Indian festivals are all about the food. While religion plays a big role in why we celebrate a certain day, most of the excitement comes from what we can stuff ourselves with and the new clothes that we can parade around in. Not to mention the associated fun and games and the special programs on TV.
Onam is no exception. The Onam Sadya is a vegetarian feast that is guaranteed to send you into a stupor. The feast is served on a banana leaf, as is the tradition in South India.
With over 20 preparations on the menu, the Onam Sadya is a grand affair that pays due respect to all six tastes – spice, salt, bitterness, sourness, pungency, and sweet.
There’s a delicious mix of the healthy and the unhealthy on the cards: from the deep fried, humble pappadam to the exquisite bitter-gourd pacchadi – a kind of chutney - that your physician will enthusiastically vote for. Many of the dishes use a liberal dose of grated or ground coconut, coconut oil, red and green chillies, and curry leaves.
The recipes for the dishes may vary depending on which part of Kerala you’re from. The popular dish, Aviyal, a thick mixture of vegetables and coconut, can be made with or without curd. The spicy Eriseri is usually made with pumpkin and beans but other vegetables may be used too.
Other must-haves include sambhar, puli-inji (tamarind-based chutney), olan (coconut milk and pumpkin curry), kaalan (raw plantain and yam curry), moru kootaan (yogurt and ground coconut curry), and thoran (stir fried vegetables with coconut). Usually, red parboiled rice or Rosematta rice is served.
4-5 varieties of payasams (kheer) are prepared for the Sadya. From paal payasam (rice and milk kheer) and ada pradhaman (rice flakes, jaggery and coconut milk) to payasams made from different kinds of dal. The nendram pazham payasam made with ripe Kerala bananas and coconut milk is a great favourite too.
For the best experience, crush a pappadam into your payasam and slurp it up.
Some advice for people outside South India who want to have Sadya: please don’t use a fork and knife. There’s nothing like eating with your hand and licking every morsel off your fingers!
And oh, wear loose clothing.