New Guinea samosa, right?

The crispy outside and the soft inside of the samosa sum up an interesting bite. The bland pastry goes well with the vegetable filling. And the chholey leaves its tangy taste behind.

Have a handful and you might return home singing, "Mera Samosa hai Japani, uspe chholey Hindustani." Or better still, "Sayonara Sayonara, kal phir khayungee... ."

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