Life is all about new experiences and when it involves food, things get even more exciting. Kerala House in New Delhi hosts an Onam Sadhya for three days every year celebrating the festival wherein anyone can have a taste of the food that is unique to the region. A little research online and Sadhya (meaning Banquet in Malayalam) is pure vegetarian food that is often served during festivals and marriages to large groups and is prepared mostly by men. The specialty is that the food is served on big banana leaves and can consist of 12 to even 64 different items. The Onam Sadhya in Kerala House costs Rs. 200,- and is operated very smoothly considering they feed in lots of 150+ people in one go with rotation happening every 20 odd minutes. However, I wish they had some information for “tourists” like me informing us of all the food that we were about to pounce upon. I did luck out by knowing Sudha Ganapati who at a later date explained some of the food I had enjoyed – without the knowledge of all the ingredients – during the Sadhya. Now, if only I had a palate like one of those MasterChef judges.
This little adventure to Kerala House was also the first time I attended an event organized by the local group DRAG (Dhaba and Restaurant Addicts of Gurgaon). Credit goes to the organizers for a seamlessly planned event that made this experience possible for me and without them I might not even have known about it.
Having finally made it to the table (the authentic way is to sit on the ground, but there were seats and tables laid out for everyone) after an hour long journey in the metro, a walk in the blistering sun, and a half-hour wait, the food was quite the sight for these bespectacled sore eyes. The Kerala Red Rice which I’m told isn’t polished all the way through had a lovely little puffy texture to it that I enjoyed and the Sambhar which I suspected would be super spicy turned out to be just perfect. Eating like a local, using only my hands, even though some came prepared to cheat with plastic spoons, the Olan – Black eyed peas (cowpeas), pumpkin and coconut milk – turned out to be a favourite along with Inji Puli – Tamarind and Ginger – and Beans Thoran – a dry vegetable dish made with yard-long beans.
There were the Sadhya essentials such as Aviyal (Mixed Vegetables), Papad, Beetroot Pachadi which stood out because of its bright pinkish colour, Banana chips, Bananas, a yellow curry served over the rice which I believe was Parippu Curry, and a few other chutneys and pickles. To end the meal there were the obligatory sweet dishes in the form of Payasam and Pradhaman.
With an unlimited supply of food it’s easy to fill-up and the joy of going to the Onam Sadhya is partly making the most of the wealth in quality, quantity, and flavours on offer. However, this is authentic food that may take some getting used to, especially for people like me who have grown up eating South Indian Platters with Idli and Vada from the likes of Halidram’s and Bikanerwala with the occasional trip to a “South Indian Restaurant” such as Naivedyam and the local legend Sagar Ratna.
What I cherish the most is the entire experience, from the slight panic of not having found the group at the metro station to going out on a day trip with my daughter and from the excitement of eating with just my hands (we do eat with our hands at home, but spoons and forks are there to “help”) to getting to enjoy the different flavours and then researching what they were.
Onam Sadhya is part of the small everyday experiences those educate and entertain us and while they might not be as adventurous as say jumping off a plane, with a parachute of course, in their own way they add a little knowledge and pleasure to our daily lives.