Keralan Cuisine at the Festival of Onam
Posted on 14th September 2017
The biggest festival of Kerala, Onam is an ancient Hindu festival that celebrates the summer harvest and the homecoming of the mythical King Mahabali. Legend says that the good demon Mahabali was popular and generous, his reign said to be the golden era of Kerala. However, the Gods grew concerned with his power and popularity, resulting in Lord Vamana sending the King to the underworld. Mahabali loved his people so much that he asked the Gods to allow him to visit Kerala every year to ensure that his people were still happy, well fed and content. His wish granted, King Mahabli comes to visit his land and his people during Onam.
The ten-day festival is rich in culture and traditions and is the official state festival of Kerala. Though a Hindu festival, it is often celebrated by non-Hindu communities too, who consider it a cultural celebration. Decorative pookalams (floral carpets) are made outside people’s homes to welcome King Mahabali and seek his blessings for prosperity. The incredible decorations are seen all over Kerala, with many contests held to find the biggest and most beautiful. There are also parades, dances, boat races, displays of martial arts and musical events.
Sadya is a banquet traditionally served for weddings and special events where the dishes are presented on banana leaves. A simple Sadya may have 24-28 dishes served as a single course, with larger events and occasions calling for many more dishes. The serving and presentation is very particular, as is the order of eating the courses. Cooking and preparations are often shared by neighbours, building community spirit and engaging all generations to work together.
Onasadya is an elaborate nine course meal that reflects the spirit of the season, including over two dozen curries and dishes of seasonal vegetables. The feast is a grand celebration and an important part of the festival that everyone in Kerala attends. The importance of the banquet is seen in the famous Malayalam proverb “Kaanam Vittum Onam Unnanam” which means “one may sell all their possessions to attend one Onam feast.”
Though still a grand affair, the feast has been toned down in recent years, traditionally cooks would be required to serve 64 mandatory dishes – eight variations of the eight savoury courses, and several banana leaves would be needed to accommodate all the dishes. Modern changes also see new ingredients in the dishes, with imported and off-season vegetables used by modern chefs.
Updating the menu to suit modern tastes is something we certainly agree with, we love blending the old and new to give a contemporary flair to the traditional flavours we all love. We have several vegetarian dishes on our menu that are perfect to celebrate Onam, try the Avocado Ke Gole followed by the Ghar Da Matar Paneer for a delicious way to share the spirit of Kerala.
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