Many years ago I found myself in Kerala during Onam. Did you know that it is a 10 day festival? The atmosphere in Kerala during Onam is simply so festive! It is like Diwali here. Almost every brand has a discount offer, shops are aglitter and everybody is on a buying spree.
I spent Onam with a Malayali family to get a real taste of the festival. Onam is celebrated to re-welcome a much loved king to Kerala. Legend goes that Mahabali was a fine king who ruled over Kerala many centuries ago. During his rule, abundance and prosperity was the norm. Everybody was happy, so much so that they forgot the gods! This angered the gods and Vishnu came down to correct things. To cut a long story short, Vishnu managed to banish the king to the underworld(patal lok), but granted his wish, that once a year he could come to visit his people for 10 days and that day, things in the land would be as he left them. Hence there is an ambience of happiness and festivities for these 10 days.
There are three highlights of Onam, which is most fascinating. Onam boat races, which appealed to the sport lover in me. I was lucky to be at the Ramada Alleppy during a Masterchef shoot. The property faces the Punnamada backwaters, this is where the boat race is held. The pookalam or the highly creative and beautiful floral rangoli outside every doorstep that appealed to the creative person in me and the elaborate sadya on the plantain leaves which appealed to the food lover me!
The novelty and joy of eating piping hot food and so many items on the leaf is unsurpassed. The items range from curries to dry vegetables preparations to pickles to chips and papad to the lip smacking payassams. Truly a feast fit for a king! There is a sequence for the food served. First comes the pinch of salt, the chips, the banana, the tamarind and ginger chutney (puli inji), the pickle (usually lime or mango) and the sabzi, usually French beans with carrot with a garnish of fresh coconut, pachadi (raita) and huge papaddums. This is followed by sumptuous curries like the olan – a mild curry with a coconut milk base and with vegetables like white pumpkin and brown eyed beans, sambhar – the universal favourite, kaalan – a sour, coconut curry with yam and raw plantains amongst other vegetables, errasseri – a roasted coconut based curry, aviyal – a mixed vegetable curry and of course piping hot and spicy rasam. The meal started with a spoon of ghee on hot rice along with a small helping of plain, unsalted dal. By the time I finished this sumptuous meal my shirt buttons were popping, still I didn’t let go off the palpayassam, thick, creamy, milky with fried nuts! Heaven in God’s own country!
I have another Onam trip to Kerala on my agenda and hope it materializes soon! Meanwhile, if you have Malayali friends try and snag an invitation to a Onam sadya, soon!