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Onam Sadhya-A Feast fit for Kings

After fasting the whole day, though not for spiritual reasons, I saw a photograph of someone's feast at Onam. At the sight of those fluffy pappadams my spirit crumbled, my resolve melted, it had to be all..not nothing. We went out for dinner to our local Kerala restaurant.

Leaflet on Onam

Onam was celebrated this year in Kerala from the 5th to the 15th of September and the onasadya / feast is served on the last day. Here the festivities carry on throughout the month and so we had a second chance to enjoy the fare on the 18th. Dance, music performances and other cultural events are held during this time.

Pune has a sizeable Malayalee population, many of whom have lived here for generations. They speak Malayalam and Marathi with equal ease and they have completely integrated into the local population , but their cuisine is as Kerala as it comes. And what a wonderful tradition it hasĀ· Quite different from the rest of South Indian food in the use of spices, vegetables, fish and meat.

When Onam comes around , many of them, with their busy routines, choose to have their feast by take away or out at a public venue, either organised by one of the several Malayalee Associations here or at a restaurant, as cooking all the required dishes at home has become well nigh impossible.

There are special caterers for Onam and even the restaurant we went to had taken on cooks and bearers for the occasion. We walked under a garland made of palm leaves and the outside of the restaurant was decorated with a diya and flowers.

As we sat down we were presented with the bill.Ok, so maybe it was a delicate way of saying "This is going to cost you...." We waited, and waited. After a couple of encouraging smiles from the waiters we realised we had to pay up first.Problem solved, the banana leaves were ceremoniously laid out and the feast began.

First a spoonful of salt on the upper left corner of the leaf. Then one by one, in predetermined order, each preparation was served onto a particular place on the leaf. It reminded me, and it is meant to, of the manner in which food is served to the Gods during a puja. With joy , reverance and generosity.

After the salt came the banana chips and a green banana and jaggery sweet mix. Then the achaars..a delicious dark ginger and tamarind one and a orangey red mango achaar. A few Kondatam or curd chillies and then the chutneys, Pavatai / karela with mustard seed, suran / yam chutney on the upper right corner, below which were placed a masala potato bhaji and two types of pachadis/ vegetables or fruit in yogurt, tempered with spices , a pineapple and a bhindi pachadi .

Then came the vegetables. A large helping of beans and coconut vegetable in the upper middle of the banana leaf and an mixed vegetable avial made of drumsticks, lauki,/ bottle gourd carrot, and much more., in a coconut gravy.

In the lower half of the thali came a huge helping of boiled rice with two tablespoons of parappuneyyi / dal ghee. This was just delicious. A small banana was placed on the left side and after some of the meal was eaten, we were offered Kalan/ sambar.

Oh and I forgot those pappadams, for which I ventured forth in the first place. Pappadams in the south are plain, made of urud dal without pepper or chilli , and are scrumptious eaten with rice. Along with this were two cups of tomato rasam and buttermilk made with ginger, chillies and kari patta.

Last of all came the payasams/ desserts, served on the right edge of the banana leaf , one Adapradaman made of rice , coconut and jaggery and the other a Parappupayasam made wiih of moong dal, jaggery and cashewnuts.

All helpings were unlimited . Not that one could have eaten a crumb more after the first helping.

We rolled home , as satiated and pleased as King Mahabali , in whose honour the festival is celebrated.

I enjoyed the ginger chutney / pickle a great deal and wrested the recipe from a Malayalee friend who was only to happy to share it ...thanks a ton Prema.

Ennjipulla / Ginger Chutney

Ingredients:

  • 350 gms imli/ tamarind
  • 1 cup of water
  • 100 gms fresh ginger
  • 1/3 cup garlic cloves peeled.
  • 1/2 tsp salt.
  • 2 tbsp Red chilli powder
  • 1 1/2 tbsp methi / fenugreek powder
  • 150 gms gur / jaggery
  • 3 tbsp til ka tel /sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp chana dal -soak in water
  • 1 tbsp split urud dal -soak in water
  • 1 tbsp rai mustard seed

Soak the tamarind in hot water for 15 minutes. Stir well then bring to the boil.Simmer till tamarind loosens from any seeds and peel. Strain well. Then cook till it thickens into a pulp.

In a blender put the cleaned and chopped ginger, the garlic and the salt. Blend till smooth.

Add the chilli powder and fenugreek powder, the jaggery and the tamarind pulp.

Heat up the sesame oil, remove dals from water and fry along with the mustard seed and add the ground mixture. Stir till well blended.

This makes a substantial quantity and can be eaten with rice, chapathies or poories. The chutney can be bottled and refrigerated for several days.

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