Onam revelry is complete only after slurping up the last drop of payasam that rolled down the side of your hand. That, followed by the ever comforting burp and voila, what a way to celebrate Onam! Nothing compares to the quintessential Onam banquet and what makes it even more special is how the sadya is treated differently in different parts of Kerala. From elaborate dishes towards the south of Kerala, to the simple sadya with non-vegetarian dishes to the north of Kerala, the traditional sadya has undergone quite a change over the years.
Yadu Pazhayidom, son of master chef Pazhayidom Mohanan Namboothiri, takes us through the prefered styles of sadya in various parts of the state.
“Sadya is something that Malayalis love to enjoy at any time of the year. The beauty of it is that sadya is not just one item. It is a group of dishes or rather a combination of tastes that is savoured straight from a plantain leaf and the best part is that sadya has its own unique styles in each district. Kottayam, Alappuzha, Cherthala and Ernakulam regions follow what is called the Madhya Thiruvithamkoor style sadya. Towards Palakkad and Thrissur side, it is the Vadakan style and towards Attingal, Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram side, sadya has a whole different set of traditional items, that are special to these regions. For example, the vegetable stew or the masala curry is a common and must-have dish when serving sadya in Thiruvananthapuram. When we take particular dishes served in sadya, the Pachadi has its own forms in different parts. Most caterers follow the style that my father follows when it comes to Pachadi, which is the much loved Pineapple Pachadi. At the same time, in Palakkadan sadya, the Pineapple Pachadi has a lot of water in it, unlike the thick jam-like one served in other regions. Olan is a bland dish. Its objective is to enhance the taste of other dishes and this is sole reason Olan is included in the sadya. In the ‘Madhya Thiruvithamkoor style’ we add a lot of coconut milk while preparing Olan. However, in the Palakkadan style, coconut milk is absent from the dish. This is the essence of sadya, the taste differs with the region, people prefer it that way. The major difference is in the number of currys served in these areas. Kottayam and downwards we must serve minimum 18 and it can go upto 25 dishes. At the same time, towards Palakkad the number comes down to 15 or 16 maximum. Dishes like Erissery or Koottu curry are not served most of the time,” he says.
Sadya has plenty of ‘new gen’ additions to it. Yadu explains Chilli Paneer, Paneer Dry Fry and Gobi Manchurian is also served with sadya towards the south of Kerala. Sometimes, Chapati and Dal Curry is served before the actual sadya. Even soups are served these days. It is also a common practice to include non-vegetarian dishes with sadya during festivities in the Malabar region.” Now comes the payasam. “Malayalees have a special liking for Paal Payasam, whether it is Palada, Paal Payasam or even Semiya. Even among these, Palada always has first preference. The next option is Ada Pradhaman or Pazham Pradhaman.”