My first real introduction to Onam happened last year, when I dressed up in a borrowed Kasavu saree, plain white with a pretty golden border and prepared to go to my Keralite friend’s house for a Sadhya. I didn’t know what to expect. All I was told to bring with me was a massive appetite. As I seated myself on the floor behind a wide, green banana leaf, which had only a few sprinklings of banana chips and pickle. Then my friend’s ammuma (grandmother) began to heap a variety of unfamiliar looking dishes onto my plate: names like kaalan, avial, thoran and kootukarri were uttered as the physical versions of them heaped up along the sides of my leaf. Then, a giant mound of rice, a dollop of ghee, and a curdle of sambhar later, I was ready to dig into the veritable feast. Oh, and let’s not forget the binding crunch to it all–the poppadums!
Sensing my confusion and curiosity, her grandmother took me on an Onam culinary trail explaining what each dish was, followed by the tradition of Onam and the relevance of Onam Sadhya. I was told that Onam is celebrated to welcome and honour the beloved demon king Mahabali’s visit. Observed during the Chingam, the first month of the Malayalam solar calendar; it also marks the beginning of the summer harvest. Food is an important part of the festivity and Sadhya, which means ‘banquet’ in Malayalam is a grand Onam feast comprising of many vegetarian items served traditionally on a banana leaf.
As I indulged into the elaborate thali, enjoying the the coconut flavoured-theme, I knew that this is a food tradition I would want to savour every year. Perhaps I would not be able to visit my friend’s house again but there are a number of restaurants in Mumbai and Delhi that do a perfectly fine job of presenting Kerala on a platter. Here is a curated list of the absolute best places to head to for a splendid Onam Sadhya.
I. Hotel Deluxe, Mumbai
Where : Fort
This tiny, nondescript place in the business area of fort has been serving a delectable Onam Feast since the last 22 years. Serving the best quality Onam meal, their Onam Sadhya this year includes a whopping spread of 30 vegetarian dishes including some eclectic Sambhar, Elliseri (a piquant pumpkin and red bean gravy), Pulliseri, Aviyal, Kootu Curry (Raw bananas and black chana with grated coconut made into a dry curry), Kalan (A dish made with yogurt, yam or raw banana), Olan (coconut milk drizzled with ash gourd and red beans), Pineapple Pachadi, Cucumber pachadi, Masala Curry, Dal, Ghee, Rasam, two kinds of payasam, Papadam (small and big), Thoran, Banana Chips, pickles among others, served on a banana leaf. Finding a spot here is difficult as people from all over the city line up to taste their lip-smacking Malyali delicacies. Deluxe will be serving a grand Onam Sadhya on September 4, 12 pm onwards. Booking is recommended. However if you miss out on their feast this Onam, do not worry as the place serves a scaled down version of the Sadhya every Sunday.
Cost : Rs. 400+ taxes
II. Taste of Kerala
Taste of Kerala lives up to its name by offering authentic cuisine from God’s own land. This tiny, hole-in-the-wall place is located in a by-lane behind a temple in the business district of Fort. Once you find it, prepare to wait since there’s always a line. Their Sadhya menu (shaped like a banana leaf) includes a delectable and authentic spread of 35 items comprising the parippu, sambar, rasam, pulisseri and others like kaalan, avial, thoran, olan, pachadi, mango pickle, tangy ginger curry and the sour, lip smacking naranga curry (lemon curry.)A Kerala Brahmin cook is specially called from Palakkad to prepare all the 31 items for the Onam feast.End your meal with some sweet and succulent jaggery. The Onam Sadhya feast begins at 11 am on September 4 and goes on till midnight.
Cost: INR 430
III. Kerala House
Where: Vashi, Navi Mumbai
Kerala House is a government guesthouse and is run by Kerala Bhawan. Seating is limited and its popularity is sky-high as it is another stop for a delectable Onam feast. Serving 30 items this year including Aviyal, Kootucurry, Pachadi, Kichadi (Spicy yogurt served with your choice of vegetable) and unlimited rice on a banana leaf, Kerala House is known for its authenticity and getting its spices just right. The sugary and the nutty Payasam served at the end is a perfect way to balance the spice and end the grand meal on a sweet note. Kerala House is serving the Onam Sadhya on September 3 and September 4 from 12 pm onwards. The place is open for reservation.
IV. Hotel Sunny
Hotel Sunny in Chembur tends to go unnoticed by many because of its neighbourhood, but you’d be mistaken to skip this eatery if you’re looking for a good, authentic Onam Sadhya. A slightly more upscale restaurant, it is calling its Sadhya ‘a platter full of nostalgia that will make you relive your childhood memories’. Serving 23 exquisite items on a banana leaf, Sunny is known for its flavourful pickles and peppery sambhar that will leave you wanting for more. The seating here is limited. The feast begins on September 4 at 12 pm and goes on till 4 pm. The restaurant does not take any bookings, though it is taking orders for parcels that you can take away.
Cost: 700 for in house dining and 750 for parcel.
Mani’s Lunch Home does Onam in style and fervour. Though their popular outlet in Matunga has shut down, this one is equally amazing. The meal and the ambience of this award-winning restaurant especially on Onam will momentarily transport you to Kerala. Their waiters clad in the traditional mundu serve the most delicious Onam Sadhya in the city. It includes three rice courses, each served with parippu (dal), sambar and rasam with a side papadums, buttermilk, pickle and plantain chips and eclectic gravies such as kaalan, avial, thoran, olan, pachadi. Mani’s Lunch Home is gearing up for its Onam Sadhya for the next Sunday (September 10). Get there real early if you want to enjoy a deliciously authentic Onam Sadhya.
VI. Konkan Cafe
Where: Vivanta by Taj – President, Mumbai.
What better place to savour the flavour of the coast than the restaurant that was established as a tribute to its cuisine. Whet your appetite with an array of dishes such as piquant Rasam, tangy pickles and chutneys, piping hot Sambar, delicious Payaru Thoran, nutritious Avial and sweet, creamy Paal Payasam at their multi-course Onam Sadhya happening on 4th September 2017, 12.30 pm onwards.
Price: Vegetarian Sadhya @ Rs. 1800/- plus taxes
Where: Mayur Vihar, Phase 1
Though this small Kerala restaurant in Mayur Vihar is known for its spicy non-veg, it cooks up a storm for its Onam spread as well. The Sadhya is simple yet elaborate comprising of 21 dishes with an ample helping of the Aviyal, Thoran, Olan, pickles, papad, sambar, dal, rice, payasam, buttermilk and much more served on a banana or plantain leaf. Kerala Cafe is serving the Sadhya all day starting 12 noon on September 4.
Cost : INR 350
Where: Shahpur Jat
A small cozy place in the hep locality, Toddy Shop with its wall photographs from Kerala make you feel closer to the state. Its splendid Onam Sadhya has only 15 items on the plate, but each one is wholesome, cooked authentically and spiced beautifully. The highlight is the divine Semiya Payasam (vermicelli kheer garnished with fried nuts and raisins), to be indulged in at the end of the meal. The Toddy Shop’s Onam Feast is happening all day on September 4, starting 12 pm.
Cost: INR 600
Mahabelly is for the ones with a maha-belly. The restaurant specialises in Malabari and South Indian Cuisine and serves a magnificent Onam Sadhya with 22 items each with a plentiful helping. Banana Chips, Lemon Pickle, Avial, Cabbage Thoran, Pineapple Kichadi, Sambar, Rasam, Mango Pulissery, Pappadam, Ada Pradhaman are on offer, served in a traditional manner on a banana leaf. Among other South Indian Restaurants in the capital, Mahabelly’s popularity is perhaps the highest as they are all booked for September 4. But you can still enjoy a delectable Onam Sadhya for lunch on September 5 and September 6, here.
Where: Sheraton New Delhi Hotel, Saket
If you are looking for a fine-dine experience on Onam, then look no further than Dakshin. Start your Sadhya meal with a refreshing glass of Neer More (butter milk) followed by a spectacular Sadhya thali comprising 18 delicious items complete with authentic dishes like Pachakari Varattiyathe (a sour and spicy curry), Ulli Muringakai and Theeyal (tangy onion and drumstick curry), kai uperi (salted banana chips), parippu thalichathu (Kerala home style lentil curry) and the parippu pradhaman (lentil cooked with coconut, jaggery) among others. Celebrations begin at 12:30 pm and last till 2.45 pm on September 4th. Booking is highly recommended.
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