“After 5 days on the road, I am so tired of eating burgers and fries,” wrote Tiffany, my pen pal from Wisconsin. She and her family were traveling to San Francisco by car. At that time, my 12 year-old brain cells just refused to understand how anybody could get tired of burgers and fries. Especially when we were also heading towards our annual summer trip to my grandma’s house in Belgaum from Pune by train. My mother, as usual, had meticulously packed the tiffin carrier with chapatti, zunka wadi (spicy besan squares), garlic chutney, cucumber and carrot sticks, bhutti (yogurt rice with ginger) and lime pickle. The food that was served in the trains and railway station did not measure up to my mother’s nutritional expectations and taste buds. During the journey, when the majority of the people around us were eating the dinner served by the dining car we were stuck with our home made-zunka meal! I decided that when I have children of my own, I would never serve the zunka meal while traveling.

Years rolled by and I came to U.S., got married and had two children of my own. Initially I kept up with the decision that I had made as a 12-year-old, never to pack a zunka meal for any of our travels. After one such long trip I happened to talk to my next-door neighbor, Joanne, who was a dietician. I gleefully told her, how I was fulfilling my childhood dream of eating burgers and fries!! One look at her astonished face made me realize that something was wrong.

I started reading extensively about nutrition and fast food. With the new found awareness I was galloping on the healthy food track. I religiously followed the food mantra, “Low in fat, high in flavor with an extra emphasis on ease of preparation.”

At about the same time my parents visited from India. On one of our sightseeing trips my mother packed the zunka meal. Ironically, my whole family, yes including me, enjoyed the meal. I decided to adapt this wholesome meal to our busy lifestyle here in the U.S.

After many trials and fiasco’s I came up with a new creation, lovingly christened as “pZunka” by my friends. pZunka is a blend of falafel and the zunka meal my mother made. Pita bread, which is easily available in all grocery stores, took care of the time consuming-chapati preparation. Zunka was a healthier alternative to deep fried falafel. The sesame chutney and garlic chutney gave a good dose of flavor. Finally the raw vegetables gave the perfect crunch. The charm of this creation is that everything can be made and packed a day in advance of the trip.


1 teaspoon oil

½ teaspoon mustard seeds

1½ teaspoon cumin seeds

6-8 curry leaves

1 small onion chopped

2 cups water

2-3 green chilies

½ teaspoon tamarind paste

1 teaspooon jaggery or brown sugar

salt to taste

1 cup besan

sesame seeds, coconut and cilantro for garnish

Heat oil in a pan. Add mustard seeds, ½ teaspoon cumin seeds and curry leaves.

Wait for it to sizzle. Add onion and cook till soft. Add water to this mix.

Make a coarse paste of green chillies and 1 teaspoon cumin seeds. Throw into the boiling pot along with tamarind paste, jaggery and salt. With one hand slowly add in the besan and other hand continuously stir with a spoon to remove lumps. Cover the lid and cook on low flame for 4-5 minutes. Pour the mix on a well-greased plate to one-inch thickness. Garnish with sesame seeds, cilantro and coconut. Cool and cut into squares or diamond shapes.


½ cup sesame seeds

2 tablespoon peanuts

3-4 green chilies

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

¼ cup plain yogurt

½ teaspoon sugar

salt to taste

Place all ingredients in a blender to make a smooth paste.


8-10 dried red chilies

2 garlic cloves

2 tablespoon dried coconut

½ teaspoon tamarind paste

2 tablespoon jaggery or brown sugar

½ cup water

salt to taste

Soak red chilies in water for 1-2 hours. Drain the water and mix with rest of the ingredients to make a paste in the blender.

6 pita bread

1 cucumber, carrot, tomato, white radish and onion each

Cut all vegetables into thin discs.

To serve, cut pita bread in to halves. Open up the pocket, lay 2-3 pieces of zunkha, chopped salad and drizzle with both chutneys on top.

pZunka is a trademark of massala.com

Hema Kundargi is the producer, editor, and host of the television show Indian Vegetarian Gourmet. She recently won the-national producers award-2001 Hometown festival award in Washington DC. Her recipes have also appeared in Sunset magazine, LA Times, and San Jose Mercury News. Visit her at