Onam is the annual harvest festival of Kerala that falls during the monsoons. As per mythology, the festival celebrates the annual visit of the spirit of King Mahabali who is said to have ruled over these parts.
Traditionally, Onam lasts for ten days and is celebrated all over the state with much fervour marked by boat races in the backwaters, tiger dances and flower rangolis (pookalam). The ten day celebration ends with Thiruvonam, the final day marked by bigger celebrations and the famous Onam Sadhya.
Ingredients of Onam special food
The southwest monsoon in India kicks off in Kerala between end May and early June. Paddy cultivated in mid-April is ready for harvest by Onam and this newly harvested rice is at the centre of the Sadhya. Except for the sweets, every single of the 20 odd dishes are had along with the rice.
The gourds and root vegetables get an early start from the first couple of weeks of rains and in roughly eight to nine weeks they are ready to be harvested. Cucumber, ash gourd, pumpkin, plantains and yam are some of the freshly harvested seasonal vegetables that are used in a variety of dishes to prepare the Sadhya.
Onam Sadhya comprises 26 foods served on a banana leaf, although in earlier times, the number of items could go up to 64. While the Sadhya is traditionally said to be vegetarian with no usage of onion or garlic, it is common for a chicken or a fish dish to be included in the Sadhya depending on the community and region celebrating.
It is very much an event that brings together communities, family and friends. In India, Onam has become popular even among non-Malayalis outside Kerala for the sheer delight of indulging in a superb vegetarian spread on a banana leaf.
The Sadhya is a showcase of fresh seasonal produce cooked in different ways such that all flavours and textures find their way into the meal.
The following are the categories of dishes served in the Onam Sadhya. Each item has a specific order in which it is served with a dedicated space on the banana leaf.
Traditional Onam Sadhya Menu
• Crispy stuff: banana chips, jaggery coated banana chips (sharkara upperi), yam chips, poppadum
• Pickles: lime, mango and puli inji. The best part of puli inji is not just its appetising nature from the tamarind and ginger but also how it acts as a digestive for the meal.
• Dal based dishes: parippu, sambar, rasam
• Yogurt based dishes: kaalan or moru curry, kichadi, pachadi, inji thayir
• Coconut based dishes: erisheri, kootukari, avial, olan
• Dry vegetable curries: mezhukkuvaratti or thoran
• Sweet stuff: A jaggery based payasam made from ripe bananas or jackfruit, and a sugar based pudding such as ada pradhaman
• Other stuff: spiced buttermilk or sambharam to end the meal
• Poovan bananas
Simple flavour combinations of coconut, cumin seeds, yogurt, green chillies and black pepper are used for all the savoury dishes. Freshly grated coconut is either ground to make the sauce or used as a garnish. Coconut milk is used in olan or in sweets.
This 26-item Sadhya is prepared by a lot of Malayalis in their homes for Onam. A lot of the prep work such as chopping vegetables, grating coconut, preparing spice pastes can be done on the previous day and refrigerated so it is easier to put together all of these dishes on for the Onam lunch. In case of smaller families, a mini-Sadhya is served using fewer dishes. A lot of restaurants across the country serve Onam Sadhya as a part of the festival, so that people can enjoy this veritable banquet with literally no sweat in the kitchen.
Try this Onam Sadhya mini menu at home:
- Banana chips
- Puli inji
- Pumpkin and black eyed peas erisheri
- Beetroot pachadi
Onam Sadhya is a truly unique culinary experience that is rooted in tradition and culinary science. Try the mini menu at home and serve it on banana leaf for an authentic experience. Use pure spices and ingredients to ensure your dishes can imbibe the real taste of the Onam Sadhya.
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