With another Onam round the corner, all Kerala restaurants are flaunting its customers with the promise of a Kerala feast or the Onam Sadya as it is more popularly known. I thought it appropriate to decode the Onam Sadya ( and no, Onam Sadya does not include beef and liquor).
The ‘Sadya’ is not specific to Onam, for a culture that believes in ‘Annadanam Mahadanam’, a feast is the part and parcel of all celebrations.
It is a time where kith and kin join together and have atleast one meal, which is prepared and savored by the entire family together.
The sadya is served on a plaintain leaf, that is laid on the floor where you sit with legs crossed( also known as Sukhasana in Yoga) infront of it. There is lot of information avaialble that explains the benefits of sitting in the Sukhasana posture while eating.
The items on the leaf are arranged in a particular order as in the picture below.
Pickles, chips and pappadam take the left corner, the side dishes or kootu curry takes the top row and the rice on the bottom row. This order is maintained so that the people who serve can identify what might be missing on a leaf and what needs to be served.
To really enjoy a Sadya one has to do a bit of planning in advance and has to be displined in sticking to the plan. The aroma of the steaming rice on a plaintain leaf makes it really difficult to stop yourself from over-eating. You have to decide on how much rice you are capable of eating. Divide this into three portions and during the first serving ask for only the first portion. One half of this portion of rice is to be enjoyed with parippu curry (dal), ghee and pappadam. The second half with Sambhar. The side dishes can be used to add more flavour to each scoop of rice you take.
Once you have savoured the taste of parippu curry with ghee followed by the taste of the moderatly spicy sambhar, with a touch of side dishes like olan, kichdi etc. Its time for your digestive system to get soem aid in digestion. This is where the second portion of the rice comes in. This portion is to be had with rasam or puliserry ( curry made from buttermilk). This gives a soothing effect to your tongue as well as your entire digestive tract.
Then comes the most favourite part of any meal, the deserts. For Sadya the desserts are the payasams. Sometimes you may have multiple varieties of payasam, but traditionally the Ada Pradhaman ( made from Ada, jaggery), followed by Palpayasam ( made with milk, rice and sugar). The payasams are to be had in the same leaf where you had rice. The sweet payasam mixed with the salt, sour and spices of the curries takes you on cloud nine. Usually a modern day meal ends with the desert, but for a sadya, the last part is the last portion of rice which should be had with curd. Ask any Tamilian and they will tell you how a meal is incomplete without curd rice. Having curd which is rich in lactobacillus, is like taking probiotics. This aids in digestion, prevents acidity from all the Payasam that you had. The sadya is usually served for lunch, and noon time in South India can be really hot, curd acts as a coolant to the body.
And then as a climax the guest folds the plantain leaf from top to bottom which is a gesture that he is happy with the food served. In a way it shows that the guest is grateful to the host for providing him with a meal and the host is grateful to the guest for having blessed him with his presence and well wishes. So the next time you are invited for a Sadya keep these in mind, enjoy the food and most importantly make it a point not to waste any of it. Happy Onam to all my readers.