Meena Paranjape Shares Secrets Of Konkani Cuisine In New Pop-Up
Image Credit: Sheraton Grand Pune Bund Garden Hotel

Maharashtrian food is slowly and steadily winning the hearts of Indian foodies, and nobody can deny this fact. From Delhi’s new Vada Pav craze to Misal Pav being appreciated as one of the most delicious vegetarian snacks, the recognition Maharashtrian food now receives is well deserved. And yet, most people are more familiar with spicy, snacky elements or non-vegetarian specialities of the state rather than the many vegetarian delicacies that Marathi families savour every day. Changing all of that is Chef Meena Paranjape with her Konkan Mango Safari pop-up at Sheraton Grand Pune Bund Garden Hotel. 

Chef Meena Paranjape turned towards food entrepreneurship at the age of 55. From starting her own Pangat Marathi Kitchen during the pandemic to now curating pop-ups for The Western Routes, this incredible homechef is putting the simplest (yet immensely delicious) Maharashtrian dishes on your plate. For this pop-up at Sheraton Grand Bund Garden Pune, Chef Paranjape is cooking up traditional vegetarian Konkani summer dishes—which are usually cooked at home or served at Konkanastha weddings—for Pune’s foodies.  

For those who don’t know, Sheraton Grand Pune Bund Garden Hotel’s Feast is a buffet restaurant that always serves local Maharashtrian flavours. Just like most buffet restaurants have a Continental or Oriental section, Feast has a dedicated Maharashtrian section which highlights seasonal as well as ever-popular dishes from the state. “Feast is dedicated to celebrating Maharashtrian culture in many ways and bringing out the diversity in the form of food from different parts of the state,” says Supreet Roy, General Manager of Sheraton Grand Pune Bund Garden Hotel. “This pop-up with Chef Meena Paranjape was all about showcasing simple delicacies from across the Konkan region, which are vegetarian. Most people know the Konkan region for its variety of fish and other non-vegetarian preparations, so we thought her Konkani Mango Safari will present something new that many aren’t aware of, and it certainly did!” 

Chef Paranjape’s takeover elevated this section to a grand affair for nine days, from May 24 to June 1. What delicacies were on offer, you ask? Well, a whole range of vegetarian dishes, mostly without onion and garlic, from the Konkan region of Maharashtra. Here’s everything she shared about the pop-up during an exclusive conversation with Slurrp. 

Cooking Up A Konkani Mango Storm 

“Food without onions and garlic is the traditional fare for us Konkanastha Brahmin vegetarians,” says Jayesh Paranjape, renowned food critic, founder of The Western Routes and Meena Paranjape’s son. “While I might eat non-veg while away from home as a food critic, this is the traditional food cooked in Konkani Brahmin homes and during weddings too.” Chef Paranjape explains further with an apt example. “We add onions in our in Batata Bhaji, but it is only on rare occasions because the typical recipe never has onions,” she says. “During weddings though, food is always cooked without onions, garlic and even a hint of non-vegetarian food.”   

Like most South Indian wedding meals, Konkani wedding fare is also served on banana leaves—the only difference is that the food at Konkani traditional feasts is served vertically and not horizontally like in Sadhya meals. “So, we have the salt, lemon, pickles, chutneys and koshimbir on the left side, the sabjis, usals and vegetables on the right side,” she says. “The rice, which you eat along with all of this is placed in the middle, around the bottom of the plate. So, you take stuff from the top from either sides, and then you eat it with the rice at the bottom. Obviously, we don’t eat chapatis as much because these traditional meals are more rice-dominated.” 

The food, though purely vegetarian, has a depth of flavour that is mostly derived from a few main ingredients: coconut, peanuts, jaggery and tamarind. This, the Paranjapes explain, is not only because these are all locally grown prominent produce. The predominance of pulses and lentils, including peanuts, is mainly because these are major sources of proteins for vegetarians. “But that’s the case across Maharashtra, not just the Konkan region,” Jayesh says. “There are stark differences between Konkani food and say, food from Vidarbha—but the use of groundnuts or peanuts is very common.” 

Then of course, there are differences between the Maharashtrian Konkani food and the Karnataka Konkani food. “For example, the Ansa Phanasachi Bhaji is from Karnataka actually, but since some of our family makes it, that’s why we also make it at home. But technically, it’s a Saraswat dish, not a Konkanastha dish. The Saraswats eat garlic and fish also, unlike the Konkanastha Brahmins. We use a lot of fresh coconut in our food, but many Maharashtrian Brahmins use dry coconut also. Coconut milk is also widely used.” 

Specials On This Konkani Mango Safari

For those looking for a whole range of starters, Chef Paranjape’s menu might seem lacking in options—but this, she explains, is true to the essence of Konkani food. “In the Konkan region, we use steaming as a prominent cooking technique, so you will find very few fried foods in our traditional repertoire,” Chef Paranjape explains. “Of these few fried foods, Keli Methi Bhaji always stands out because it is literally bittersweet—the bitterness comes from the fenugreek leaves and the sweetness comes from ripe bananas.” 

Apart from the Keli Methi Bhaji, those who love biting into crispy dishes will love the Kothimbir Vadi and Batata Vada. You could also dig into dishes like the simple Batata Bhaji and Matki Usal, but the main attractions of this pop-up are the chutneys, pickles and salads.  

First off, there is the mustard-coloured Panchamrut, which is basically a thick chutney with deep savoury notes. “There are five main ingredients in this dish: sesame seeds, groundnuts, dry coconut, tamarind and jaggery,” Chef Paranjape explains. “It has a tadka of mustard seeds. There’s a Panchamrut that is created with yoghurt for religious festivals, but this one is a Konkani wedding special chutney.” Then there is the sweet-and-sour (yet perfectly balanced Methamba, a raw mango chutney that you can snack on or have with staples like Varan Bhaat. 

For those who love Baingan Bharta, Chokha or Bhorta, there is Kolatla Vanga. “We make this one with smoked eggplants and coconut milk is also added,” Jayesh explains. “That’s how it is made in our family.” Unique, yes. Enjoyable with rice, utterly. Dangar, Khamang Kakdi and Ambe Dal are basically Koshimbir or fresh salads made with a mix of cooling foods, like cucumbers, yoghurt, light lentils or pulses and very little spice use. Again, you can simply binge on these simple yet yummy dishes and be assured that you are also indulging in something healthy.  

The Dangar is certainly a standout among these. “Made with coarsely ground urad dal, this is a sort of salad,” Jayesh explains. “While Metkut, which is basically a spice powder we use, is made with chana dal, this one is made with urad dal and is very mild. We add a little bit of spice in that also along with tadka, yoghurt and onions. This is the only dish on the pop-up menu which has onions.” 

A Konkani Balance Of Sweet And Savoury 

What many might find surprising is the fact that Gujarati food from regions like Ahmedabad has one thing in common with Konkani Maharashtrian dishes—the underlying sweetness of curries and dals. Take Chef Paranjape’s Ansa Phanasachi Bhaji for example. The dish is the perfect celebration of ripe mangoes, jackfruit and pineapples, making it a sweet curry that you can simply mix with Indrayani rice and enjoy. Then there is the Aloo Chi Pattal Bhaji (aloo here refers to colocasia or arbi, and not potatoes).  

“This one is a special dish that we all vie for at Konkanastha weddings,” Jayesh says. “Traditionally, this dish is called Aloo Cha Phadphada because of the sound it makes while boiling.” This curry is also sweet in taste, with a savoury crunch of peanuts. The Masale Bhaat has a tendli surprise, with the ivy gourd slices peppered throughout the dish. And finally, there is the staple but always surprisingly delicious Varan-Bhaat. The mother-son duo explains what makes their version outstanding. 

“We add a bit of asafoetida and jaggery to our Varan, which elevates its flavour from the regular dal you might have,” Jayesh says. “Sometimes we add carom seeds also. But the thing to note here is that while Varan Bhaat maintains the same flavour profile across Maharashtra, Amti tastes very different in every region because the people of Marathwada always add spicy Goda Masala to it. They also put onions in it, while we make our Amti very simple and not at all spicy. Ours has a lot of tamarind and jaggery, which is why it is also called Chincha Gulachi Amti.” 

To finish this meal on a sweet note, there’s Shevayachi Kheer, Modak and Amras Puri. While the Shevyachi Kheer is simply a vermicelli milk pudding singing with flavours of cardamom, the Modaks are steamed, stuffed with mildly sweetened coconut and very light. The standout, again, is the Amras. “We don’t put sugar at all in our Amras,” Chef Paranjape says. “Our Amras has the pure flavour on ripe mangoes, and we generally use Hapus to make it. We often use Payri mangoes too. Kesar, which is predominantly a Gujarati mango variety for Amras, has also sneaked into our cuisine now.” 

So, for those who are just starting out their exploration of Konkani food, this pop-up is a great place to start. And if you want to delve deeper, you can always try out Maharashtrian cuisine specials at Feast, Sheraton Grand Pune Bund Garden Hotel, or attend one of the many seasonal pop-ups by The Western Routes.