IF YOU HAVE NOT TRIED DELICIOUS SADHYA FEAST, YOU HAD NOT EXPERIENCED FULLY CELEBRATION OF ONAM, THE HARVEST FESTIVAL IN KERALA...
The Sadhya is usually served for lunch, although a lighter version is served for dinner too. Preparations begin the night before, and the dishes are prepared before ten o' clock in the morning on the day of the celebration. A typical Sadhya can have about 24–28 dishes served as a single course. In cases where it is a much larger one it can have over 64 or more items. It has to be prepared by approved chefs to be eligible as a valla sadhya, where physical and spiritual purity is important. During a traditional Sadhya celebration people are seated cross-legged on mats. Food is eaten with the right hand, without cutlery. The fingers are cupped to form a ladle.
The dishes are served on specific places on the banana leaf in specific order. For example, the pickles are served on the top left corner and the banana on the bottom left corner, which helps the waiters to easily identify and decide on offering additional servings. The most common ingredients in all the dishes are rice, vegetables, coconut and coconut oil as they are abundant in Kerala. Coconut milk is used in some dishes and coconut oil is used for frying and also as an ingredient in others.
The importance of the feast to the Kerala's Onam celebration culture is captured in the famous Malayalam proverb: "Kaanam Vittum Onam Unnanam", which means: "One must have the Onam lunch even by selling one's property, if need be".
Traditionally, Sadhya is served on a plantain leaf, with the tapering side of the leaf pointing to the left of the guest. It consists of par boiled red rice, side dishes, savouries, pickles and desserts, all served at different times of the meal. Rice is usually placed on the lower side of the leaf.
First served item after rice is Parippu, which is a liquid curry made from small gram and ghee. It is followed by the South Indian household favourite, Sambar. This vegetable stew can be made from any assortment of vegetables available. They are then boiled in gravy of crushed lentils, onions, chillies, coriander and turmeric with a pinch of asafoetida.
Side dishes are equally important. Avial, a combination of vegetables, coconut paste and green chillies, is extremely famous. Fresh coconut oil and raw curry leaves are immediately added after the dish is prepared to add to the flavour of the dish. Thoran is another important side dish. It usually contains minced string beans, cabbage, radish or grams, mixed with grated coconut along with a dash of red chillies and turmeric powder. Olan is a dish which consists mainly of pumpkin and red grams cooked inthin gravy of coconut milk.
Major savouries of a Sadhya include Upperi (deep fried banana chips), Pappadams (fried wafer of black gram flour), Ginger Pickle and Kichadi (sliced cucumber, ladyfinger in curd, seasoned with mustard, red chillies and curry leaves in coconut oil). They are served along with mango and lime pickle.
Payasams, Kerala’s beloved dessert, are served next. There are different variety of Payasams like Pal Payasam, Palada Pradhaman and Kadalaparippu Pradhaman. A payasam is basically a pudding of sweet brown molasses or milk, coconut milk and spices, garnished with cashew nuts and raisins. One normally has a ripe yellow plantain, Pazham, along with it.
At the end of the feast, one is served rice again, along with traditionally made Rasam. Rasam is a mixture of chilli and pepperpowders boiled in diluted tamarind juice. Kaalan, seasoned buttermilk with turmeric powder and green chillies along with sour buttermilk with salt and chopped green chillies are served. These are supposed to help with digestion as well. The meal is wound up by folding the plantain leaf in half.
There are variations in the menu depending on the place and religion. Some communities, especially those in the northern part of Kerala, include non-vegetarian dishes in the Sadhya. Although custom was to use traditional and seasonal vegetables indigenous to Kerala or South West Coast of India, it has become common practice to include vegetables such as carrots, pineapples, beans in the dishes. Tradition has it that Onion and garlic are not typically used in the Sadhya. Conventionally, the meal may be followed by vettila murukkan, chewing of betel leaf with lime and arecanut. This helps digestion of the meal and also cleanses the palate.
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