"It's All About the Fun of It": Meet the SamosaMan
Next time you're at the Lebanon Farmer's Market, watch Fuad Ndibalema -- better known around here as the SamosaMan -- at work. He defines effervescence.
He greets customers with a joyous -- and ever-so-faintly sly -- smile. He moves constantly, checking on samosa supplies, joking with his crew of young helpers, bantering with people in line. Every few minutes, in conversation with someone or just finishing up a sale, he taps his heart, inclines his head, and says an earnest "Thank you!"
Ndibalema trained originally as an electrician. But after he lost a job as an apprentice and didn't see any likely openings elsewhere, he was forced to think through what else he might do. "I said, 'I’ve got to make something that is adding value to people!'" he says. "And the food I was eating at home, I felt, 'This is good! If people know about it they will like it!'"
He comes originally from the Congo, which is not especially known for its contributions to world samosa cuisine. But over the years, enough Indians settled there that they've been taken up as home-grown and become ubiquitous, at least in the cities.
Caroline Collison fries samosas
This is not to say that what you'll find at the SamosaMan stall is precisely what you'd find in the Congo. Ndibalema believes wholeheartedly in listening to what his customers want, and then adapting. "People say, 'Oh, could I have this in such a way?' So I do that, and it appeals to everyone." Which is how you'll come to find samosas like Vermont apple, Vermont spicy potato, and steak and cheese in his lineup.
Though SamosaMan is best known around here for the Lebanon and Hanover markets and its setup at various festivals, Ndibalema is also a regular at farmer's markets in Boston. Which, he says, has different tastes. Up here, he says, "They love steak and potatoes, chicken and cheese -- the meat samosas." In Boston, he doubles his vegetarian offerings. "It’s people coming from yoga, or they've toured the Sam Adams brewery, or it's businessmen on lunch," says Caroline Collison, who stays in the background at the market, deep-frying the samosas.
One thing you should know -- Ndibalema's been concentrating on the New Hampshire side of the river because he lost his license to sell in Vermont after the state department of health revoked it on the grounds that he "produced food from an unapproved source, operated a fair stand without a license, and failed to provide an accurate weekly inventory of food he processed." The state supreme court ruled against Ndibalema last fall.
Meanwhile, SamosaMan keeps bubbling at the New Hampshire markets. He is, clearly, in his element there. A few weeks ago, talking about how much he was looking forward to opening up his first stationary restaurant -- in Hanover, in the old Bagel Basement spot under what used to be Folk -- he made a telling comment. "The farmers market is a community," he said. "I'd rather not do the restaurant to keep doing this."
Hopefully it won't come to that.