Onam is Kerala’s most celebrated festival, commemorating the legendary King Mahabali. This ten-day festival brings together family, friends, and communities to enjoy the lavish feast called Onasadya. Onasadya is a testament to the rich culinary heritage of Kerala. For travelers looking to experience the authentic flavors of this state during Onam, here’s a guide to some must-try dishes:
Kaaya Varuthathu (Banana Chips)
These are thinly slice bananas deep-fry in coconut oil. A staple snack and an essential part of the Onasadya.
A tangy, spicy pickle made from ginger and tamarind. It perfectly balances the other flavors on the plate.
The name “Puli Inji” can be broken down as “Puli” meaning tamarind and “Inji” meaning ginger in Malayalam. This dish perfectly balances the flavors of sourness from tamarind, spiciness from ginger and green chilies, and sweetness from jaggery or sugar.
A delicate dish made with white pumpkin and cowpeas simmered in coconut milk, seasoned with green chilies and curry leaves. It is a mild curry that highlights the natural flavors of its main ingredients, typically ash gourd (white pumpkin) and red cowpeas (vanpayar). Because of the coconut milk basis, the dish has a mild, subtle flavour.
This thick mixture of vegetables and coconut, seasoned with coconut oil and curry leaves, has a unique flavor and is an essential part of the Onam sadya (feast). Avial celebrates the bounty of harvest by using a medley of available seasonal vegetables.
Typically made with finely chopp vegetables (like cabbage, beans, or carrot) that are stir-fry with grated coconut, mustard seeds, and curry leaves.
In addition Thoran is a traditional dry vegetable dish from Kerala, which is typically served as a side dish for rice. It is a simple and flavorful preparation that celebrates the freshness of vegetables. The vegetables are stir-fri with a delectable mix of grated coconut, green chilies, and spices, which lends Thoran its distinctive taste.
A flavorful lentil-based stew with vegetables, tamarind pulp, and special spices, sambar is a South Indian classic that gets a unique touch in each region.
It’s a spicy, tangy, and slightly sweet soup made primarily from tuvar dal (split pigeon pea) and vegetables, seasoned with tamarind, a special sambar powder, and other spices. There are many regional variations of sambar, and its preparation can differ from one household to another.
A spicy soup typically made from tomatoes, tamarind, and a blend of spices. It aids digestion and prepares the stomach for the rest of the meal. Rasam is a tangy, spicy, and aromatic soup-like dish from South India, especially popular in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, and Andhra Pradesh. Cooke primarily from tamarind juice, tomatoes, various spices, and herbs, rasam is known for its therapeutic properties and is often consume to aid digestion.
Parippu Curry is a comforting lentil curry from Kerala. The lentils are cooked to a soft consistency and are then blended with a coconut paste and tempered with spices. It’s often served with rice and ghee, which complements the subtle flavors of the dish beautifully.
Pachadi & Kichadi
These are yogurt-based side dishes. Pachadi has a sweet undertone, made with pineapple or pumpkin. Kichadi, on the other hand, is cook with vegetables like cucumber or bitter gourd, and it’s tangy and spicy.
Prepared with yam and raw bananas, simmered in yogurt and flavored with coconut and black pepper. It’s a thick yogurt-base curry with raw banana (plantains) and yam (elephant foot), seasoned with pepper and flavored with ground coconut. The unique combination of sourness from the yogurt, the slight sweetness of the plantains, and the earthy flavors of the yam makes this dish stand out.
A dish with roasted coconut, chickpeas, yam, and banana. It has a sweet and spicy taste. It’s a semi-dry preparation that combines vegetables (typically yam and raw banana) and legumes (like black chickpeas or Bengal gram) with a spiced coconut mixture. The dish gets a unique flavor from roasted coconut, which gives it a nutty aroma and a deep richness.
A curry made from pumpkin and cowpeas, roasted in coconut and spiced with black pepper. Erissery is a classic Kerala dish that combines vegetables with legumes or beans, and is flavor with a spiced coconut paste. It’s a staple in the Onam sadya and ends up with various vegetables, though pumpkin and raw bananas are the most popular choices. The dish is ends up with a coconut oil temper with roasted coconut, giving it a rich and nutty aroma.
The rich combination of pumpkin and coconut, heightened by the nutty flavor from the roasted coconut tempering, makes Erissery a much-loved dish in Kerala cuisine. Whether as a part of a festive feast or a regular meal, Erissery offers a delightful taste of the region’s culinary heritage.
Prathaman & Payasam
These are dessert soups. Prathamans are originate with coconut milk and sweetening agents like jaggery or sugar, along with ingredients like jackfruit, banana, or even pulses. Payasam is making with vermicelli, rice, or lentils and is sweeten with jaggery or sugar, flavor with cardamom, and garnish with ghee-roasted cashews and raisins.
Lastly Palada Pradhaman is a creamy, rich dessert from Kerala, often prepared during special occasions and festivals like Onam. It is essentially a rice flake (ada) pudding made with milk, sweetened with sugar or jaggery, and flavored with cardamom.
When enjoying Onasadya, it’s traditional to serve the meal on a banana leaf, starting from the top-left and working your way down. Each dish has a designate place on the leaf, and the order in which it’s serve is also significant. Onam celebrates not only the grandeur of King Mahabali but also the diversity and richness of Kerala’s culinary traditions. For a traveler, this feast is an experience for all the senses. Enjoy!
The order of serving and eating the dishes in a Sadya is a tradition in itself. Typically, the meal begins with rice served with parippu curry and ghee, followed by sambar and then the other side dishes. Rasam is often served as a palate cleanser before moving on to desserts.