Kerala’s state festival, which celebrates the New Year for Malayali Hindus, as well as the summer harvest, is nothing short of a grand carnival. The celebrations for Onam span ten days, and consist of everything from music, dance and elephant parades to martial arts, boat races and tug-of-wars. One of the most important parts of the festival, though, is the grand Onam fest, also called Onam Sadhya.
The elaborate, multi-course meal typically consists of about 26 dishes served on a banana leaf. Sadhya, a vegetarian spread, is prepared in large quantities and served during lunch on the tenth day of the festivities. It is meant to be eaten with the hand, without the use of cutlery.
The meal is so complex, and consists of so many dishes, that it is a struggle for non-Malayalis to understand exactly what goes into the meal. Kerala Tourism has a helpful video to guide the perplexed eater.
The meal is centred around steamed rice, and bordered with accompaniments ranging from pachadi, aviyal, thoran and rasam to pickles and banana chips. The video also explains the setting of the dishes, which is crucial to the art of serving a sadhya.
“Place the banana leaf so that the wider side is on the right-hand side of the person eating the meal. Starting from the left, pappadum and banana are served overlappingly close followed by salt, sharkaravaratti, banana chips, ginger lime and mango pickles. The right side comprises of thorans, khichadi, pachadi and kootu curry, while the centre spot is reserved for aviyal and olan.”