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By Anita Felicelli

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About this blog: I grew up in Palo Alto and now live in Mountain View with my husband, daughter and two corgis. After about a decade grappling with the law, first as a law student at UC Berkeley and then as a litigator around the Bay Area, I left ...  (More)

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Where to Get the Best Samosas During Diwali

Uploaded: Nov 2, 2013
While eating at one of several high-end local Indian restaurants last month, I had a craving for samosas. I ordered the "cocktail" samosas, but was totally disappointed. The crusts were overly crispy and the potato filling was bland. The seams of the samosa were perfectly split, suggesting they were frozen samosas that had just been reheated.

I had a memory of certain samosas I'd eaten as a child, samosas with hot spicy innards and a crust that both yielded and gave a pleasing crunch. Samosas dipped in sweet tamarind and hot mint chutneys. I was determined to find samosas that matched that memory.

When I get a craving, it takes over my life. I embarked on a taste test of samosas on the Peninsula. I'd eaten at most of the local Indian restaurants and food stands already, but I went again with the sole purpose of trying just the samosas on their menus. Most of the samosas in the immediate vicinity were surprisingly mediocre (or even not good), particularly at upscale restaurants like Amber and Parc Balluchi where other foods are excellent.

There are a few different ways in which the parameters of this survey were limited. First, I was looking for vegetarian samosas — the triangular kind filled with a potato and peas mixture that is popular on the Indian subcontinent. Not the sanbusak from Arab countries or the sambusa from Iran. The meat-filled pies are a completely different beast. Of course, even on the Indian subcontinent there is a lot of variation in samosas from state to state. It's difficult to account for that regional variation — Punjabi samosas versus Tamil samosas, for example.

Therefore, the second parameter takes into account the influence of California cuisine principles. Extra points for fresh potatos and peas in the filling. I figure, since we're in California where you can get really good produce most of the year, we can do better than to eat flavorless potatoes or peas in the midst of the fall harvest.

Third, the crust is as important as the filling. Thin crispy phyllo pastry crusts, which seem to be common, are just not as good for samosa-making purposes as crusts made of flour and oil or ghee, in my opinion. Samosas appeal to the same part of my brain that likes hot pockets or pizza rolls, not the same part that loves spanakopita. According to Google, they probably all come from the same foods, but I look to them for different flavor/texture sensations.

The most fantastic samosas I found were at India Gourmet's food stand at the California Avenue Farmer's Market on Sundays. In addition to actually tasting the best, India Gourmet has an edge because each samosa is only $1 and their cilantro-mint chutney is to die for.

One of the reasons India Gourmet's samosas are so good is because the crust has an outer and an inner layer. The outer layer is crispy and golden-brown with crunch. The interior layer is soft and hot and melts in your mouth. Their crust is definitely the best of all the places I sampled.

The other noteworthy aspect of these samosas is the fennel or anise seeds in the potato and peas mixture. The occasionally sweet-bitter bite of the seeds adds an extra layer of complexity to the potato and peas mixture. The produce in India Gourmet's foods is sourced from farms in the Watsonville area (where India Gourmet is based). You can actually taste the sweetness of the peas.

Chaat Paradise at 165 E. El Camino Real is a close second. You get two samosas for $2.50. The crust of these samosas is a single deep-fried layer. There's a little too much turmeric mixed into the potatoes and peas —masking whether the produce used is fresh or not. But what's great about these samosas is the deeper cumin flavor and the extra spicy heat. Unlike many restaurants in the area, the food at Chaat Paradise, including the samosas, aren't de-spiced to suit non-Indian taste buds. And as most locals know, the rest of the chaat there is excellent as well.

Diwali starts this weekend — this is the perfect time to go out for samosas and other Indian food (or light some lamps and cook Indian food at home). Happy Diwali!

Have I underrated some dimension of samosas? Recommend your favorite places to get them or what you look for in the comments.

Comments

Posted by Janet Lafleur, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Nov 2, 2013 at 10:17 am

Janet Lafleur is a registered user.

Now you're making me really hungry. Thanks for doing the legwork and weeding out the mediocre. Chaat Paradise it is!


Posted by Anita Felicelli, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Nov 2, 2013 at 3:36 pm

Anita Felicelli is a registered user.

Thanks Janet - the legwork was absolutely my pleasure - enjoy!


Posted by HappySunday, a resident of Fairmeadow,
on Nov 3, 2013 at 9:41 am

Thank you so much for the detailed information. Deliciously written. I will be heading to the Farmer's Market to try out the samosas. Happy Diwali!


Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park,
on Nov 3, 2013 at 11:37 am

It would be nice to have a word or two on what Diwali is, besides Beaver's brother on "Leave It To Beaver". I've never heard of Diwali.


Posted by Anita Felicelli, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Nov 3, 2013 at 12:22 pm

Anita Felicelli is a registered user.

@HappySunday, thank you. I hope you enjoy the samosas!

@CrescentParkAnon. - the "w" is actually pronounced as a "v". Diwali is the five-day Hindu festival of lights that marks the end of harvest season. The lights are not just the physical lights, but also the inner light (of higher knowledge triumphing over ignorance, good triumphing over evil). It involves the lighting of lamps, firecrackers, wearing nice new clothes, and eating snacks and sweets with family. Today is the first day of the festival.


Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park,
on Nov 3, 2013 at 5:03 pm

Thanks Anita, don't underestimate the ignorance of the American public ... especially about Indian customs, you gotta explain these things.

If they want knowledge to triumph over people's ignorance, maybe they should extend the festival longer than 5 days. ;-) Happy Diwali!


Posted by Anita Felicelli, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Nov 3, 2013 at 8:07 pm

Anita Felicelli is a registered user.

@CrescentParkAnon, thanks! Yes it's tough to gauge how much requires explanation when writing about cross-cultural matters (would not want to alienate local Indian-American readers or those who already know what Diwali is by giving a long explanation within the text.) Glad there's a comment section so people can voice where they're coming from and ask for clarification.


Posted by KatKop, a resident of another community,
on Nov 4, 2013 at 12:25 pm

I'll be sure to check out Chaat Paradise the next time I'm in town. Thanks for the info - and Shubh Diwali!!


Posted by Laura Blakely, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Nov 4, 2013 at 12:31 pm

India Gourmet is also the Indian vendor that is at the Sunnyvale Farmers' Market on Saturdays. Sounds like the same one--they have excellent samosas and cilantro chutney, and the chicken curry wraps are tasty, too!


Posted by Anita Felicelli, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Nov 4, 2013 at 12:47 pm

Anita Felicelli is a registered user.

@KatKop - And to you, too! Chaat Paradise is pretty awesome all around. You can't go wrong.

@Laura Blakely - Good to know, thank you. I haven't tried the chicken curry wraps yet. I think India Gourmet is actually at a lot of farmer's markets all around the Peninsula and down the Central Coast, though I've only visited them at the California Ave. market - should have articulated they are present in multiple locations in the post.


Posted by Samosa Lover, a resident of South of Midtown,
on Nov 5, 2013 at 1:37 am

Curry Up Now on Hamilton in downtown Palo Alto (catty-corner from the post office) has surprisingly good samosas — two huge ones for $4, with tamarind chutney and an especially good green chutney. If I\'m running errands downtown and am hungry for lunch, I\'ll get an order to go and take them home, and that plus a drink, and maybe some fruit, is plenty for my lunch. (I\'ve never tried anything else on the menu.)

Shezan on Castro St., Mountain View, has very good samosas and chutneys, and the rest of the food is good, too.

I still miss Dee Dee\'s, formerly on Middlefield in Mountain View (of course, they\'re building condos there now). They used to have three different varieties of vegetarian samosas (Gujarati, Punjabi, and mini), which were also huge and cheap and good. I seem to remember hearing that they reopened in Santa Clara. (??)


Posted by Anita Felicelli, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Nov 5, 2013 at 5:54 am

Anita Felicelli is a registered user.

DeeDee's!! I totally miss DeeDee's, too. It's where my mom used to get samosas when I was growing up and those were some of the samosas I was trying to find something similar to when I did my taste testing. If they were still in Mountain View, I think I'd probably think they were still the best. I had no idea they were in Santa Clara. I'll have to look into that - thank you!


Posted by member, a resident of another community,
on Nov 5, 2013 at 8:18 am

DeeDee's has morphed into an Ayurvedic focused food provider. Check out: Web Link#


Posted by Anita Felicelli, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Nov 5, 2013 at 8:30 am

Anita Felicelli is a registered user.

@member, thank you. The menu looks good even apart from the samosas. Perhaps I'll pay it a visit this week.


Posted by VJ, a resident of another community,
on Nov 5, 2013 at 8:58 am

Delicious blog! Me wants a samosa now. How come I have not tasted one from India Gourmet?


Posted by Anita Felicelli, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Nov 5, 2013 at 9:30 am

Anita Felicelli is a registered user.

@VJ - I lucked into finding India Gourmet at the farmer's market because I was trying samosas from everywhere. It's too bad they are only available Sunday morning when lots of people are thinking more about American brunch foods than snacks. Maybe I will bring some by next time I go, though I think they're better hot and eaten immediately.


Posted by OPar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Nov 6, 2013 at 2:21 pm

India Gourmet's samosas reheat nicely, though. We often buy them and then eat them for a quick dinner during the week. Glad to see they're getting some love here.


Posted by Anita Felicelli, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Nov 6, 2013 at 2:45 pm

Anita Felicelli is a registered user.

@OPar Good to know. Thanks for commenting!


Posted by Bill G. , a resident of Rex Manor,
on Nov 6, 2013 at 8:10 pm

delicious blog indeed - it's like reading with your mouth! - culinary synaesthesia


Posted by Anita Felicelli, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Nov 7, 2013 at 7:13 am

Anita Felicelli is a registered user.

@Bill G. - thank you!


Posted by Anon E Mous, a resident of Stanford,
on Nov 7, 2013 at 10:40 am

Which one is India Gourmet - is that the one on the left hand side of the Farmers' Market (that sells other hot items), or the one on the right hand side (that also sells naan, etc)?


Posted by Anita Felicelli, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Nov 7, 2013 at 11:09 am

Anita Felicelli is a registered user.

@Anon E Mous, India Gourmet is the one on the left hand side if you are facing away from El Camino and it does sell other hot items. The one on the other side is Satkar's. The people there are very nice (with a small strip mall restaurant in Sunnyvale) and their samosas are decent, though I prefer India Gourmet.


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