You will hear the term Sadya almost each year when Onam approaches. This elaborate banana leaf meal is the high-point of festivals like Onam and Vishu and weddings across Kerala. Dishes are served from left to right on your leaf. At most weddings, much of the food is pre-laid on the leaf to save time and improve service efficiency. This also means you do not have the option to refuse most dishes. The top half of the leaf is reserved for accompaniments and the bottom half for the staples and mains as is the case in most South Indian Banana Leaf Meals. While it's almost always a vegetarian spread, there are some parts of Kerala like Kannur where it's not unusual to encounter sadyas that also include meat and seafood.
You are first served a pickle - in most cases, this is the traditional raw mango pickle with minimal marination and also Puli Inji hot and sweet Ginger Chutney). Next up are two varieties of Kerala chips - the spicy variant doused in turmeric and the sweet Chakkara Upperi - a scrumptious variant coated with a blend of subtle spices and jaggery and then deep fried. And when its Jackfruit season, you might find raw jackfruit chips at some wedding sadyas. The chips make way for the Thoran where a vegetable (usually Cabbage or Beans) is stir fried with generous quantities of coconut. The Kaalan is next; it might look like the Avial but the cooking process is very different. It is usually just one vegetable (mostly Yam) cooked on a low flame with sour yoghurt and coconut.
The Olan dish made usually with Pumpkin or Ash Gourd and simmered with mild flavoured coconut milk follows the Kaalan. Some Sadyas feature the now famous Kerala Vegetable Stew instead of the Olan. The Avial is an integral part of the Sadya and features a medley of vegetables in curd and coconut seasoned with curry leaves and coconut oil. The Erucheri, Pumpkins in gravy of fried coconut or the Kootu Curry, a mix of Vegetables and Bengal gram is the next element in a Sadya. And no Sadya is complete without the fluffy Kerala Papadam.
The Sadya also has a Pachadi and a Kichadi, which consists of sliced and sauteed cucumber or okra in curd, seasoned with mustard, red chillies and curry leaves in coconut oil. Rice is the only staple and is served first with a dal and ghee followed by sambar, rasam and thick buttermilk towards the end of the meal. Almost all Sadyas serve the traditional par-boiled Kerala-style rice. The high point of the Sadya are the Payasams. While two payasams are the norm, a lot of wedding sadyas include three or four payasams. One payasam is white and milk-based and is almost always the popular Paal Ada Pradhaman which tastes best at weddings where the long cooking process and the wood-fired ovens lend this payasam a lovely pink tone. The other payasam is usually a brown-coloured payasam and could be a Paruppu (lentil-based) payasam or the Goduma (wheat) Payasam.
(Also Read: 5 Best Payasam Recipes | Easy Payasam Recipes)
Onam 2022: Here're 7 Best Best Places For Onasadyas in Chennai:
1. Kappa Chakka Kandhari: is set to bring you not just the traditional Onasadhya (in-restaurant dine-in) from September 6- 8, 2022, for lunch and dinner. This year KCK is also offering the Onasadhya- Feast in a Box (a take-away meal for 5 persons), Onam Gift Box (for delivery and takeaway) comprising payasam, pickles and chips and Onakkodi and a selection of traditional Onam Special Payasams (for delivery and takeaway).
2. J. Hind at Grand Chennai by GRT hotels: Grand has been a favourite for Onasadya for years now. The hotel's progressive Indian restaurant - J. Hind is offering a traditional onam sadya on September 6, 7 and 8. GRT Cloud kitchens is also offering a unique Onam meal box (that serves two) in both vegetarian and non-vegetarian options.
3. Ente Keralam: one of Chennai's best-known Kerala fine dining restaurants, Ente Keralam remains a popular Onasadya destination in the city. The restaurant has started taking reservations (at both its Poes Garden and Anna Nagar locations) for its Onasadya (from September 1 to 11) and a Special Sadya (September 7 to 9). You can also opt for the restaurant's takeaway Sadya boxes.
4. Hyatt Regency Chennai: is celebrating Onam at the Ghar Ka Khanna food promotion on 8th September for dinner. Those who miss the afternoon Sadya can relish the same in the evening from 7 pm onwards at Spice Haat where you will get to sample dishes like the Paal Ada Pradhaman, and cabbage thoran.
5. The Westin Chennai Velachery: is one of the only venues in Chennai that is offering a North Kerala Home style non-vegetarian sadya aside from a vegetarian sadya. The hotel will host a sit-down festive meal with traditional Kerala-style 'Chenda Melam' in the background on 8th September for lunch.
6. Novotel Chennai, Chamiers Road: Novotel has drafted in a culinary expert from Kerala for a 'home-style' Sadya, that will be served on September 8 - Thiruvonam. The team will serve this one-day lunch Sadya in a special sit-down style.
7. Savya Rasa: at Kotturpuram is offering more than 30 dishes as part of its elaborate Onasadya that is on till September 8. You can also opt for their convenient takeaway option. Their Onasadya takeaway box serves 2-3 and includes 30 plus signature dishes.
Happy Onam 2022!
About Ashwin RajagopalanI am the proverbial slashie - a content architect, writer, speaker and cultural intelligence coach. School lunch boxes are usually the beginning of our culinary discoveries.That curiosity hasn’t waned. It’s only got stronger as I’ve explored culinary cultures, street food and fine dining restaurants across the world. I’ve discovered cultures and destinations through culinary motifs. I am equally passionate about writing on consumer tech and travel.