Onam foods refer to the foods that are specially made for the popular harvest festival Onam, in Kerala, South India. The festival falls in the months of August-September or Chinga masam, according to the Malayalam Calendar. There is a tradition of making a grand feast called ‘onam-sadya’ on the auspicious festival and at least 30-40 Onam dishes are included in the feast. Some of the most popular Onam dishes are parippu curry, thoran, payasam and sambar.
Traditional Onam Recipes and Food Menu
Traditionally, Onam is celebrated for ten days and each day has its own significance. Onam sadhya is usually prepared and served on the 10th day of the festival. Tenth day of the Onam is known as ‘Thiruonam’ and the grand feast served on this day is called ‘Thiruona-sadya’. Onam dishes are served during the feast, which is usually held during the lunch time. Various types of vegetable curries, appetizers, and main dishes are served. Rice dishes are considered an integral part of this traditional Onam food menu.
Pickles, Upperies and Pappadams – They are the first side dishes served during the traditional Onam feast.
The pickles are prepared in less oil and are watery in comparison to their North Indian counterparts. Generally lemon pickle known as naranga curry or mango pickle known as manga curry are served during the feast.
Upperies - It usually refers to the fried vegetables. Normally, quartered banana chips and sharkaravaratii or sweetened banana chips are served as upperies. Sometimes yam chips are also served as upperies. The upperies aid in boosting the digestion power.
Pappadams are the crackers which are served as side dish. In Kerala pappadams are prepared form black gram flour.
Thottu Curries – This is a name for side dish. Many types of vegetable dishes are served as thottu curries. In fact, the major attraction of the Onam food menu lies in the varieties of thottu curries served during the feast. Some of the popular thottu curries include:
Puliyinji – This is a kind of ginger and tamarind chutney, which is prepared by boiling the ginger in tamarind and jaggery sauce.
Kootu curry – A mixed vegetable preparation involving chana dal and various vegetables. The recipe for kootucurry largely varies depending on the taste preferences of the cook or chef.
Kalan - A yogurt based stew, where the raw bananas or yams are cooked in sour yogurt for long time.
Olan – A pumpkin based stew, which is prepared by boiling the pumpkin cubes in coconut milk.
Avial – This is the main feature of all Onam food menus. The avial colloquially means mixed and the name is given to this dish which is prepared by combining various seasonal and regular vegetables. The choice of vegetables that goes in preparation of the dish purely depends on the chef.
Thoran – This dish is prepared by sautéing vegetables with grated coconut.
Choru – This is a name for steamed rice, which forms the core of Onam food menu. It served with two or more accompaniment dishes as follows:
Curries – The choru is consumed in different courses with curries, like Parippu Curry – A lentil stew prepared by plainly boiling the lentils with green chilies.
Sambhar – Thick vegetable gravy prepared using various vegetables and lentils.
Rasam - A sour soup, which is prepared by boiling the tomatoes in tamarind water and its taste, is altered with the addition of spices like asafoetida, pepper, etc.
Payasams and Pradhamans – An Onam feast ends with a pradhaman or payasams. Both are prepared in the same manner but the major difference lies in treatment. The Payasams are prepared with rice or rice based ingredients. The pradhamans and payasams are prepared with or without milk. Sugar and jaggery are used as the sweetening agents.
Some of the popular payasams or pradhamans served during the Onam feast are :
Gothambu Payasam – A wheat pudding, prepared by boiling the wheat in jaggery sauce, and coconut milk.
Parippu Pradhaman - This is a lentil based pudding made by frying and cooking the green lentils with jaggery sauce and coconut milk.
Pazha Pradhaman – It is prepared by cooking the plantains in coconut milk and jaggery sauce.
Palada Payasam – A flaked rice pudding made by boiling the flaked rice in milk. It is usually sweetened with sugar.
Significance of Onam Dishes
Onam dishes are prepared to celebrate the harvest festival of Kerala and also to celebrate the visit of the famous king of Kerala called ‘Mahabali’. There are various stories associated with King Mahabali, but mainly people of Kerala were very happy and led a prosperous life in his reign. Mahabali was relegated to patala loka or lower regions of universe by Vamana an avatara of Vishnu, who acted upon the instructions of Lord Indra. It is believed that at the time of Onam, the King returns to his land, and Malayalees welcome him by arranging a grand Onam feast. The feast includes all the festive Onam recipes in order to offer it to the King. The nine-day long festival also marks the rice harvest in the state. Rice dishes are quite significant in the Onam food as the first crop of rice is specially used to make these dishes.
Modern Onam Recipes and Their Variations
Traditional flavors of Onam dishes have evolved owing to the requirements of modern palates and lifestyles. An example of such Onam recipe is Val Val. It’s a typical dish from Karnataka but was introduced in Onam food menu as a new recipe. More people are experimenting with vegetable payasams discarding the age-old grain or lentil based payasams. Beetroot payasam, carrot payasam are some of the modern additions to Onam food menu.
Modern youth are fond of packed food items rather than the traditional Onam recipes. Traditional Onam recipes are fried and contain lots of sweets hence they are considered unhealthy by the modern diet conscious generation and this is also a reason for the less popularity of Onam dishes at the festival.
Customary Way of Serving Onam Food
Onam food or onam-sadya is traditionally served on the banana leaves. There is also a particular order in which food is served on the plantain leaf. On one side of the leaf, pickle and chutneys are placed. Rice is served in the middle of the leaf and other curries are served one by one in a particular manner beginning from left to right.
Onam-sadya is a feast prepared for the entire family and friends. All members sit on the floor and eat food together.