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Switch Samosas (Or, Last Night a DJ Saved My Dinner)

As lockdowns continue to ravage the restaurant industry, predictions in the news tell us we ain’t seen nothing yet. Uber Eats riders, unmistakable with their lime green cooler backpacks, have taken over the streets, blazing up the Avenida like road warriors in formation. Mom and pop can barely keep the lights of their tasca on much less pay the delivery shakedown. Hope is scarce for the independent, free-spirited food entrepreneur whose livelihood is built on serving people, directly.

If you are as tired of this old tune as we are, prick up your ears to the story of Switch Samosas, a project of Marco Antão AKA DJ Switchdance, Lisbon’s premier DJ-cum-samosa-slinger, who is nurturing his community through the pandemic on his own terms with his mother’s samosas. And it goes a little something like this. Hit it!

The car drove by with a booming system, stopped and backed up a bit. A bearded man hopped out, hoisted a cooler on the hood, handed me two ziplock bags, nodded his head and was off. Last year, Lisboetas would line up to get into Lux and other premier clubs to groove to this man, DJ Switchdance, and his “profoundly hypnotic sets of boundless creativity,” as described on residentadvisor. Today, those beats came as a free side with an order of homemade Goan samosas, some of the best in town, delivered by Switch himself.

samosas lisbonBack in July, DJ Switch posted a half-joking note on his Instagram account that he’d “switched” businesses and was now taking orders for his homemade samosas, based on his mother’s recipe. “I had 20 euro in my account. I could reorganize my records. I said, Fuck it. I had to pay the gas bill, let’s roll samosas,” Marco told me.

Lots of love and plenty of orders followed, and the gas bill got paid. Marco and his mother got to work on another batch and another one after that, keeping busy through August and September. “She can do three in the time I do one,” he said. And the orders kept DMing in. Marco has appeared at a few pop-up food events in the past months and, last week, finished a job designing a Goan menu for a restaurant. It would seem he had made the switch to the food business.

A fine mince of turkey saturated in spices and piri piri, girded by onions and tightly folded into perfect triangles, these samosas were a crunchy treat baked in the oven and wicked when fried; either way a welcome break from my own cooking. As delicious as the samosas were, they were only part of the pleasure of the experience. Ordering the samosas without the use of a slick interface, Marco’s personal delivery and the chat that developed between us reminded me of how much I missed all the wonderful little nuances – handwriting on an order ticket, a waitress calling me “dear,” an unordered imperial that I didn’t know I wanted plunked before me – that come with individual enterprises like his. These days, I find that human touch – signs of life – as essential as anything in the cupboard.

As much as we may hope that Switch Samosas is the unlikely origin story of a newcomer to Lisbon’s food scene, Marco says he is looking forward to getting back to his music career. He says he has a strong urge to get into the studio now, that this is the moment to create. We hope Switch Samosas won’t be forgotten in the back of our freezers once the dance floor is open again. We hope he and all his fans, those hungry for beats and those for deep-fried crunchy heat, will savor what he has created, showing us that the human touch we all crave will never get played out. Order samosas, in Lisbon only, by Istagram direct message @SwitchSamosa.

– Ansel Mullins, Culinary Backstreets co-founder

The Year of Vegetables Leavened with Sandwiches

“We have food and wine, this can’t be that bad.” That was one of my initial thoughts when the lockdown started in March. In the first weeks I was eating and baking a lot, not only cakes but also bread. Come summer, the results could be clearly seen in my wardrobe that no longer fit.

It took me a while to admit this challenging pandemic was here to stay. I finally realized I had to stop eating so many of my beloved cakes and pastries. So after an initial period of indulgence, I’ve spent the second half of the year trying to eat and cook more wisely.

Vegetables and legumes have had a more substantial and essential presence in my daily meals. While I use them to make classic Portuguese soups, I also bake them in the oven, cook them with rice or with fish or meat. I’ve had both the time and the will to try new recipes, including a few from my brilliant Culinary Backstreets colleagues, some of whom I met during my unforgettable visits to Istanbul and Tbilisi earlier this year.

I’ve always been a fan of food markets, but the pandemic led me to visit them even more frequently. I also had more time to explore others a bit further afield, like the markets in Setúbal and Olhão. And my trips to Hortelão do Oeste and Quinta do Olival da Murta taught me a lot about farming vegetables and producing wine in an organic environment.

However, I’m not going full veggie, at least not yet. In fact, my two most essential bites of 2020 featured seafood and meat, respectively, albeit in a casual and accessible format – the sandwich – that seemed especially appropriate this year. First was the amazing squid sandwich created by André Magalhães for Quiosque de São Paulo. Although it looks simple, it’s quite clever and delicious – André uses a sourdough bun from Gleba bakery, which he then lathers with a spicy mayo and lime zest before adding the fried squid and squeezing the sandwich to mix all the juices and sauces together. Plus, it costs less than 4 euros and can be enjoyed while sitting outside in the beautiful São Paulo square. I keep going back for this sandwich – luckily the kiosk is in the same square as Comida Independente’s vibrant farmers’ market, which takes place on Saturdays.

The other sandwich is made by Miguel Azevedo Peres at his restaurant Pigmeu. The bifana (pork sandwich) there has become known as the porcalhona, which translates to something like “filthy” – it’s delightfully messy and brings the traditional bifana to another level. As I wrote in my Pigmeu review, each component makes me “go into adjective overload: the soft, velvety bread (made with fermented sweet potatoes), the abundant sauce (made with a stock simmered for four days with pork bones and vegetables) and the delicious meat (different cuts of pork, tender and succulent).” Miguel has been doing a great job of encouraging Lisboetas to eat sustainable meat and less of it. For me, his pork sandwich has been that occasional bite of truly spectacular meat to supplement my veggie-heavy and fish-focused diet at home.

– Célia Pedroso, Lisbon bureau chief

Editor’s note: Normally when December rolls around, we ask our correspondents to share their “Best Bites,” as a way to reflect on the year in eating. But 2020 was not a normal year. So at a time when the act of eating has changed for so many, our correspondents will write about their “Essential Bites,” the places, dishes, ingredients and other food-related items that were grounding and sustaining in this year of upheaval.

  • Quiosque de São PauloSeptember 28, 2020 Quiosque de São Paulo (0)
    The kiosk in beautiful São Paulo square, located close to the waterfront, in the Cais do […] Posted in Lisbon
  • Essential BitesDecember 28, 2020 Essential Bites (0)
    For most of us around the globe, 2020 has been an unexpected and extremely challenging […] Posted in Athens
  • Burç DönerJune 15, 2020 Burç Döner (0)
    The 2nd of June was a warm, bright, sunny day fizzing with the energy of late spring, […] Posted in Istanbul
and Rodrigo Cabrita and Célia Pedroso and Marco Antão

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