It’s Onam , but few homes will do the full 26-dish sadhya

August 24th, 2012 - 2:25 pm ICT by IANS  

Thiruvananthapuram, Aug 24 (IANS) It is going to be one week of laying out the most elaborate spread at many households in Kerala. Irrespective of caste, creed or religion, almost all Malayali homes celebrate Onam, which once came with the traditional 26-dish sadhya (feast). These days, few households go the full distance.

The sadhya, especially during Onam, has to be served on a banana leaf. In some places, the meal is still eaten squatting on the floor.

Onam week starts Sunday; the first Onam falls on Tuesday, followed by Thiru Onam the next day. The third Onam will be observed on Thursday and fourth Onam on Friday.

“There was a time when preparations began almost a month in advance. The head of the family, especially in Hindu households, would start accumulating various types of yams for the sadhya, and identify different varieties of bananas that needed to be kept ready, for some would be eaten ripe while some would be needed raw and used in the cooking,” says Lekshmanan Achary, a retired government official.

The 26-dish traditional lunch would include chips, pappads, various vegetable dishes, a good number of pickles both sweet and sour, the traditional aviyal, sambar, dal curry served along with a small quantity of ghee, rasam, two different preparations of butter milk, a chutney powder made of grated coconut, and many mouth-watering payasams (sweet dishes), some of which were eaten mixed with a ripe plantain.

Over the years, paucity of time has caused many modifications in the traditional meal. Today, few homes go the whole hog and sit down to a 26-dish meal.

“No one wants to spend hours in the kitchen these days. In most homes, the main dishes like sambar, aviyal, dal curry and pickles, some of which are purchased, go into the Onam sadhya,” said middle-aged housewife Manjula Nair.

In the big cities in the state, people appear to prefer to spend time shopping rather than cooking in celebration. This comes as an opportunity for some families, who take catering orders for the Onam lunch.

“We started this small catering business to cater to orders of up to 20 people for lunch. We supply food in containers to our clients. This Onam, we’re doing roaring business. We are fully booked now for the whole week,” says Sandhya Kumari who has been in the business of preparing the traditional Kerala sadhya for the past five years.

There are even those who prefer to have an Onam bash in a hotel. Most star hotels have started taking advance bookings. None of them offers a meal, though, for less than Rs. 500.

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