A steaming cup of kadak masala chai and a couple some samosas strait out of the karhai, its sizzle in the copious amount of its ‘flavor enhancer’ oil itself testimony to the indeed immense gratification waiting to be availed out of this classic Indian match made in gastronomic heaven- pretty much delivers the notion of a perfect evening- if not the perfect life but close to still- for many a desis who cannot absolutely forsake that sumptuousness of the crisp corners of the humble snack even if it means trading off some portion of their healthy lifestyle that they otherwise happen to be so conscious about. For all its ultimate lip smacking deliciousness however, it is not the gargantuan ubiquity of the samosa nor the sips upon that elixir called chai that commands the usual place of pride in our fetished discussion about all things food at this particular point of the evening time culinary gamble.
What we in fact are intending to rave about is not even in any way commanding of the humongous appeal of the cuppa at all. It’s the samosa that is at stake here, holding as it does the essence for what is to follow necessarily for much like the chai- samosa jargon there still is another agent of irresistibleness that this all time favorite snack of all and sundry in and beyond the Indian context as seamlessly imbibes into itself. Call it the versatility of the samosa or appreciate instead the added zing brought about by its accompaniment of a flair underrated in its barely frilly fancy and one would for sure cannot help but be intrigued by this serving of what embodies the literal connotation of the truly lip smacking.
Whether or not one chooses to indulge in the complete chai- samosa divinity as their choice of foodgasm, they still cannot be ever undone by that particular splash of the chutney that invariably infuses the samosa with even more eclectic an experience of flavours galore. Across the savoury symphony nestled in the crust and crispness of the samosa intermingling with the spicy Indianness derived from the veggies enveloped within, it is this addition of the sour and sweet certain chutney that drenches the samosa in a whole lot of exuberance, of a profusion in flavours that bursts in the mouth and exhilarates the forever anticipating fancies of the taste buds and elevates the simple samosa sizzle to an experience entitled to exaltation indeed of the extreme extent possible of the epicurean so much so that sometimes it is not so much the samosa as it is this surprisingly ‘stimulating’ spirit of the chutney itself that we come to crave in all our foodie whims.
So what it is about this chutney ‘merely’ meant to dip the samosa in that supersedes almost the entire might and sight of this snack so loved and enjoyed and devoured all over the country? In its definite tang and as prominent tinge of sweetness prevailing in also as sure undertones of spiciness, this neither thick nor thin concoction of tamarind and jaggery and spices complements perfectly the savoury crisp and vibrant veggies of the samosa so that it emerges by itself as being alluding to a dimension of infinite wonder as well. And thereupon it rests- this premise of the samosa being a wholesome revelation even in all its utter simplicity with the chutney only furthering this anyway resplendent relish of the never once refusable raving.
Why just the samosa though, this chutney of as much humbleness running through its every trickle of the sweet and the spicy and the savoury and the sour alike tends to be no less all rounder a condiment itself. From being the dip generously dousing the ambient confines and surface of the samosas and kachoris to express in even greater exuberance the full bodied profile of their flavour to find pouring upon chaats and dahi bhallas and jhalmuris and tikkis and pani puris and just about every very Indian street food to ever exist, this quintessentially delicious and colloquially popular imli ki chutney is what infuses a whole lot of nibbles and nuggets with the signature smack that makes them even irresistible items of indulgence.
And yet, the profound piquancy of this chutney universally loved as if it is a slurping option in itself isn’t the only exclusive entailing out of an ingredient versatile enough to find way into a many of the myriad dishes that deliver each in their own appeal the impeccable rendition of a taste so uniquely Indian. Tamarind or imli as it is popularly known all over the country even as regional variations of its name tend to be as prominent is what identifies as a definite agent in souring. But so embedded is this classic unfurling in the sweet and spicy and tangy churn of the chutney that imli for us ironically sums that this dominantly sour taste of nature does not encompass in as much dedication that definite tang of what one would associate with say a lemon.
This though is a ‘phenomenon’ of rather pan Indian leaning but when it comes to exploring the dishes and preparations from the country’s southern abodes, the tamarind comes across in all profusion of its predominantly sour spirit. From mainstays of south Indian cuisine like rasam and sambar to more specific preparations like pulihora or tamarind rice, bisi bele bath or even mysore chutney as well as the wider encompassments in pulu kulambu or pulasu or theeyal or ghassi and numerous other such distinctive tasting dishes derive their signature flavor from the goodness of the tamarind.
Not just down south though, tamarind penetrates other various realms of the regional cuisine across the country. So whether be it the Maharasthrians’ signature lentil dish called chinch- gulachi amti or instead their one of a kind brinjal preparation of the bharli vangi, it is tamarind still that shines through as the standout feature. Continuing with the eggplant tamarind combination is also the food loving identity of Bengal where it is a certain beguner tok thrusting upon the imli its assertion in attention grabbing mannerism. From the same land of the foodies hails also refreshing summer preparations that sum up their ubiquitous love for fish within the tamarind pod. Mimicking this choice in authenticity of dishes that are simple yet wholesome is the north eastern state of Assam where tamarind is made to pair up impeccably with fish and pork while also let to manifest its veteran, all seasonal versatility in the form of pickles and chutneys and condiments alike. Even within specific communities as well the appeal of tamarind is not any understated, jazzing up as it does immensely traditional recipes whether it be the classic Sindhi curry or the iconic Parsi Dhansak.
Not limited anyway to the traditional ambit of preparation of exotic specialities and the most authentic of recipes is the smacking sensation of the tamarind flavour that also expresses itself in ways that are intriguing even in their ordinariness. Case in point being the imli ki goli as it is so popularly called and even more commonly relished across the whole of India but that still takes upon that trademark almost identity of the chigali. Emerging from Karnataka has been this rendition of the tangy treat made from tamarind and jaggery and a host of additives, pounded and rolled into balls and mounted in sticks as visually distinctive as well ‘pops’ enticing in their deep dark color of the evident imli visage and commanding an entire generation of die hard ‘fans’ addicted to this sweet and sour symphony of soul satisfying nostalgia.
Another such very definite alluding to which the imli immenseness naturally caters to particularly in this part of the world is it being the basis for a very popular street food to set tongues salivating in its very mention. While it is the sweet and sour and spicy saucelike preparation of tamarind paste that tends to be rather universal in its dash of color and drip of flavor across a range of grubs and roadside fare, it still is the exclusive lending of the tang to the pani of the pani puri relish that exalts indeed this ingredient of common carousing to one of notable nuances. Venture beyond the Indian palate and globally as well, tamarind stays as relevant in the assertion of its multi resourcefulness, emerging as the primary ingredient in such preparations as ‘significant’ as the Worcestershire sauce itself.
It of course is the sharply hitting notes of all pleasantness residing along the irregular curves and asymmetrical bulges characterising the peculiarly sightly identity of the tamarind fruit that makes it so adored an ingredient of the culinary in being an unique offering in terms of flavor and taste and texture. But no less steeped in a world of benefits is this maverick of nature that resides in goodness galore not just in its pulp but also in its seeds while extending also this lineage in impeccability to the leaves and bark of the plant itself. No wonder tamarind has long been rooted for in the context of the culinary across a wide many realms of the countries and continents, particularly along the Asian and Middle Eastern trail even when its origins are deeply embedded in the tropical terrain of Africa instead.
Even then though, the connection of tamarind to the span of the cuisine that asserts as predominantly Indian tends to be even more special, and uniquely so as well. Deriving its name from tamar-i-hind that which translates as the fruit of India and finding mention in ancient scriptures, continuing through every expression of time and age whether in the drawing upon its benefits of health and nutrition or finding relief instead in the expansive swathe of its shade and manifesting in manners that remain inextricably embedded in the experience of a cuisine as ordinary or as exotic as could be is this fruit of elongated essence that is itself emblematic of a uniqueness so similar to the core Indian identity.