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Feast like kings and queens

Onam brings the rich traditional flavours of Kerala to the fore,

Published: 14th September 2013 10:10 AM  |   Last Updated: 14th September 2013 10:10 AM   |  A+A-

14never

As the Malayalee community gets ready to celebrate Onam, the harvest festival of Kerala that sees no caste, class or religious barriers and truly brings together an entire community under a secular tent; the one special element that everyone looks forward to is the Onam Sadya or the Onam feast.

The piping hot, swollen grains of red, boiled rice, the riot of colours offered  by the various koottu curries,  the thick, sweet and unbelievably delicious pradhaman, can bring even the most hardened food skeptic to their knees. The sheer number of flavours itself that delicately rope in and out of this feast, is enough to give the taste buds, the best time of your life.

Serving the Sadya is no simple feat, either. There are rituals and specific arrangements that are usually followed to the dot. Traditionally, the Sadya is served on a washed, cleaned and gleaming plantain leaf. The plantain leaf is placed before a person so that its narrow part always points to the left side. Usually, the meal is had, with people sitting cross-legged on the floor, in a single file to make it easier to serve the various dishes.

Traditional servings

Typically, the Sadya is served from the top left corner of the leaf, on which is placed in order, a small yellow banana, followed by sarkara upperi, which is banana chips coated with jaggery, upperi or plain banana chips and then pappadam. Then it’s the turn of the magnificent pickles which includes - the mango pickle, the injipuli (a thick ginger tamarind curry) and the lime pickle. Next you have the thoran, a dry dish, which consists of sauteed vegetables such as peas, green beans, raw jackfruit, bitter gourd, carrots, or cabbage with grated coconut. The olan, which resembles a stew, is a preparation of pumpkin, coconut milk, and ginger seasoned with coconut oil.

Then later the avial. No, not the rock band from Kerala, but a thick mixture of vegetables and coconut, seasoned with coconut oil and curry leaves. The avial is traditionally cooked with the leftover vegetables from rest of the dishes, so one can expect a melange of flavours and textures in this single dish. The avial is followed by the pachadi which is yogurt with pineapples, grapes and coconut swimming in it, kichadi which is again just yogurt with cucumber, erissery which is prepared usually with either yam, plantain or pumpkin, koottukary and salt which are placed in this order on the rest of the upper half of the leaf.

Rice combinations

Once all these items are placed, the rice is served at the bottom centre of the leaf.

First parippu (dal), is served accompanied by a generous portion of thick, hot ghee.

The second course involves the quintessential sambhar and rice.

And then the kalan is served, which is made of yogurt, coconut, and any one vegetable like nendran plantain or a tuber-like yam.

It is very thick and can be quite sour on the palette. The savoury and watery rasam is served after this.

The order in which these dishes are served sometimes varies depending on which part of Kerala you’re in, but all these dishes are more or less present.

Most people would prefer the rice to be the central food item that binds the feast together, but once you’re digging into the meal, one quickly picks up on a certain other ingredient that keeps recurring through the various dishes - the coconut. No Malayalee dish is complete without it, and the Sadya is no exception.

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