Onam, the harvest festival of Kerala, is here and it’s time for Malayali’s pride—the mouth-watering sadya, the Kerala banquet. Trends in Onasadya have been undergoing changes as people have shifted to a more health conscious diet, of course, owing to the ever increasing rate of lifestyle diseases in God’s own country. This could be reflected in the way side dishes are consumed in sadya. Side dishes like Puli inji, which is traditionally served in low quantity, is being demanded more in sadya as ginger is well known for its medicinal value as a solution to the symptoms of gastrointestinal distress.
Preparations for Onasadya have already been in full swing in many places of the state. Onam will arrive early this time and the ground works for sadya are underway. The well-known cooks of Kottayam have received sadya orders for more than 50,000 persons until now. The celebrations of Onam commence from the first day of Chingam in most places and that include offices and schools across the state.
Another remarkable piece of information about the ongoing trend in Onasadya is the decrease in the consumption of rice. Earlier, 10 kg rice was not sufficient for 40 people in a sadya. However, nowadays, it is more than enough for satisfying the appetite of about 110 people. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to state that the new generation mantra of eating ‘less rice and more curries’, which is supported by doctors as well, has brought about a little trouble for the catering units.
Earlier, Onasadya used to be a four course feast along with a payasam (kheer). The main dishes used to be kalan, olan, elissery and inji curry (puli inji) and if necessary, a thoran or a mezhukkupuratti. Everything is perfect if payasam gets added to this. But of late, the consumption of payasam has seen a steady decline, obviously, with the increasing number of diabetic patients in Kerala. According to the catering units, the earlier rate of 250 millilitres of payasam per person has been considerably diminished to 75 millilitres now. Except those who consider it as an opportunity to free themselves from the heavy restrictions of family members on sugar consumption, all the others (with diabetics) choose not to have payasam while enjoying the sadya.
Apparently there is an increase in the number of dishes incorporated in the Sadya also. As people prefer to have more vegetables these days, the number of dishes have reached up to twenty six and sometimes, more than that. The most demanded items are aviyal, pachadi and madhurakkari (sweet dish). Subsequently, according to the culinary experts, even if delivered accurately based on the number of people, these items are never adequate for a sadya. This season, the rate of sadya, which includes around twenty dishes and two different flavoured payasams, comes up to Rs 110-120, while orders with three different payasams could be up to Rs 125 per person.
Generally there are variations in the range of the orders for Onasadya too. It could be either an order for 10 persons from a Village Office or a comparatively larger one for 800-1000 people from the Medical College, which comprises the superintendent, doctors, nurses, students and other staff and sometimes the list includes patients as well. They take extra care while delivering to offices as the order could even be from the District Police Headquarters.
The banana leaves for sadya arrive from Theni. Paper banana leaf used to be considered as an alternative for the natural one till recently. But, evidently, people are not very fond of the artificial paper banana leaf at the moment. According to Pazhayidam Mohanan Namboothiri, a veteran in sadya catering, people insist on having the natural banana leaf while giving the order itself. “We don’t purchase any ready-made items for the sadya from outside, and that include banana chips and jaggery chips. “Everything is prepared here and we need at least fifty helpers on a regular basis to handle the business”, says Shankar Swami, a famous culinary expert from Kottayam, who is running a catering unit of his own.
Kannan, of KNB Catering Unit, Ettumanoor, says “Being punctual is very important in this business and for that we are looking for more persons who could deliver the orders on time”.
Appetite differs from person to person and the one who serves the food should have an ability to sense the need of the person sitting in front of him/her. The timing also matters in this regard. Food prepared for 100 people shall be served to almost 115 to 120 people, if the sadya is served during 11.00 to 12.00. If it gets a bit late and goes up to the time range of 12.00 to 1.00, then the number would be around 110 persons. Nevertheless, if the clock ticks 1.00 and the lunch time prolongs up to 1.30, not a single person other than the expected 100 people would be able to have it, as appetite can be on its peak during this time span.