I woke up on Sunday morning to a dark sky and knew that there was something urgent I had to do - have a crisp samosa.
I don't know if sudden showers do this to you, but I get these strange food yearnings when everything around me starts to glisten with rain. And the rain, you would have noticed, does a mean tango with some special kinds of snacks. All across the city, I know that there are people who start frying pakoras the moment they see dark clouds. A good life, I often say, 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 in mind, and that's 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 a potato filling, not as spicy as the normal Dilliwallah 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 fire. In Jama Masjid, you get a delicious keema samosa, and in Multani Dhanda - in Paharganj - there is a sweet shop which sells samosas stuffed with boiled moong dal.
But this week, the samosa that I was dying to eat was not your regular triangular flour puffs. I wanted to have a Japani samosa.
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.
The journey for a Japani samosa is nearly as exciting as the food itself. I walked through the narrow lanes of Old Delhi, enjoying the colourful battle of words between a speed-loving rickshaw-puller and all the local people that his vehicle insisted on hitting. What made the trek even more exciting was the fact that I was trailing behind a train of donkeys, who steadfastly refused to give me the right of way.
I walked up to Jama Masjid and then took a rickshaw to Moti Cinema Hall. After getting down at the mouth of Dariba, the old silversmiths' hub, I took the
road between Moti Cinema and Lajpat Rai Market. And right there was Manohar's Japani Samosa.
Nobody quite knows why the samosa is called Japani. Umesh, the friendly owner, didn't know the reason, but knew that it had been called so since its very inception in 1949. Maybe -- if you want to stretch your history dates a bit -- the name came as an offshoot of the war. Or maybe there was 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?
I had the samosa, and thought it was excellent. It was crispy on the outside, and soft within. The pastry was bland and went well with the vegetable filling, And the chholey left its tangy taste behind.
The first time I had a Japani samosa, I had gone around singing: "Mera samosa hai
Japani, uspe chholey Hindustani." This time, I bid adieu with: "Sayonara Sayonara, khal phir khayungee, Sayonara..."