Moksa in Neukölln is an Indian restaurant with a vision.
Our blog’s been quite Indian food heavy recently, following the boom in interest in the cuisine in Berlin. And on our recent travels around some of Berlin’s best Indian restaurants – Bahadur in Wilmersdorf and last month’s trip to India Club at the Adlon – we’ve tried some great dishes that far surpass what we’ve come to accept as Indian food in Berlin.
As these two places strive to recreate good, authentic Indian food, we’ve yet to see a restaurant that tries to innovate on that concept. A modern take on Indian cuisine. That is until we visited Moksa.
Moksa near Karl Marx Strasse has a clear, uncompromising and unflinching view on how Indian food should be made from start to finish. Part Indian food historians, part molecular gastronomers, their food goes to wild lengths to create the flavours their chef and proprietor Zed Marke knows to be the real taste of the India he loves so much.
There is no easy path for Zed, and anything that can be made in-house is. The yogurt, the cheese, the gin, the house-fermented probiotic tonic water… and what Zed can’t make himself, he sources from the best producers in India.
“Moksa” means “Salvation”, and it’s easy to see why.
I asked Zed a simple question, and the answer he gave made me re-evaluate what I knew about the Berlin Indian food scene.
I asked him what was wrong with Indian cuisine in Berlin.
In response, he told a story about the numerous Indian kitchens in Berlin he had visited as part of research for Moksa, and the sad truth he had uncovered.
The real reason why 99% of them are identical is because… they can’t be any other way. The only Indian spices that can be sourced in Berlin come from one distributor who, to protect their own market supremacy, take an active role in controlling the Indian restaurants who purchase from them. In exchange for access to their spices, they provide your restaurant with the menus, the decor, the alcohol, everything, ridiculously, except the paint. You buy that. And if you don’t like it, no spices for you.
Zed’s spice collection makes Moksa the salvation of Indian restaurants in Berlin.
Zed’s built his own secret spice trade running from India and through the UK. And his spice collection has to be seen to be believed. Unheard of spices from all over India – from yogurt-fermented dried chilies to 40€/kg cinnamon. It’s impressive. And it’s his pride.
And another was to look at Moksa is as a type of personal salvation – for himself and us. Zed’s looking out for us – he uses no sugar in the kitchen, only stevia instead when needed, loads his food with self-made pro-biotics like his yogurt and fermented buttermilk, tracks down ancient, natural food colouring methods for his tandoori chicken, and he organises all processes in his kitchen to minimise waste and impact on the environment. He’s de-industrialising the restaurant industry one Naan bread at a time.
But hey, I’ve not mentioned the food yet.
Moksa can scientifically prove theirs is the best tandoori chicken in the world.
I’ve not tried EVERY piece of tandoori chicken in the world. But I’ve had enough to know that Moksa’s is the best I’ve ever had. The spice marinade is so ingrained that the line between chicken and spice becomes blurred, creating a single entity: tandoori chicken. Succulent, savoury, perfectly cooked.
Zed’s tandoori chicken is Moksa’s signature dish – unsurprising, considering how long Zed has spent (and how far he’s travelled) to perfect his recipe. And it’s with Moksa’s tandoori chicken where Zed’s scientific approach to cooking really takes off.
You see those menus offering 24-hour marinated tandoori chicken? Through empirical testing, Zed found out that a 48-hour marinade has the same impact on flavour as if it had only been marinating for two hours. In fact, it’s around two weeks of marination before the flavours seep an extra few millimetres deeper into the chicken meat, and the sweet spot lies around the three week mark.
This is how long it takes to prepare Moksa’s signature dish, cured with salt before being vacuum-packed with his delicious tandoori chicken marinade and left to develop in his huge refrigerator. And when you bite into that sublime flesh, you see, feel and taste the marinade all the way through.
A selective menu based purely on what Zed loves to do.
Don’t go to Moksa expecting a huge menu featuring every curry under the Indian sun. It’s not one of those places. It offers a small but curated menu of six main dishes, two types of samosa, naan bread and a range of exquisite chutneys.
And they’re all dishes that Zed loves… the ones that caught his imagination whilst in India. And these are often dishes you wouldn’t expect to find on a Berlin Indian restaurant’s menu.
Chinese food, in India?
Did you know there’s a craze in India for Chinese food? I didn’t. Apparently, they go nuts for noodle dishes which are exquisitely foreign to them. This is why Moksa serves a ‘Hakka Noodles’ samosa – filled with Chinese chow-mein noodles and served with a sour tamarind dip. A street-food fusion that Zed picked up in India. You’ll find nothing else like it this side of Mumbai.
But don’t worry – that crowd-pleaser Butter Chicken is also there for good measure.
Where else in Berlin can you get shark curry?
The prospect of eating shark for the first time both excited and concerned me – isn’t eating shark, like, totally evil? This seemed at odds with Zed’s ethos. He’d first discovered the dish whilst living in Kerala and in lieu of being able to sustainably source the same variety of shark they use, he has found farmed blue shark that comes from Hamburg.
Shark’s very interesting to taste – it’s meaty and not too fishy, with a moist fatty layer between the delicate flesh and crispy skin. Moksa’s perfumed, creamy sauce perfectly highlighted its flavour without overpowering, making the dish a wonderfully warming, lightly spiced meal.
Moksa is a showcase for Zed’s amazing spice collection.
So how do you sum up the food at Moksa? It’s a million miles away from the jack-of-all-trades masala bases used in other Berlin Indian restaurants.
Instead, Moksa’s curries are each built around a few distinct spices. Their freshness resonates around your palate, clear and pungent like an Indian sunset. Zed celebrates these spices, and all other ingredients in the dish are there to highlight them, thrusting them into the foreground.
Go to Moksa and experience a very idiosyncratic, unique vision of Indian food.
Also, Zed let us make our own naan breads using his huge tandoor. It isn’t as easy as it might seem (no photos sadly. They were unphotogenic).
Something truly exciting is the workshops Moksa regularly hosts. Zed’s been offering training courses on everything from fermentation, kimchi and chutney making, to making your own masalas. Keep an eye out on their Facebook page for their upcoming events.
Kienitzer Str. 22,
Photos : Tom Taylor
Camera : Canon EOS 6D