Who could have imagined a house where Sabbath was observed without fail and Kaddish prayers were recited at regular intervals would succumb to the temptations of worldly pleasures. Mocha Art Cafe on Jew Street at Mattancherry is a perfect example for the victory of culinary cravings over ta'anit (Jewish fast).
This may be the only cafe in the world which is a renovated rabbi house. Started around four months ago, the new Mocha Art Cafe is slowly becoming a favorite hangout for Kochiites.
Built in the 16th century, the original purpose of the building was to house the Jewish rabbis of the 'Paradesi Synagogue', a Jewish prayer house in Mattancherry. Five centuries down the line, the place is now bustling with activity in its new role as a modern art cafe.
Abdul Karim Mohammed, a spice trader, bought the building in the early 20th century and turned it into a warehouse. The warehouse situated behind the famous antique shops of Mattancherry stopped functioning later.
When the third generation of Mohammed's family took over, his grandson Junaid Sulaiman saw the hidden possibilities of the monumental building and decided to give the shabby structure a makeover. Junaid, who is a businessman and lawyer, got the worn-out structure redesigned into a beautiful open art cafe.
The old Dutch windows and transparent roof of the building help filter in natural light into the interiors. A high wall built on the rear end is adorned with over 1,000 plants, making it a vertical garden. Most of the original structures, including the wooden staircase, red oxide floors and carved pillars were left untouched when the structure was refurbished.
You can enter the Cafe situated on the first floor through a wooden staircase, which leads into a hall. Seats have been arranged on the sills of windows that open to the Jew Street.
Then you pass a corridor submerged in the golden hue of faint incandescent lights where the fragrance of various spices fill the air. In order to reminisce the building’s past avatar as a spice warehouse, various spices have been kept in crystal bottles on the shelves in the corridor.
One of those bottles is filled with dried coffee beans, which is ground to perfection on demand and can be purchased from the counter.
The multi-cuisine dine at the Cafe serves dishes ranging from traditional Kerala breakfast to Shakshuka, a traditional Israeli dish made with egg and tomatoes.
The menu has an array of specialty drinks and cakes too. If you are lucky, you could grab a bite of the Mocha specialty cakes. Every week, the pastry chefs at Mocha whip up an array of cakes, including peanut cake, coconut butter cake, pista coffee cake, apple upside down cake, pineapple upside down cake, walnut-dates cake and French pineapple.
And trust us, it won't burn a hole in your pockets. You can have a full course meal in less than Rs. 500 for one person here.
There is a room kept vacant to hold plays, movie screenings or conferences. Peep out from the window here to get a never-before view of the synagogue.
Junaid says that along with the visitors to the synagogue, there are regulars to the Cafe including students, workers, artists etc who would like to spend some quality time.
If you are a culinary expert, do not just stop at devouring an elaborate meal at the Cafe, they are open to take recipe inputs from visitors. Or you can simply sip on the humble yet elegant saffron tea, listening to some of the local singers.