Kerala is a state where beauty rules and serenity stays not only in the heart of the locals but all visiting g-locals. It is said that the greatness of a culture is found in its festivals and as a land where anything and everything is connected with beliefs and customs-Onam (also known as the harvest festival) represents the perfect example of the culture and traditional blend of God’s Own Country. This 10-day festival is a journey of multiple experiences that one accumulates while gorging into the mouth-watering plate of Onam Sadhya or going gaga over the extravagant showcase of historical lineage.
Celebration of soul and senses
Onam is incredible in many ways as prayers of prosperity and wishes of the healthy harvest do the rounds from house to house. The melody of “Maveli nadu vaneedum kalam”, the aroma of various flowers carpets (Pokalam) adorning the gateway of households, synchronized dancing (Kaikottikali) of women clad in Kasavu (hand-women sarees), the shouts of oarsmen rowing vigorously to win the snake boat contest (Vallamkali), and the fireworks ripping the sky with light and color tell that its time to greet the beloved king Mahabali. The king was once sent to netherworlds by the tricks of Devtas, and only returns on Thiruvonam day of Chingam (Onam) every year to bless his people.
Onam Sadhya- The marvel of taste and togetherness
There is also a common proverb in Kerala- “I have eaten more OnaSadhyas than you”- a way of stressing one’s age and superiority. From the saltiness of the banana chips (Kaaya Varuthathu) to the sweetness of Ada Pradanam and from the sweet and sour taste of Inji-curry to Papad, Sadhyaa is a platter representing the authentic South Indian timeless flavors and taste-good enough to take us down the memory lane of stories and nostalgia. Perfection of culinary skills is displayed in the preparation of Sadhya. Combination of all six tastes. Rightly said by a many-a feast for the senses, in the literal sense of it. A customary reason for a family get-together.
Every dish has a story
Inji-Curry (Puli inji).
Prepared in two different styles and tastes, Inji-Curry is an integral part of the mid-day Onam meal. Puli Inji is a kind of appetizer made of ginger, jaggery, and tamarind. According to one ancient fable, there was a famous Brahmin named Vararuchi. To test a girl whose family he was taying with, he asked her to prepare a serving with 100 curries. The clever girl prepared the inji-curry to satisfy him and the scholar Brahim was very impressed and declared that one serving of the inji-curry was equivalent to a hundred curries dish. Till now, Sadhya is not served without the inji-curry.
Aviyal-Delicious in its own way
Our first Aviyal can be timed back to the Mahabharata era when the Pandavas were in exile. As per history, Bheem chopped all the vegetables he could lay his hands on and boiled them together as he hid as a cook. It tastes heavenly when the vegetables of our choices are cooked with warm coconut oil with ground coconut paste. Pure bliss!!
Parippu-Let's start the feast
As per historians, parippu came into the limelight in Kerala after the Aryan conquest of the South. It is a kind of starter. In Sadhya, the first serving of rice is mixed with Parippu Curry, ghee, and papad. What a combination..yum!
A picke is not fickle
Pickle is one of the most diverse and respected items on any plate. There are pieces of evidence of items being pickled from more than 3000 years. Even the bible has references to pickles. No doubt, a pickle is an integral part of any plate.
Rice-Star of the meal
There is special rice used which gives Onam its unique taste. It is a local variety named Kerala Matta, a rice grain that is almost 3,000-year old and was once the warrior’s choice.
Keralites give a unique twist to their sambhar also called Varutharacha Sambar. Made up of mixed vegetables, spices, and roasted coconut- it is a treat to be relished. There is a belief that the sambhar was born in the Thanjavur Maratha king Shahuji’s rule. It is believed that a dish that was supposed to be prepared by moong dal got made using tur dal and tamarind pulp instead of kokum. And all this happened when Sambhaji was their royal guest. Sambhaji loved the twist and was happy. Therefore the name Sambhar came into life.
Paal Payasam-It has all the ‘dum’
This sweet rice pudding is the weak point for foodies. No Sadhya can be completed without this delicacy. Slow-cooked rice with dry-fruit garnishing gives the perfect end to this blissful spread.
But you know what, above all Onam stands for the intent and the desire of the people to come together and celebrate this occasion beyond the disparities of caste, religion, and faith that make it an experience worth having.