New Delhi: Onam is an annual harvest festival celebrated in the Indian state of Kerala. It is the state’s official festival and includes a variety of cultural events, making it a major annual event for Keralites. The festival honours King Mahabali and Vamana.
Just like the famous boat race, the Onam Sadya is another indispensable part of Onam. Almost every Keralite either makes or attends one Sadya.
The spirit of the season is reflected in the Onasadya, which is traditionally made with seasonal vegetables such as yam, cucumber, ash gourd, and so on.
Dishes served on Onasadya:
Sadya is one of the most popular attractions during the festival, Malayalis from across the world travel to their homes for this special feast. Supposedly, Keralites prepare Onasadya in a grand fashion irrespective of their wealth.
In Kerala, there is also a proverb that goes, ‘Kaanam Vittum Unnanam,’ which translates as “People should even sell all their possessions for one Onasadya.”
Rice is the main ingredient in this strictly vegetarian meal. This lavish meal typically consists of around 26 dishes, which cover all kinds of flavours- sweet, sour, salty, spicy and umami (savoury).
Served on banana leaves, the meal includes rice, at least four dishes (excluding traditional pickles and papadam), and at least one dessert. Kalan or Pulisseri, Erissery, Olan, Pachadi, Kichadi, Thoran, Mulakoshyam, Koottukari, Aviyal, Sambar, Rasam, Upperi or chips, Pickles (achaar) and Pappads (pappadam) make the side dishes that can be served. Usually, the number of side dishes is 11 but can go up to 20. Payasams & Prathamans are served as desserts.
Banana, both raw and cooked, is a fruit that is commonly found in sadya. Interestingly, a whole ripe banana is also served as a symbol of wealth.
Pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, star anise, nutmeg, bay leaf, mustard seeds, and curry leaves are the signature spices in most Kerala Sadhya dishes all of which are produced and sourced locally.
This colourful arrangement of the food on the lush green banana leaves adds to its allure and irresistibility.
The manner of serving Onasadya:
Before delving into this concoction of flavours, one should be aware of how a sadya should be consumed.
Traditionally, the meal is served on a mat on the floor. The dishes must be served on a tender banana leaf, which has antibacterial properties and a natural antioxidant called polyphenols. It is placed with the tip pointing to the guest’s left. Another speciality about Onasadya is that each dish has its own spot on the banana leaf.
The top half of the leaf is reserved for the accompaniments while the bottom half is for the staples and mains.
Salt is the first item to be placed, followed by banana chips and sharkara varatti, which are banana chips caramelised in jaggery and cardamom, on the lower left of the leaf.
On the top half, from left to right, there would be pickles of various kinds, inji curry, pachadi (a type of raita), kichadi (a coolant made with sour curd), avial, and thoran (stir-fried vegetables).
The main component of Rice is only served when the guests have taken their seats. Initially, only two large spoons of rice are served. Following this, “parippu” and ghee are poured. Then comes Sambhar, Kalan (pulissery), and Rasam. The second round includes 1 large spoonful of rice and desserts such as adaprathaman, Kadala Payasam, Paal Payasam, and others. The third and final round of rice is accompanied by Sambharam/Buttermilk.
That concludes the serving of the dishes. After finishing their meal, the guests are expected to fold the leaves.
While the dishes are traditionally served from left to right, the meal is traditionally consumed from right to left, seated facing East.
Some interesting facts about Onasadya:
The word ‘sadya’ means banquet in Malayalam. It is a meal which is prepared not only as a feast during Onam but also during weddings and other events. Some temples organize special sadya during important festivals and auspicious days, while others provide it on a daily basis as a community service. The number of dishes on the banana leaf reflects a household’s wealth and prosperity. The Payasam is especially coveted because it is one of the most expensive items on the menu due to its lavish ingredients. The variety of Payasams available is proportional to one’s social standing. Payasams are made from a variety of ingredients including rice, vermicelli, rice pasta, lentils, and fruits. These ingredients are usually cooked in coconut milk and sweetened with sugar or jaggery. The plating and order of eating a Kerala Sadya, which is always eaten by hand, is based on Ayurvedic science. Before anyone sits down to feast on an auspicious occasion, a banana leaf filled with all the items is first offered to the Gods. This is also one of the reasons why there are no non-vegetarian delicacies available in a sadya. No wheat-based dishes are found in the Onam sadya. Kerala being a rice and coconut-bearing state, and most of the dishes on this platter comprise of rice and coconut.