“She knows paradise is a triangle. And she’s at the bloody gate.”
Ramadan is an incredible time for spiritual rejuvenation. It is a time to focus on worship and ask God Almighty for forgiveness and benefit from His Infinite Mercy. It is a time to be thankful, share blessed meals with others, and reflect.
It is also a time to revel in the tradition of fried foods at iftaar time. Deep. Fried. Foods.
My family members are not a picky lot but when it comes time to break their fasts, but they require one thing above all others: the samosa.
And for those of you unfamiliar with these formidable triangular bites of heaven, there are many different varieties: made with filo pastry, made with read-to-use pastry sheets, made from chewier dough. A samosa connoisseur knows the difference by touch, smell and taste. Fillings range from the traditional ground beef to mixed vegetable and potato varieties. Then there are new trends of stuffing bite-sized samosa with butter children or palak paneer (spinach and cheese).
I try to make different patties and appetizers to sample but shockingly my husband isn’t interested in a creamed-mushroom puff with gorgonzola cheese. And there are only so many jalapeno poppers a person can have at one sitting. He humbly requests a samosa (or five) with chutney. As do my children. I have tried at least ten different varieties from different vendors. But the samosas my family require for Ramadan are made by a near-celebrity of the East End of Toronto, known to most only as “The Samosa Lady.”
For years I did not know her name. She seemed like a mythical figure: collecting orders for her tasty samosas and driving all over the Greater Toronto Area to deliver them while scaring her loyal customers.
Our orders were collected by a lady assigned to be point-person in the neighbourhood. She was very intimidated by Samosa Lady and told me to make sure I handed over the money ahead of time, as the Samosa Lady did not offer change. No glitches. If you messed up, you were kicked out of the circle. Samosa Lady would only drop off to one location and everyone went there.
No questions asked. No one would challenge the Samosa Lady.
This year, I missed the samosa order deadline and would have to trek to Samosa Lady’s headquarters myself and face her wrath. She does not like undisciplined customers.
We were into the first week of Ramadan but had made do as we were invited out so often I only had to make iftaar twice. I found a package of samosas in the freezer (from last year) and I prepared them. Those samosas were devoured gratefully. But I had very few and baked spanakopita was not going to cut it for much longer. There could be an uprising in my family. A revolution demanding for fresh, samosas, stuffed with a particular mixture of ground beef, onions and spices.
I called ahead to the Samosa Lady and she did not recognize me. We had only met once before when she delivered and I was ready to collect my share. During that short meeting, she told me about her relationship and preference of actors in Bollywood. I managed to tell her I was related to a prominent artist as well. My name-dropping proved successful. She nodded at me and moved on.
When I called her this time, I told her I would need 600 samosas (250 for me, 150 for my MIL, the rest for other immediate family).
She announced: “You come here, you get one box of fifty samosas. That is all. You want? You come.” In her usual genteel manner, she then hung up on me.
I drove for almost one hour (I live on the other side of the city) and before I left, I posted a status on my Facebook:
The replies were extraordinary.
People immediately knew who I was talking about. I had friends and community members offering solidarity, support, advice and their own stories of PTSD (Post-Traumatic-Samosa-Disorder). My wonderful friends offered ideas for stunts and tricks to acquire her delicacies. How to salute her, how to engage her positively, and how to escape unscathed. She ignited a discussion so fabulous that it attracted more than 69 comments and several dozen “likes” in participation. In fact, a journalist friend of mine was so intrigued that she called our discussion: “an amazing piece of Muslim Canadiana: Ramadan Samosa Wars.”
One friend commented on the blessing of having their mother prepare their Ramadan eats. Another even offered the name of a new, kinder, gentler samosa distributor. I had a Palestinian friend, unaware of all the different types of samosas out there, offer a recipe. She was clearly perplexed by Torontonian desis’ obsessed with these particular samosas. Various friends piped in and contributed to what has become one of my favourite Facebook conversations. There were suggestions of possible reality shows (“Samosa in the City”), and I created a #SamosaStrong hashtag to accompany this conversation. A friend recalled how he used to make deliveries for her in high school.
I stood in the shop for almost two hours and exercised a lot of patience. I kept checking my Facebook status and those hilarious messages really kept me going as I waited in line in a queue, in the heat, for my box.
I watched Samosa Lady as she carefully prepared the special dough, evened it out, and carefully measured it to the exact size. I watched her assistant prepare the ground beef mixture with fresh ingredients and then very carefully create a pocket, stuff the samosas with the filling, and fold the pastry over.
I quietly observed, and Samosa Lady would peer over her safety glasses at me every once in awhile. I kept checking my Facebook and suppressing giggles from the additional comments on my feed. One friend remarked: “She knows paradise is a triangle. And she’s at the bloody gate.”
After the people in front of me had all left, Samosa Lady, started to engage me in conversation. She looked at me and asked if I was the person related to the famous Naseeruddin Shah. I confirmed it was me. She said: “I remember you from your nose.”
I nodded in agreement. She could say whatever she wanted at this point. I was not going to complain. I could almost taste the glory!
She also decided to provide a series of short lectures on various topics, more like oral op-eds. I was an obliging and captive audience. At one point the phone rang and she seemed irritated by its sheer existence. She picked it up and yelled “Hello?” into the handset. I became alarmed. Would this customer upset her and disturb the balance of our peace and understanding? She listened for about five seconds and said “You want them? Come to the shop and get one box. That is all.” She hung up on them and resumed her samosa making. She continued talking to me.
I don’t believe I have ever agreed to anything someone was saying more in my life.
She opened up quite warmly in the end and told her assistant to give me an extra box. After the first one was packed, she instructed me to quickly put it in my car, out of sight. She said she didn’t want other customers to see me walk out with more than one box; otherwise, they would “drive her crazy.”
I think that I appreciated watching her prepare every single samosas. At the end of my visit, she scolded me for not ordering earlier, and insisted that next year if I place my order ahead of time, she would be happy to accommodate me.
I might even say she seemed bemused my presence. Perhaps the fact that I waited more than 110 minutes in the searing heat impressed her? That I managed not to argue with her?
I was quite taken with her. An entrepreneur with a commanding presence and an excellent product, masha’Allah.
I was happy to report the conclusion of this experience to my Facebook friends:
“*End Result* Two hours later I have emerged victorious. She felt bad I waited 1 hour and 50 minutes in her shop. So I got three boxes. I also got lectures on how she dislikes certain Islamic scholars and how Pakistanis treat Indian Muslims with contempt. [...] I held my tongue and nodded in agreement to most of what she said, exercising extreme patience. BUT I GOT MY SAMOSAS.
ALLAH HU AKBAR!
Allah is Most Merciful.”
I went to my sis-in-law’s and told her my “Samosa Lady” tale. She was dumbfounded by my resilience and dedication. And, like many of my friends, was intrigued by my experience. She asked for Samosa Lady’s contact info out of curiosity. She said she would go “just to see.”
I happily shared it with one disclaimer *DO NOT MENTION MY NAME*.
I pray that Allah swt keeps my relationship with this fascinating woman peaceful and one that I hope is mutually respectful. And may Allah swt reward her with blessings from the joy that so many experience at iftaar time when we eagerly fry and then happily bite into those wonderfully, crispy samosas.
*adds more chutney*
For more on MMW’s Ramadan series, and to read the rest of this year’s Ramadan posts, click here.