BY: NIDA ZAFAR
Toronto’s OG handheld snack has some competition. Jamaican patties have been a beloved snack in Toronto for decades.
Here’s how you can tell: ask any group of millennials which subway station has the best patties and you’re guaranteed to spark a lively debate as people chime in with their picks. But there’s another hand-held food that has quietly been making inroads in Toronto’s food scene: the samosa.
Samosas share some similarities to the Jamaican patty. They’re both dough pockets that can be filled with various ingredients, from meats to cheeses to veggies. But unlike the patty, there’s a lot of variety when it comes to samosas. In Toronto, it’s easy to find Indian, Sri Lankan, Uzbek and Pakistani versions.
It “lends itself well to something you can sell at games because [people] can hold it in their hands if they don't have a table in front of them.”
All of them are a bit different from each other. Indian samosas are usually vegetarian, Sri Lankan samosas are spicy, Uzbek samosas are baked and Pakistani samosas usually contain a variety of meats.
But the Indian version is the most popular and the style that’s poised to overtake Jamaican patties status as the city’s convenient, hand-held food item of choice. According to Karon Liu, food writer and recipe tester for the Toronto Star, this is due to the large number of Indian establishments serving the snack in Toronto, which provides a sense of familiarity.
The popularity of samosas is due in part to Toronto’s large South Asian population. There’s an “established customer base… if restaurants or food companies start selling samosas, they already know that the GTA has a large South Asian population,” says Liu.
But the popular snack also appeals to people who are not South Asian. The grocery chain Loblaw’s serves samosas as an option at their hot food counters. Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment also serves the hand-held snack as part of their concession stands.
It “lends itself well to something you can sell at games because [people] can hold it in their hands if they don't have a table in front of them,” says Liu.
One of the many restaurants selling Indian samosas is Samosa and Sweet Factory. This establishment played a role in mass marketing samosas in Toronto. The company was started in 1989 by brothers Harpal and Harminder Sandhu.
The brothers originally opened a restaurant, but when things didn't go as planned, the pair decided to sell their samosas wholesale. The demand was high and the small kitchen that they were operating out of at the time couldn't keep up. That led the brothers to invest in a specially designed machine to help with production.
"...Sri Lankans love spice!"
“First when we started making [samosas] we were making around 10,000 samosas a week and now we’re making 150,000 samosas every day,” says Harpal Sandhu, the acting CEO. Their samosas are shipped all over Canada, the U.S., Australia and New Zealand under their retail brand Apna Taste.
Toronto’s diverse food scene also plays a role in popularizing samosas. Toronto can be considered a foodie’s paradise and Indian food has been lingering on Toronto’s food scene for years. Pratheep Charlesjanthan, the marketing manager at Canbe Foods Inc., believes this is part of the reason samosas have become so popular.
“You can go to so many different Indian restaurants and you’ll see different kinds of samosas,” he says. Samosas differ in style depending on what region of India they’re coming from.
Canbe Foods Inc. is one of the original joints brining Sri Lankan samosas to the people of Toronto. Though these samosas are very similar to the Indian samosa, there is one thing that makes them unique. According to Charlesjanthan, it’s the level of spice. “Our samosas are a little on the spicier side. That comes to the Sri Lankan side of us because Sri Lankans love spice!”
Samosas aren’t available at every subway station (yet)—but with so many different varieties available for Torontonians to indulge in, it won’t be long before they become a mainstream, hand-held snack for all people to love.
Watch our samosa taste video here.
Photo courtesy from top down: Ashish_Choudhary, Jeevan, and Nuzree.