Once again, Moksa proves that the search for food perfection is at once both noble and sublimely irrational.
If you don’t know Moksa, it’s Zed. And Zed’s search for Indian food perfection. His deconstruction of authentic Indian flavours takes him to extraordinary lengths to create his dishes. If you think there’s a little of Zed in every Moksa dish, there probably is.
After a year in the street-food wilderness since their previous restaurant was forced to close, Moksa has found a new home.
Reborn a few months ago in the how-the-hell-did-they-manage-to-get-this-place new location on Oranienstrasse, the plans for this new eatery go beyond just serving food: Moksa’s creating a movement.
***Bias warning: I quite like Moksa and Zed***
“Here’s where the spice bar will be”, he tells me as we move through his new Imbiss-style restaurant.
Zed’s idea is to eventually have a self-service, build-your-own-masala station where you can select your own spices, make your own mix and Zed himself will be there to help make sure it fits whatever meal you’re intending to cook. Imagine it: making Moksa’s tandoori chicken at home. He’s even considering making a line of Moksa-brand stir-in sauces, so you can recreate your favourite Moksa dish… instead of getting a shwarma.
“Moksa” means “salvation” and, in a city of shit Indian food, Zed’s enclave in Kreuzberg offers just that.
As I sit with Zed, I notice a large copper pot sitting in the corner of the room. “That’s the gin”, he signals over to it. “This batch isn’t ready yet. But want to try?” I do, of course, and he’s right: it’s not ready yet. Elsewhere he’s brewing up his own tonic water from scratch to mix with it (tonic water is, after all, a part of Indian history). Opening a bottle of something ready-made just isn’t enough for Zed, and making a simple gin and tonic is a mammoth undertaking.
He’s spent the last months fermenting away. Finding a strain of bacteria on the chilis he imports directly from India, he has cultivated it and now uses it to make the yogurt they serve at the restaurant.
His “Next level of Naan” is also almost ready, and will use an acid to increase the elasticity of the dough by 500%, giving a ‘next level’ of texture.
But he’s most proud of his new kidney bean creation, Tempeh. It looks like an HR Giger nightmare, strangely alluring and supernatural. It’s the product of a controlled fermentation process that binds the kidney beans into a solid bar. The white between the beans is the result of this culture, a fungus that holds it all together. Zed uses this Tempeh as the centrepiece of his vegan dishes.
Along with a science lesson, every time I meet Zed I also get a history lesson. This time it was on the true history behind the inedibly-spicy British Indian classic, the vindaloo.
It all started with Portuguese traders who brought pork and garlic pickled in wine vinegar with them. These ingredients were appropriated into a sour and pungent Goan dish, and this is how Moksa’s pork vindaloo is served. The whole ‘vindaloos are spicy’ thing was just invented by the British, apparently. God bless them for it.
The return of the Chicken King.
Moksa’s tandoori chicken is astounding. It’s their signature dish.
Zed leaves the chicken vacuum-packed and marinating in the fridge long enough for Kanye West to ask Donald Trump to help broker its release. Three weeks is the sweet spot. If you want to know more about Moksa’s tandoori chicken, read my previous article on the subject.
Tasting it again, all I can say is I forgot how intense, salty, rich, pungent, lingering, the chicken is. All at once. The texture firm and dry to touch, yet wonderfully moist.
A co-worker of Zed once told me how he had worked in restaurants all around India but, after trying Zed’s tandoori chicken once, he gave it all up to follow him in his mission. Enough said.
“Once you smell the goat, you know what life is about.” – Zed
I’d always heard that goat tasted “goaty”. In trying Moksa’s new goat keema curry, I was excited to finally learn what “goaty” meant, and if it in any way reflects the flavour of goat. After trying it, I can attest that if “goaty” is something negative, then it does not apply to Zed’s goat. If indeed “goaty” is a good thing, I am happy to announce that Zed’s creation certainly is “goaty”. Phew.
It’s rich, filling, satisfying. Warming spices and a heavy handful of coriander, mint and dill cut through the richness, balancing the dish out and making it delicate. The texture of the finely-ground goat keema gives a great mouth-feeling that soon leads to shovelling it down by the spoonful.
Zed explained the history of his bizarre-looking Tempeh. Apparently, Indonesian farmers noticed the white mould growing on a trash-heap of waste soybeans and one of them was brave enough to taste it. A happy accident that led, hundreds of years later, to Moksa’s vegan main meal: Rajma Tempeh.
Rajma refers to a traditional kidney bean curry with a thick, luscious gravy. Zed’s take on the dish incorporates his kidney bean Tempeh in the place of loose kidney beans. This offers the dish more textures than a simple stew, and certainly something more adventurous.
The Tempeh is almost dainty compared to the well-spiced gravy, and Zed’s not afraid of salt (in the best possible way), making a dish that’s rich in textures and packs a satisfying flavour-punch.
Even the dessert’s fermented.
To end, we were given a Mishti Doi. This caramelised probiotic yogurt (made using an Indian bacteria culture) is a living, fizzing being.
Whilst it’s thick, creamy, gelatinous, almost heavy, the sour fizz of the probiotics and their action on your stomach work as a perfect palette cleanser and quickly get to work aiding digestion – ensuring you leave feeling refreshed, instead of weighed-down.
On top of that, it’s delicious – not overly sweet, deep nutty notes from the caramel and a light tingling on your tongue. It’s luxurious.
Super Serious Saturdays Spread
Moksa has just launched its Super Serious Saturdays Spread, a buffet-style event every Saturday night that sees all their classic dishes paired with new creations you won’t find on the menu. A great introduction to their world – find out more here.
The best thing about Moksa is seeing someone doing what they love for a living. It gives Zed an outlet for his natural curiosity and creativity, and I for one am always happy to be the guinea pig for his new creations. Go along, there are very few places in Berlin like it.