Vishu food refers the dishes that are prepared on the Malayalam New Year day called Vishu. Vishu is celebrated in the months of March and April in Kerala, a South Indian state. In all Keralite households, all the members of family worship Lord Krishna and pray for prosperity in the coming year. Vishu food normally consists of sweet, savory and bitter dishes. A grand feast is arranged for the family members and guests.
Traditional Vishu Foods
The traditional vishu menu reflects the food culture of Kerala and the grand feast is called ‘sadya’. Coconut, rice and milk are used in abundancein vishu recipes. Turmeric is widely used for coloring the food yellow,which is considered an auspicious color by most Indian households. Cardamom is used to flavor to the traditional dishes.
A special neem preparation called Veppampoorasam is quite popular in Kerala at the time of vishu. It is a very bitter dish but commonly served in vishu food. Another preparation called Mampazhapachadi is a sour dish and it is fondly eaten as a mango soup. Bitter gourd theeyal, olan and avial are some of the most popular savory vishu recipes. Sweet dishes are also an integral part of vishu food; adapradhaman is a very popular vishu sweet dish. Other sweet vishu recipes include rice kheer and payasam.
Significance of Vishu Dishes
The main tradition of vishu is to see ‘vishukani’. ‘Kani’ means the ‘first seen’. The tradition involves the ritual of decorating a copper urn with an idol of Lord Krishna which is placed on a base of raw rice, betel leaves, Kanikonna ( cassia fistulia flowers), golden colored cucumber,arecanut, coins, cocunut and metal mirror. It is a custom that the lady should sleep in the room where ‘vishukani’ is kept so that she gets up early in the morning and lights the Nilavillakku( traditional lamp) at the place of worship and wakes up all the members of the family and takes them to the worship room one by one by blind folding them with her hands so that they should see the ‘vishukani’ as the first thing in the New Year. The significance of this ritual is associated with the fact that ‘vishukani’ brings good luck and prosperity in the family. The grand vishu feast is then prepared with the ingredients placed in the ‘vishukani’ . The vishu dishes are also prepared as an offering to the god as ‘bhog’, and all dishes are specially prepared by the eldest lady of the house who is helped by other ladies.
Bitter dishes, made up of gourd are prepared on vishu, because bitter gourd is available in abundance in those months when vishu is celebrated. Jackfruit dishes along with mango and pumpkin dishes are also significant vishu dishes.
In modern times, Vishu dishes are prepared according to the availability of vegetables and fruits. Bitter gourd, cucumber and jackfruit are no longer considered as the necessary ingredients for making vishu dishes. Even few western recipes are now a part of vishu food.
Customary Way of Serving Vishu Food
Vishu food or vishu sadya is traditionally served as a family meal. It is mainly a vegetarian feast. The vishu dishes are prepared by the ladies of the house and served in typical Keralite style on banana leaves. There is a particular order in which all vishu dishes are served to the guests and family members. It is the time when whole family gathers to have food at one place. Everyone shares his/her good and bad experiences in the last year and prays to god for good luck, peace and prosperity in coming year.
At vishu meal, all family members wear new clothes and children get rewards in the form of money, called ‘vishukaineetam’.