Onam is one of the great festivals of Kerala (my home state in India). My friend Poornima throws the best Onam Party in the Bay Area. The array of Kerala food, mix of people, dressed in Kerala colors (white/off white) is something to experience.
Back in India, I remember waking up early for Onam, with the pleasant smell of sandalwood being rubbed on a stone. My job was to collect flowers from the backyard for the “Poo Kalam” (a floral design in the front of the house). The grand finale was always the “Onam Saddhi” or “Great Feast” on the day, Thiruvonam. It signified prosperity, abundance, and to me, some absolutely delightful food.
As children, we were not allowed to enter the kitchen, until we had showered and said our morning prayers. I could not wait to get into the kitchen for all the fun. The kitchen was divided into sections for all the preparations. It was amazing to watch the team work. The boss (my grandma) saw to it that all the people in the kitchen, and outside, were fed. One person was in charge of making teas and coffees. I was the waitress delivering breakfast such as idlis, puttu, sevai and tea.
Lunch was served on large plantain leaves. The first batch of people who ate were the elders of the family, and young children. The women always ate at the end, and the men would serve them the meal. . There was a well-defined order to serving the items. All the items had a set placement on the plantain leaf.
The menu was very elaborate. Here are the items in a typical meal, based on placement on the plantain leaf:
At the bottom right corner: Sweets
Ada Pradhaman – steamed rice flakes in sweet milk, and
Chakka Payasam – jackfruit in jaggery and coconut milk.
At the top left corner: Wafers
Shakara Verati Upperi – sweet candied plantains, and
Chakka Vetthal – salted jackfruit wafers.
Pappadam and Appalam – rice and wheat wafers.
A fruit, such as Banana or Ripe Mango
At the top right corner: Dips
Pachadis – yogurt and coconut based,
Across the upper side: Vegetable Side Dishes
Kootu – lentil, vegetable and coconut based,
Erussery – a wet dish with roasted coconut,
Avial – mixed vegetable dish,
Olan – a watery pumpkin dish,
Mezhukkuvarati – overcooked roasted vegetables
Upperis – sautéed vegetables
The bottom center was reserved for rice, mixed with dhal (lentils), two kinds of wet soups, a Sambar (tamarind based, with coconut), Pazha Kootan (yogurt based, with plantain or mango cooked in a coconut sauce). A second serving of rice followed, with Rasam (a cleansing hot soup). A grand serving of Payasams and Pradhamans (the sweet dishes) followed. Finally, there was rice with yogurt, pickle and Chammandi (a chutney).
The best was yet to come! For after lunch, everyone had betel leaves with nuts as a digestive, and it was time for a small siesta, or naptime. Just thinking about this meal makes me feel like a siesta now…