Onam, Kerala’s most awaited harvest festival – is both religious and cultural and like every other festival in the world, is marked by festivities and food. What makes it different from the other Indian festivals is how Malayalees, in whichever part of the world, observe this festival – getting together to partake some truly Onam vegetarian delicacies.
This vegetarian delicacy has a name – its called the Onam Sadhya!
I have, on many occasions been a part of the celebration, namely the Onam sadhya, where in I not only got to eat so many different vegetables at one go, but also learnt a few essential traditions of eating sadhya the right way. I never thought that eating Sadhya was a ceremony, literally. I am a half Malayali, but Onam hasn’t been so much a part of my growing up – so, every year when I get the chance, I make sure I do eat one sadhya at least.
The ritual of Onam Sadhya
The multitude of colours that appear on your banana leaf during this festival is mind boggling – but it is not the variety of food alone, it is the way the food is served and the pairing of food that gets your goat – especially if it is your first time. I have since, learnt the ropes!
Keep these basic pointers in mind and you will be fine!
Onam meal is never eaten on a plate as a rule. For this feast, only a young, green banana leaf will do! (There are look-alike banana leaves made of plastic in the market, but let’s cut them some slack) – but banana leaf it is alright!
The leaf is placed in a way that its wider side is on your right (considering that majority of the people eat with their right).
This meal is a “hands only” meal – no fancy fork or spoon here! For one, a fork or a spoon can easily cause the leaf to tear and that would be a disaster, wouldn’t it!
Depending on where you are eating, the items served on your leaf might differ in order, but the end result will be the same. Here is how it will appear –
- (R-L) on the top half of the leaf will be the side dishes (avial, kalan, olan, pachidi etc)
- Top half of the left hand corner – pickles, chips/fries and salt
- Bottom half of the leaf contains the mains – rice and sambar varieties.
- Bottom left is for banana, pappadam (beside the rice)
Items you will find on your leaf
Every dish (sometimes up to 30) is carefully prepared (often in advance) and has a special significance for the occasion. The banana leaf only heightens the tastes and flavours!
Rice is generally the parboiled variety, is of primary importance. The meal begins with the serving of Parippu (lentil) mixed with ghee (clarified butter). This is followed by Sambar (vegetable stew). Avial, a medley of vegetables is a must have for the Onam Sadhya. Some of the other important side dishes include Thoran and Olan.
Here are ten most popular dishes you will find on the sadhya menu.
Kalan is made out of thick, rich yogurt, this also contains coconut and vegetables such as raw banana.
A relatively bland dish made of pumpkin and pulses, the base for this being coconut milk. Don’t let the bland description disinterest you, though, once you try it for olan dish strikes the right balance for rice and other curries.
The Avial is a Kerala classic. However, the dish is such a huge favourite that it is not limited to festivities alone. In fact, most Malayalees consume avial on a regular basis. This medley of vegetables and grated coconut dish fits in with the Onam Sadhya perfectly.
The Pachadi can be of various types – the most popular being pineapple pachadi! Of course, you can put any flavour into it. The dish is an accompaniment to the meal and plays the role of a chutney.
5. Ingi Puli
A chuntey-like dish has an extremely unique taste and naturally so! It is, like the name suggests, a mix of ginger and tamarind, combined to give your taste buds the extra tingle.
6. Vedukaplli Pickle and Manga curry
The Vedukapulli is type of lemon pickle especially made for Onam, while the manga curry is a pickle made of minced mango.
A dry dish, Thoran is made with any two vegetables. Some of the most commonly used vegetables are carrots, cabbages and beans. Coconut is added to it in the end.
Sambar is the most popular vegetable stew from South India, with lentil as the base and lots of vegetables thrown in along with tamarind and garnished with coriander. It is equal to rice in importance.
9. Banana chips and Papaddam
Ah! lovely, yellow and crisp – banana chips is the most irresistible serving on your spread. However, while celebrating Onam and welcoming the benevolent king Mahabali, the status of the banana chip rises. The papaddam is similar to the regular papad but must be friend. Yes, the papaddam must be fried – never roasted!
10. Palada Payasam
The meal ends with payasam or sweet pudding. This is served right through the meal in small quantities.
Okay, so, after partaking this elaborate meal, I don’t always feel great about myself for having gorged on food, but hey, Onam comes only ONCE a year!