Kappa Chakka Kandhari’s co-owner and culinary director takes us through the elaborate Onasadhya, the traditional feast that is an integral part of Onam celebrations.
Malayalis around the world celebrate the harvest festival of Kerala and the return of the beloved mythical, legendary King Mahabali during Onam. The festival falls in the first month of the Malayalam calendar – Chingam. Onam is celebrated for 10 days across the state and is marked with the elaborate Onasadhya which literally means ‘feast’. Traditionally, 23 to 28 vegetarian dishes are prepared for this grand feast and served to family and friends on banana leaves.
Onasadhya, a grand multi-course vegetarian banquet, known to use ingredients from the harvest, is truly the pride of every Malayali. The beauty of a well-presented Onasadhya is the bright green banana leaf that contrasts the colourful bits and bobs of a variety of mouth-watering dishes that truly reflect and celebrate the colour and cheer of the harvest festival. This is the trademark visual for Onam which highlights the eating experience along with capturing the vibrant beauty of God’s Own Country. From banana chips to payasam, the array of dishes served in an Onasadhya is an epicurean delight for those who relish the diverse flavours of Kerala cuisine. The Onasadhya items are served one by one in a particular order. Even the age-old tradition of serving a particular dish on a particular part of the banana leaf is strictly followed.
Onasadhya is served only on banana leaves. Fresh banana leaves are packed with a natural antioxidant called polyphenols. When warm food is served on the leaf, the antioxidant is released and absorbed in the food, which provides great health benefits. The leaf is also rich in antibacterial properties, Vitamin A, calcium, and carotene. According to traditional beliefs, the leaf should be folded and closed once the meal is finished. According to some customs, closing the leaf towards you communicates satisfaction with the meal while folding it outwards symbolises that the meal needs improvement.
Sadhya is meant to be relished with your hands. Apart from the health benefits, it is believed that the practice helps the fingertips to connect with heart, third eye, solar plexus, throat, sexual and root chakras. And when the food is eaten with hands, the motion and touch activate the chakras and helps one attain emotional and physical well-being.
Onasadhya is usually prepared with the produce of the local harvest and the grandeur of the sadhya is dependent on the wealth of the hosts.
The dishes mentioned below are all a part of the Sadhya and each dish is placed in a particular order and people relish the dishes from left to right. All the dry dishes are arranged on one half of the banana leaf and the other half is for rice, pappadum, banana, a variety chips and salt. After serving the rice, each curry is served one at a time and eaten in courses. The meal ends with a variety of payasam and banana. And occasionally with buttermilk.
Start with Uppu, Cheru Pazham, Chena Nuruku, Nendrakai Nuruku, Sharkara Varatty and Pavakka Kondattam. The pickles include Manga Achar, Naranga Achar, Nellika Achar and the much-loved Inji Puli along with Beetroot Kichadi and Pineapple Pachadi. An elaborate selection of vegetables include Olan, Cabbage Thoran, Avial and Koottu Kari. Enjoy Nei-Parippu with Matta red rice accompanied with delicious Kerala Sambar, Kalan, Pappadam and Rasam. The elaborate Onasadhya feast is incomplete without the delicious Ada Pradhaman, Palada, Chakka Pradhaman and Parippu Payasam
As a custom, salt is always served at the beginning of the meal. Can be used wherever required to adjust to the palate and preference of the individual.
A small ripe banana, preferably yellaki banana, is eaten on its own or mixed in with payasam. The latter helps reduce the sweetness of the payasam and adds texture.
A variety of chips (usually fried in coconut oil)
- Chena Nuruku
Yam fry – as yam is among the most commonly grown vegetables in the backyard of Kerala homes. It is delicious, when sliced thin and deep fried in coconut oil until crisp.
- Nendrakai Nuruku
Banana chips – thin slices of Kerala speciality Nendram banana fried in coconut oil. Often for Onam, the chips are cut into quarters and fried in coconut oil.
Thick, jaggery-coated raw banana pieces.
Bitter gourd, sundried and crisp fried in coconut oil.
Various pickles are eaten during the sadhya to reduce the heaviness of the meal and to add variety to the meal experience.
- Manga Achar
Raw mango pickle; tiny pieces of raw mango are soaked and cooked with home-made pickle marinade and tempered.
- Naranga Achar
Lemon pickle; quartered lemons soaked and cooked in pickle marinade and tempered.
- Nellika Achar
Fresh gooseberry, cut, soaked and cooked in pickle marinade and tempered.
- Inji Puli
The goodness of ginger and tamarind cooked together with jaggery to give sour, spicy and sweet taste to the Sadhya.
Puréed beetroot, curd and coconut freshly ground together and tempered.
Chopped pineapple, curd and coconut cooked delicately and tempered with mustard seeds and curry leaves.
A variety of local vegetables are served as a part of this elaborate feast.
A palate cleanser made with yellow pumpkin, white pumpkin and red karamani or cowpeas, slow-cooked in coconut milk and finished with a drizzle of coconut oil.
- Cabbage Thoran
Finely chopped cabbage, tempered with mustard seeds, dry chillies and grated coconut in coconut oil.
A combination of eight or more locally-grown vegetables simmered in the traditional uruli with curry leaves, curd and coconut.
- Koottu Kari
Black Channa, yam, yellow pumpkin and raw banana cooked with a rich dry-roasted coconut paste along with the goodness of black peppercorn and coconut oil.
Toor dal simmered with cow ghee. This is eaten as the first course with rice.
Matta red rice
The classic Kerala red rice known for its high fibre content and rich in magnesium, is boiled and served hot with nei parippu sambar, kalan and rasam.
An authentic Thrissur style sambar with assorted vegetables cooked with a dry roasted and ground sambar masala.
Curd and yam, slow cooked with a rich coconut paste with the added flavours of black pepper and cumin.
Handmade Kerala pappad made from urad dal paste. This is usually deep fried and served with the Sadhya.
A digestive aid, hot rasam is made with sour tamarind, black pepper, asafoetida, cumin and more. Eaten with rice, this completes the rice course.
Cooking Payasam is an important part of the festival and it reflects the sweet taste of harvest. Rice, jaggery, coconut milk, ghee, jackfruit are used in different payasam. It’s the bounty of the harvest which is truly reflected in the different payasams and an integral part of the Onasadhya.
Thick rice flakes, jaggery and coconut milk simmered with dry ginger and cardamom.
Tiny rice flakes slow cooked in cow milk, reduced and sweetened.
Ripe Jackfruit cooked with jaggery and later cooked with coconut milk.
Moong dal cooked with jaggery and coconut milk and flavoured with cardamom and dry ginger.
The feast ends with tempered buttermilk
Kappa Chakka Kandhari’s Onasadhya – Feast in a box
The Kerala speciality restaurant Kappa Chakka Kandhari (Chennai and Bengaluru), brings you this sumptuous traditional Onasadhya – Feast in a box. Due to the current situation, we felt that a community dining experience would not be the most responsible thing to do and yet we wanted our customers to enjoy the experience of the Onasadhya, an integral part of Onam celebrations. That’s when we decided to offer our elaborate Onasadhya – Feast in a box take-away comprising 26 traditional vegetarian delicacies made by Namboodiri cooks from Kerala. This specially curated take-away experience was designed to celebrate the much-loved festival in the safety and comfort of diners’ homes. Onasadhya – Feast in a box is available for diners in Chennai and Bengaluru, for lunch only on August 20 and 21. To place your order in advance, visit kckonam.com. Priced at Rs 4,750 (plus taxes), each Onasadhya – Feast in a box serves five persons and comes packed in stainless containers and a hot box to keep your Onam meal fresh and delicious.