An Onam sadya at Enté Keralam

Around August / September every year, Kerala and Malayalees all over the world, and their friends, get ready to welcome the festival of Onam. Essentially a festival that could span 4 - 10 days, it celebrates the return of the mythical Asura king, Mahabali to earth and also coincides with the harvest festival. The best time to visit Kerala would be at Onam to watch the vallamkali - snake boat races on the Pampa and other rivers, the elephant procession and fireworks at Trichur and of course, feast on an Onam sadya.

Mahabali, as legend goes, was a popular ruler. The people were very happy under his rule and the land flourished. However, the gods felt threatened by his fame and plotted to bring about his downfall. Lord Vishnu disguised himself as a poor dwarf, Vamana, and asked Mahabali to grant him a small piece of land, an area that could be covered in 3 strides. The king thought it was an unusual request but agreed nevertheless. At this, Vamana grew back into his original size and his first stride covered the whole earth. With the second stride, he covered the sky and Mahabali realised that the only place left for the third step was his own head and he offered it. He was banished to the underworld. Pleased with Mahabali's devotion, Lord Vishnu granted him a boon. All Mahabali asked for was to be able to come back to earth once a year to see his subjects. That day is Thiruvonam, the most auspicious day of the festival when the land welcomes back their much-loved ruler.  


Selfie corner!

We had been invited to the Alwarpet branch of Enté Keralam to review the Onam sadya. A pretty pookalam decorates the floor at the entrance of the restaurant, this flower arrangement is another aspect of the festival. Petals of nine kinds of flowers (the only ones I recognise are hibiscus, lantana and ixora) are laid out in a beautiful pattern.  There is also a selfie corner where you could wear the crown and have a friend hold the umbrella over your head and click a picture.

Nannari sherbet

There is seating on the ground floor but we preferred to go up into one of the rooms on the first. Buttermilk is usually served as a thirst quencher; I opted for a refreshing nannari sherbet since some of the sadya dishes would be made with curd.

From left: karangalli water; mor kachithu; sambar; rasam. On the plate: curd; thoren; avial; erissery; pineapple pachadi; kichadi; olen; kaalan, parippu; pappadam; rice; banana; 4 kinds of chips; injipulli; lime pickle; tender mango pickle; inji thayir & payasams. Pic courtesy: Yogita

The sadya is served on a banana leaf placed on a steel plate. The placement of each item of the sadya is important; the order of eating too is. One starts with the chips and there are 4 types - banana, jackfruit, yam and jaggery-coated banana. Put a dab of the injipuli (a sweet and tangy ginger chutney) on your tongue and that will activate your taste buds. The portions are tiny but when you have 28 items on the plate (some of them are outside the plate), small portions are more than enough.

Mix a little of the nei parippu (lentils seasoned in ghee) with the rice, crush a pappadam over and munch on. A second serving of rice, sambar  and kaalan is next. The kalaan, a mash of raw banana, yam and curd, is slightly bitter because of the fenugreek powder added at the end. The olen, made with ash gourd and black-eyed peas, has the lovely flavour of coconut oil and is a palate cleanser.

Rasam; mor kachiathu; sambar

The meal has been curated by Thirumeni Unnikrishnan Namboodri, a chef and practitioner of Ayurvedic medicine. He is also a temple priest. Chatting with Chef Jayaprakash of the restaurant, he told me that this type of cooking is Trichur-style and in accordance with the principles of Ayurvedic cooking, no onion or garlic is used in any of the food. The vegetables used and method of cooking does not leave the diner feeling stuffed at the end of the meal.

All the ingredients used in cooking the sadya are brought in from Kerala. Both the cabbage thoren and erissery are quite different from what we south Kerala folk make. Even the avial is a dry preparation, no curd is used in making the gravy. The pineapple pachadi and kichadi are deliciously tangy, the latter has diced Kerala cucumber for a bit of texture. The pickles - lime, citron, whole baby mangoes and ginger-in-curd, enhance the flavour of the meal, a beautiful balance of the five tastes. The thick-set curd the restaurant serves is definitely not to be missed.

From bottom left: wheat, ada prathamam, parippu & nei payasam

Four kinds of payasams are served to round off the meal. We're told to start with the light ones first but somewhere along the way, we forgot those instructions. The restaurant makes its own ada (steamed rice sheet) and they are so beautifully made and cut evenly. The best was nei payasam, cooked with dark jaggery and it glides down the throat effortlessly.

Enté Keralam will serve the special lunch sadya only till September 5th. There will be more items on the menu, including their special payasam. The cost of the sadya is priced at 799/- per head (all inclusive). Or you could also buy just the payasams if you like.

Enté Keralam is at 1, Kasturi Estate 1st Street Poes Garden, Chennai. The other 2 branches are at Wallace Garden, Nungambakkam and Annanagar.
Call 7810044874 for reservations and that's highly recommended.

Onasamsakal to everyone!


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