Chennai: It's a double feast for guests at the Ente Keralam chain of restaurants here - one for the belly and the other for the eyes.
With the Onam festival beginning Saturday Ente Keralam has brought Ottamthullal dancer Pahuvil Gopinath as an added attraction along with the chef-cum-priest-ayurvedic doctor Unnikrishnan Namboodiri from Kerala to craft the lavish Onam sadya (feast).
While the dance is fast-paced the food is Sattvic - without garlic, onion and meat - and light on the stomach.
"We decided to have the Ottamthullal dance as additional fare," Aji Joseph, corporate chef at Oriental Cuisines Pvt Ltd, told IANS.
Oriental Cuisines owns the Ente Keralam chain of restaurants at MRC Nagar, Poes Garden and Anna Nagar West.
It is certainly surprising to note the Ottamthullal dancer and singer Gopinath is 64 years young! His looks and lively dancing belie this!
"This is more of a dance for the common man. It cannot be termed as a folk dance. It is performed in Kerala temples," Gopinath told IANS.
The unique aspect of Ottamthullal is that the dancer does the singing and 'dramatises' the dance. Another person recites the same verses at a lower tone.
"The schools in Kerala hold Ottamthullal dance programmes and many students are learning the art. It is not a dying art," Gopinath added.
Onam is Kerala's harvest festival and is also celebrated to welcome the famed king Mahabali from the Pathala - the nether world. According to legend, he is said to visit his subjects on that day. His rule is said to have been Kerala's golden period.
The Onam festival falls in the month of Chingam in the Malayalam calendar.
An important part of the Onam celebrations is the feast called Onam sadya where up to 26 dishes are served on a banana leaf and are to be consumed with the hands while sitting on the floor cross-legged.
The outlet maintains the tradition by serving an elaborate lunch on a plate shaped like a plantain leaf, with another banana leaf cut to the plate size and placed inside.
According to Jaya Prasad, brand chef, Ente Keralam, the Onam sadya began Aug 29 and will be on till Sep 8.
The first items to be tasted are the chips and then the tangy injippuli (a thin paste made of tamarind, ginger, green chilli and jaggery), said Namboodiri.
It is followed with neiparuppu rice (steamed rice with boilded lentils mixed with ghee), sambar rice, rasam rice and kaalan rice (a curd-based curry plus rice) with accompaniments like aviyal, pacchadi, thoran, olan and pickles.
The Rs.495 spread then turns lavish with Namboodiri offering four kinds of payasams/pradhamans for dessert.
The two hotels belonging to the Taj group also offers Onam sadya at their restaurants.
The Southern Spice restaurant at Taj Coromandel and the Buzz all-day restaurant at The Gateway Hotel IT Expressway Chennai have announced their plans to offer the Onam.