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Hungry Planet | Marek Brezina, Robert Trzópek, Csaba Horváth & Michal Jerabek

If there’s one gap in the Indian foodie palate, it’s perhaps the Eastern Europe belt. Not many of us would have wolfed down Slovakian halušky (soft noodles or dumplings made with flour and potatoes) with the same frequency as we would have pasta, or be brave enough to replace the kebabs on our wedding menus with liver dumplings.

In an attempt to fill that vacuum, the embassies of Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, along with the Eros Hotel Managed by Hilton, have flown down four chefs representing these countries to help us get a taste of what we’re missing. Marek Brezina from Slovakia, Robert Trzópek from Poland, Csaba Horváth from Hungary and Michal Jerabek from the Czech Republic spoke to us about Eastern European flavours and delicacies, and how they’re expecting them to work on the Indian palate. While Brezina, Jerabek and Horváth work in the Hilton group, Trzópek runs his own restaurant, the award-winning Tamka 43, in Warsaw. Edited excerpts from an interview:

Is it to fair to say the food from your countries has common elements?

Brezina: We share a lot in common, in terms of the dishes, cooking styles as well as ingredients. For instance, pancakes, both sweet and savoury, are made by us as well as the Czech Republic, schnitzels are common to Czech Republic and Austria. We use slow-cooking techniques like boiling, baking, stewing, and require longer time for preparation. For instance, I would take about 2 hours to prepare a three-course dinner for four people. A typical meal would have a meat dish, a side dish and a vegetable dish. Our favourites include potato, pasta and dumplings.

Are you serving authentic Polish cuisine, or tweaking the flavours to suit the Indian palate?

Trzópek: My restaurant in Poland, Tamka 43, is already an innovation on traditional Polish cuisine. I am presenting the same here. We use the best of our seasonal produce—we have great meat, fish, herbs, vegetables, and more. I always try to create modern variations of traditional, sometimes even forgotten, tastes. Some of the items I’m serving are pork knuckles terrine, beef cheek and marinated duck breast with juniper, and apple and beetroot salad.

What does a typical Czech wedding menu consist of?

Jerabek: A traditional Czech wedding menu will have four courses: a soup (of beef consommé served with liver dumpling), a starter (of rolls and horseradish), a main course dish (like grilled chicken or beef), and dessert is the wedding cake. Of course, before the meal starts, there is one wedding tradition. Just before the bride and groom enter the restaurant, we break a plate at the doorway, and the two of them clean it up together.

Is there one key staple in Hungarian cuisine? How commonly do you use fish?

Horváth: We use a lot of pork, veal, beef and lamb, and all these go into making stews and, of course, the Hungarian delicacy, goulash (a delicate gravy preparation). Hungarians—in fact most Eastern Europeans—love fish, but being landlocked, fish isn’t common. Which is why we keep fish for occasions like Christmas, when we serve a fish soup (mostly carp, a river fish). Even in Czech, they do a potato salad with fried fish for Christmas.

How do you feel about introducing Slovakian flavours to India?

Brezina: This is a great way to introduce some typical Slovakian flavours to the Indian palate: potato, pork, flour, cabbage and sauerkraut. There’s also our Bryndza, sheep cheese which is used to prepare specialities like the sheep cheese dumplings, potato pancakes stuffed with cabbage, gnocchi. There are also hot, dense legume soups which we eat throughout the year, as well as cabbage soup.

Do you think the subtle flavours of Eastern Europe will work on the spicy Indian palate?

Jerabek: Most of us have travelled to different corners of the world with our cuisines, to places with different palates, and people have always responded with much enthusiasm. One time, I was visiting Japan for the Nagoya expo in 2005, and people waited for 2 hours to sample Czech cuisine!

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