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On a common plate

ESTHER ELIAS
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FOOD Two Slovak chefs scout for recipes from Kerala to recreate at their restaurant in Bratislava FOOD Two Slovak chefs scout for recipes from Kerala to serve at their restaurant in Bratislava

Across countriesJan Angus (left) and Martin Sestak, Slovak chefs of restaurant Moshi Moshi in Slovakia, with Zuzana Magdova of Shakti TrailsPhoto : Thulasi Kakkat
Across countriesJan Angus (left) and Martin Sestak, Slovak chefs of restaurant Moshi Moshi in Slovakia, with Zuzana Magdova of Shakti TrailsPhoto : Thulasi Kakkat

Jan Angus and Zuzana Zwiebel Magdova from Slovakia were friends as school children, but life took them down different paths. Zuzana came to Manipal for a degree in geopolitics, stayed on to travel South Asia, and finally settled in Kochi. Jan studied econometrics, dabbled in business, and eventually turned chef with his sushi restaurant in Bratislava, Slovakia — Moshi Moshi. Several years later, they got in touch again — this time for Jan to learn Kerala’s unique cuisine and present it back in Slovakia, as well as for him, and his colleague Martin Sestek, to present Slovak staples in Kochi.

Quick tour

Jan and Martin arrived in India on November 6, and were whisked away to Gokarna, followed by short stays in Alappuzha, Marari and Fort Kochi over the last three weeks. “At each spot, they interacted with chefs at different hotel properties who taught them the specifics of Malayali cooking, with a focus on ayurvedic methods and specialities,” says Zuzana, who organised their entire journey through her travel portal Shakti Trails in partnership with CGH Earth Hotels. “There’s quite a misconception in Slovakia of India being absolute chaos, but I’ve found that there’s an order to the madness,” says Jan.

His biggest surprise though, has been the similarities he has discovered between Slovak and Indian cooking styles. “We share the same principles of using local vegetables, quick preparations and simple recipes! But few customs differ — for instance, while you roast the masalas in oil at the start of the dish, we add the spices right at the end.”

Moreover, while Slovak cuisine has a wide variety of soups to warm them up in cold winters, Jan says dal is quite similar to a traditional Slovak preparation. His favourite Indian dish so far, has been the street-side masala dosa, while Martin steers toward deep-fried snacks such as aloo bonda and mulagu bhaji .

Recreating their experience for a Slovak audience is going to be an innovative and interesting experience says the duo. While the two countries are miles apart, Jan says Kerala food embodies a movement that is slowly gaining traction in Slovakia — that of going back to one’s roots, and cooking with regional produce.

Back to the basics

“At Moshi Moshi, we follow chef Jamie Oliver’s philosophy of the Food Revolution, which encourages people to move away from fast food, cook from their organic gardens and develop healthy eating habits,” says Jan. To incorporate this ideology the restaurant launched a “health food” menu alongside the sushis, two years ago. “The ayurveda-based dishes will be an extension of this menu,” says Martin.

Interactions with local chefs have taught them the medicinal and therapeutic properties of various ingredients. “I’ve learnt how to use food correctly; what effect each spice has on the body and how to blend them correctly. India has given me a different point of view,” says Jan. For instance, Jan explains that he has had arguments with several doctors of Western medicine on the foods that could potentially reduce the body’s acidity (pH values), a concept which ayurveda practitioners here have affirmed.

Jan cautions though, “We certainly can’t cook these dishes in Slovakia exactly like the typical Kerala way. But Indian stores there do provide us the same spices, and I can replace the unavailable Malayali vegetables with ours. The hope is to generate an interest in this food, strong enough to direct people back to India to taste it for themselves”

Before they leave Jan and Martin will serve up for Kochi, at Cafe Papaya this Sunday, a sample of their trademark recipes. “Our cuisine uses potato and dumplings a lot. So we will be making salty dumplings with cabbage, as well as dumplings with plum jam, made by my mother, and poppy seeds from Slovakia.” Also on the cards are potato pancakes, pumpkin soup and several salads, spreads, watermelon gazpacho and Spanish omelettes. Join the Moshi Moshi chefs at Cafe Papaya on November 24 for “Food Revolution at Cafe Papaya” from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.

ESTHER ELIAS

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