Onasadya is the most delicious part of the grand Onam festival. Onasadya is considered to be the most elaborate and grand meal. This type of meal is not prepared by people from other civilisations or cultures worldwide. This memorable feast when enjoyed once leaves a long lasting relishing taste for years to come.
Onasadya is prepared on the last day of Onam, known as Thiruonam. People of Kerala want to show that they are happy and prosperous to King Mahabali. He is their dearest legendary King whose spirit visits Kerala at the time of Onam.
According to the legend, King Mahabali who was attached to his people had requested Lord Vishnu. King Mahabali’s wish to visit Kerala once every year was granted by Lord Vishnu. The people had witnessed prosperity during the golden reign of King Mahabali. People of Kerala prepare the grand meal called Onasadya. They wish to convey they are enjoying the same age of prosperity as during King Maveli.
The rich and the poor, everyone prepares Onasadya in a grand fashion. People of Kerala are extremely devotional and passionate when it comes to Onasadya. Onam feast Onasadya has lead to people saying, ‘Kaanam Vittum Onam Unnanam’. This means men go to the extent of selling all their possessions for one Onam Sathya.
Rice is the essential ingredient for each of the nine courses of strictly vegetarian meals. All together there are around 11 essential dishes that are prepared mandatory for Onasadya. Sometimes, the number of dishes may reach up to 13. Onasadya is so elaborate a meal that it is called meals. The meals are all consumed in one sitting. Onasadya is consumed with hands there is no concept of spoon or forks here.
Traditional Onasadya comprises of varieties of curries and upperies [things fried in oil]. Pappadams that are round crisp flour paste cakes of peculiar make. Other items include Uppilittathu [pickles of various kinds], chammanthi [the chutney], payasams and prathamans [puddings]. Fruits and digestives are also part of the meal.
Onasadya food is served on a tender green banana leaf. This is placed with the end to the left. Traditionally, food is served to rows of people seated on a mat placed on the floor. One after another following a strict order, the dishes are served to all present. In addition, there are a set of rules that gives clear directions of serving the food. A particular item must be served at its special position on the banana leaf.
These days Onasadaya has toned down a little due to the urban and hectic living style. Earlier, elaborate Onasadya had around 64 mandatory dishes, eight varieties of each of the eight dishes. During those days, food was served on three banana leaves arranged one under the other. Exactly how the food was accommodated after intake is the question.
How is the food served?
There is a distinct order of serving all the dishes of the grand feast of Onam. Pappad or Pappadum is to be served on the extreme left. On top of the big pappadum, banana in the form of ‘Rasakadali’, ‘Poovan’ or ‘Palayankodan’ is served. Right of the pappad, salt, banana wafers, sarkarapuratti fries are served. After this, ginger lime and mango pickles are served. Next, ‘vellarika’, ‘pavakka’, beetroot and ‘ullikitchadi’ are served. ‘Kitchadi’ made of pineapple and banana splits or of grapes and apple is served along with this. On the right, ‘cabbage thoran’ is served. This is followed by a thoran made of beans and avil. This is followed by bread and green peas mix thoran. The meal is completed with ‘avial’ and ‘kootu curry’.
The guests sit in rows on the mats placed on the floor. They are served just two big spoonful of rice that is considered enough. On this rice, ‘parippu’ [ghee] is poured. Sambar is served. The desserts begin with Adaprathaman that is followed by ‘Kadala Payasam’. Colourful arrangement on lush green banana leaf makes the food look more appetising, tempting and irresistible.
Hold on…Be a little patient….you need to wait a little before you start gorging the lip smacking meal. There are some rituals that are observed before the special grand meal. At first, Lord Ganapathi placed in front of Nila Vilakku [lighted oil lamp], is served. The entire meal consisting of all the courses is served for him. This traditional Malayalese custom always prevails in beginning everything in the name and presence of God.
More about the Meal:
In order to understand Onasadya, let us go through all dishes in a little more detail. If you find tempting dish, you could try the recipe and enjoy Onam food when you like.
Erissery is either prepared from pumpkins/red beans or from yam and raw bananas cubes. The spices used include split green chillies, red chillies, cumin seeds, turmeric and ground coconut. It is seasoned with mustard seeds spluttered in oil. Erissery is a main stay for the occasion. However, this item is not very popular these days.
Kalan or Pulisseri
Kalan or Pulisseri is prepared from buttermilk. The ingredients include sliced plantains called nenthra-kaya and yams or chena. These ingredients are boiled in water with salt and chillies. Kalan or Pulisseri is flavoured with ground coconut and mustard seeds spluttered in oil. Some people even add cucumber cubes to Kalan or Pulisseri.
Olan is prepared from sliced cucumber and Brinjal. Sometimes pulses are also added. Ingredients are boiled in water with salt and chillies. When all ingredients are tender, fresh coconut oil is poured. Olan dish is seasoned with flavoured kariveppila [curry leaves].
Aviyal is a type of mixed vegetables of the season. All sorts of available vegetables are added to prepare it. The vegetables are first boiled in water with salt and chillies. Well ground tamarind pulp is added at the appropriate time. Aviyal is flavoured with coconut oil and Kariveppila.
Thoran is made of sliced beetroot and several other vegetables cut into very small pieces. These are boiled in water with salt and chillies till all the water dries up. Water can also be strained away. Thoran is seasoned with ground coconut pulp and mustard fried in coconut oil.
Mulakoshyam resembles the Olan dish. This is a special Onam delicacy from the Kerala. Only recently, it has been added to Onasadya.
Koottukari is a curry consisting of a variety of vegetables and some Bengal grams. This dish does not contain tamarind so it differs from Aviyal.
Sambar is an extremely popular recipe from South India. This is relished by all people living in India. Sambar is made of dal and a wide variety of vegetables. These include brinjal, drum-sticks, pavakkai [bitter gourd] and others. All these vegetables are first boiled in water with salt and chillies. Tamarind is added to enhance the taste of the Sambar. Spices like coriander, cumin seeds are fried in oil and powdered and added to Sambar. Finally, it is flavoured with mustard seeds and asafoetida.
Pachchati / Kichchati:
Pachchati, Kichchati are types of curry consisting mainly of cucumber, mustard and sour butter milk or curds. In Kichchatim, young and tender cucumber is added.
Rasam is the lip smacking dish prepared with tomatoes treated with tamarind juice. It is seasoned with bay leaves and mustard seeds spluttered in oil. Some people take Rasam with rice. Rasam also helps to digest the food.
Payasam is an extremely delicious dessert that is sort of a pudding. Payasam is made with boiled potatoes, mixed with molasses, coconut milk and flavored with spices. Another kind of Payasam, is known as ‘Pal Payasam’. The rice is boiled with milk and sweetened with sugar.
There are several varieties of Prathaman such as ata, pazham, parippu and palata prathamans.
Special beverage is prepared for Onam. Water is boiled with cumin and dried ginger [chukku]. This beverage is beneficial from health point of view.
Onasadya Upperi or Chips:
Upperi or Chips is prepared from various things. These include raw bananas [kaaya], yam [chena], jack fruit [chakka], bitter gourd [pavayka] and brinjal [vazhuthanga]. Slices of these vegetables are fried in coconut oil to a crisp condition.
Pickles / Achaar:
Pickles have to be prepared well in advance of Onasadya. Most the pickles served are mainly made from mango, lemon, ginger, chillies and curry naranga.
Pappads / Pappadam:
Pappads are prepared from black grams and are fried in oil. Pappadams are usually served in three sizes namely small, medium and large.
Mainly plantains of various kinds are served along with other food items.