The Joy of Celebrating Onam

The Joy of Celebrating Onam

Technically, I should title this post ‘The Joy of celebrating Indian Festivals’, but there’s something extra special about Onam, so let’s go with this.

Onam, the harvest festival of Kerala, is one of the earliest festivals I started celebrating after I married into a Palakkad Iyer family. The fact that the festival revolves around food and family was enough to make me fall in love with it.


One of the best things about Onam is the Pookalam or the flower carpet that we make every year.

For the last two years my teen has taken it upon herself to execute it down to the last detail.

Pookalam 2020

Over the years, in terms of colour and design, we’ve tried our hand at so many patterns. I still feel there’s a lot more we can do and it’s my intention to study this art a bit better before 2021.

Onam Sadya

Every year, on Onam, it is with some joy that I plan the Sadya menu, tweaking it, adding items and modifying others to suit our palate.

I started off really small way back in 2001 and over the years, the confidence to make the items grew along with the size of the menu itself.

There were, of course, years when I was ill or wasn’t up to making it, but on the whole, the experience of making the Sadya is something I cherished and looked forward to, without fail.

Sadya 2020: Paal payasam, Elai adai, Avial, Olan, potato mezhukkuperatti, Beans thoran, manga curry, puli inji, paruppu vadai, papadam, vendakkai thayir pachadi, rasam,rice and curd

This year’s Sadya started with red rice Paal Payasam or milk kheer. It truly comes into its own when it’s allowed to slow cook over the stove and generate that layer of cream on top.

The other item I make every year is Elai Adai: a jackfruit preserve coated with coconut and then folded into a rice batter, steamed in a banana leaf. Just typing that out is making me want to eat it again.

Then came Olan. This is such a simple dish that you’d be amazed at the intricate burst of flavours when it actually has only 2 or 3 ingredients. I’ve talked before on the blog about how Olan was among the earliest dishes I learnt from my husband’s grandmother.

Aviyal, vegetables cooked and mixed with yoghurt and coconut gravy,  is again a delightful dish and making it is so simple you’d be surprised.

The parruppu vadai is super delicious. This time, when the batter becoming slightly more watery than I’d anticipated, I made a quick fix by adding rice flour. That actually helped make the vadai crispy. Who knew? Serendipity and its role in the kitchen!

The bhindi pachadi is again a slight innovation on my part but it’s always a super hit.

The potato fry and beans thoran are pretty standard, everyday fare but there’s one trick I learnt about Sadya prep.

Where possible, cut as many of the vegetables the night before. 

Similarly, prepare batter or dough and store it in the refrigerator. Make the poornam/filling for the elai adai a day in advance.

This saves you tons of time on the festival day and allows you to enjoy the entire cooking process. 

I’m rather particular that I try and make as many items on my own as possible. In fact, when my mother or mother-in-law visit, I rarely let them cook. Both of them aren’t very happy about it,  but are secretly thrilled with the idea 😉

Another wonderful thing I learnt this year was the significance of the Sadya meal, the way it’s laid out and the alkaline and acidic balance of the different dishes.

You know that bloated feeling you get after having a heavy meal?

You never get that after eating a Sadya. There’s a beautiful balance in the dishes that keeps you sated without feeling like you’ve overdone it.

Of course, no sadya is complete without the post-lunch nap. Sleep without guilt. It’s once a year. You deserve it 🙂

Why I love Sadya

To be fair, I must admit being extremely overwhelmed the first few times that I tried my hand at making the Sadya.

From learning the names of the items to procuring the ingredients to actually making the recipes, it seemed like a mammoth task.

Remember, I’m not originally from Kerala or Palakkad, so even pronouncing some of the the names was a bit tough to begin with.

But if 19 years of making the Onam sadya have taught me anything it’s that everything comes together pretty nicely when you do things with interest and love.

This year, thanks to the lockdown I poured whole lot of heart into learning some items before hand, instead of the night before the festival.

The Aviyal, for instance, was something I learnt from my mother-in-law a few weeks ago. Her simple and faultless recipe earned me the accolades of my strictest critic and master chef, my husband.

Watching my daughter diligently serve everything and take pride in the banana leaf meal was a joy that I cannot quite describe in words.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from our festivals and Onam, in particular, is that ultimately it comes down to home, hearth and harmony. A festival is so much more than a ritual.

It’s the way we strengthen our ties, build familial bonds and most important, create memories that will last a lifetime.