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.