Everyone knows that food is the best part of any festival. And with Onam at Kerala’s doorstep, one thing common to all households would be the most popular 26-dish Onam sadya -- verily the mother of all vegetarian meals in the state.
Of the three Onam days, including the first, second and third Onam, which begins from Tuesday, it’s the “Thiruonam”, the second day, which is the highlight as this is when the sadya is served on a plantain leaf and eaten with the hands.
Even though the common meal at most Hindu marriages in Kerala is the sadya, it’s the one served on Onam that wins hands down simply because it binds practically every Keralite, as the harvest festival is celebrated irrespective of religion.
The mouth-watering lunch includes chips, poppadoms, various vegetables, a variety of sweet and sour pickles, the traditional aviyal, sambar, dal along with a small quantity of ghee, rasam, two different kinds of buttermilk, a chutney powder prepared from grated coconut and a series of payasams eaten either straight or mixed with a small ripe plantain.
“This is the first time in recent times that our family is coming together. It was a unanimous decision that this time we will celebrate Onam in its true sense and will prepare our sadya at our ancestral home. This is to relive the Onam that this house had seen for several years,” said Malini Sukumaran who arrived in Thiruvalla with her family from Doha and is now waiting for the arrival of her three siblings.
But 70-year-old Devaki Nair, a retired teacher, is not pleased with the way things take place during Onam -- be it the meals or the festivities.
“I remember in my younger days, in the run-up to Onam, the activities would begin at least a month before. My father used to ensure that all the essential items, including vegetables, are either readied for harvesting or sourced from other homes or markets a few days before Thiruonam. As a result, the best produce used to be in our kitchen,” said Nair, who lives alone at her home near Kottayam and is now waiting the arrival of her son and his family from Kuwait.
Sreedevi Karthikeyan, a homemaker, has adapted to the changing times and recalled with a smile how the minutest of details were taken care of before serving the sadya.
“My father was very particular about everything. Even the colour of the plantain leaf was taken note of and the way it was placed on the dining table or on the floor. There was even an order of serving the curries, the way the meal was eaten and the way it ended. Today, I really doubt if all the rules are followed,” said Karthikeyan.
Not many takers for this menu in the apartment today but I enjoyed cooking this mini onam sadya. My second favourite Indian cuisine is Kerala. I love cooking in coconut oil. On the menu - pumpkin red cowpea beans erissery, brinjal ladiesfinger sambhar, cabbage thoran, tomato rasam, inji puli, pappadam, curd, red boiled rice and moong dal payasam.
These days, many households, rather than preparing the Onam sadya in their kitchens, rely on caterers and restaurants, who provide the meal in neatly-packed containers.
This year, the cheapest packed Onam sadya starts from around Rs 200 and goes beyond Rs 2000 in five-star hotels.