The people of Kerala are getting ready to celebrate Onam, also called Thiru-Onam or Thiruvonam, the most important festival of the state, with all the zeal and excitement they can muster. Onam is a harvest event that marks the legend of King Mahabali/Maveli coming back to the state. And one of the most crucial aspects of this festival is Onam food. Onam food is a significant and delightful aspect of Kerala’s cultural heritage, with joyous festivities, floral decorations, cultural performances, and, of course, sumptuous feasting. Let’s take a look at this joyous festival, its significance, traditions and the Onam festival food.
A Brief Overview of the Onam festival and its significance
This festival falls during the month of Chingam, which corresponds to the period between August and September, as per the Malayali calendar. Additionally, it signifies the commencement of the Malayalam calendar year, known as Kolla Varsham. The event spans a duration of ten days, with each day carrying considerable significance.
People refer to the initial day of the festival as Atham, followed by Chithira, Chodi, Vishakam, Anizham, Thriketta, Moolam, Pooradam, Uthradom, and Thiruvonam. Thiruvonam, the final day of the festivities, is commonly recognised as an exceptionally propitious day.
The celebrations of Onam are scheduled to commence on the 20th of August, 2023, and will culminate on the 31st of August, 2023. Onam is a festival of significant cultural, historical, and religious value, widely celebrated by individuals from all origins and groups within the region.
Legend and Mythology
The legendary King Mahabali is associated with Onam, a ruler known for his benevolence and just rule. Mythology states that Mahabali received a boon that permitted him to visit his kingdom and people once a year. People believe that King Mahabali returns to Kerala during Onam to ensure the well-being and happiness of his subjects.
Celebrations and Traditions
Pookalam (Flower Rangoli)
One of the most striking aspects of Onam celebrations is the intricate flower rangolis, “Pookalams.” People make colourful and elaborate designs using various types of flowers in front of their homes to welcome King Mahabali.
Vallamkali (Boat Races)
Traditional boat races known as “vallamkali” are a significant part of Onam festivities. People hold spectacular boat races on Kerala’s rivers, especially the famous Nehru Trophy Boat Race in Alappuzha.
The grand vegetarian feast, known as “onam sadya,” is a central element of the festival. People serve it on banana leaves and include a variety of dishes, both sweet and savoury, showcasing the rich culinary heritage of Kerala.
Pulikali and Kathakali
During Onam, people perform colourful street performances like “pulikali” (tiger dance) and traditional art forms like “kathakali” (classical dance-drama), which add to the festive spirit.
The festival symbolises the return of the virtuous King Mahabali to Kerala. His reign is considered a period of prosperity and equality, and his annual visit is welcomed with joy and reverence.
A glimpse into the cultural importance of Onam in Kerala
Onam Sadhya is a traditional and elaborate feast that is an integral part of the Onam festival celebrated in the southern Indian state of Kerala. It holds great cultural, social, and historical significance for the people of Kerala. Here are some of the key aspects that highlight the significance of Onam Sadhya:
Onam Sadhya is a cultural tradition that has been passed down through generations in Kerala. It showcases the rich culinary heritage and flavours of the region. The preparation and consumption of Sadhya is a way of preserving and celebrating Kerala’s unique food culture.
Harvest Festival Celebration
Onam is primarily a harvest festival, and the Sadhya is a way to celebrate the bountiful harvest season. The feast is prepared using a variety of locally grown ingredients, emphasising the importance of agriculture and farming in the state.
Unity and Togetherness
Onam Sadhya brings people together. It is often served on banana leaves and eaten while sitting on the floor, promoting a sense of unity, equality, and togetherness. People from all walks of life come together to partake in the feast, irrespective of social or economic differences.
Onam is also associated with certain mythological and religious beliefs. It is believed to be the annual visit of the legendary King Mahabali, who is believed to have ruled Kerala in ancient times.
Inclusivity and Hospitality
Onam Sadhya is known for its inclusivity and hospitality. It is customary to invite guests, neighbours, and even strangers to partake in the feast. This practice reflects the warm and welcoming nature of Keralites and encourages a sense of community bonding.
Significance of traditional Onam Sadhya
Onam Sadhya/Onam food showcases the culinary diversity of Kerala. It typically consists of a wide variety of vegetarian dishes, each prepared with unique flavours and ingredients. From spicy curries to tangy chutneys, crispy snacks to sweet desserts, the Sadhya offers a taste of the diverse flavours that Kerala cuisine has to offer.
Seasonal and Local Ingredients
The dishes for Onam Sadhya are often made using seasonal and locally sourced ingredients. This not only highlights the importance of sustainability and eating locally but also connects the feast to the natural rhythms of the region.
Family and Community Bonding
The preparation of Onam Sadhya often involves the entire family or community coming together to cook and serve the feast. This fosters a sense of bonding, cooperation, and shared responsibility among family members and neighbours.
Cultural Identity and Pride
Onam Sadhya is a source of cultural identity and pride for Keralites. It is a time when people dress in traditional attire, decorate their homes with floral arrangements, and engage in various cultural activities. The Sadhya serves as a reminder of their roots and cultural heritage.
Onam Sadhya also has economic significance as it boosts local businesses, especially those involved in agriculture, food production, and catering. The demand for ingredients, cooking equipment, and dining arrangements increases during the festival.
Onam Food: A Culinary Journey
Onam special food is a feast for the senses, featuring a wide variety of flavours, textures, and aromas that reflect the rich agricultural bounty of the region. People serve a grand vegetarian spread of numerous dishes, called “Onasadya,” during a traditional Onam feast, on a banana leaf. The Onasadya is a symbol of unity, inclusiveness, and abundance, and it showcases the culinary heritage of Kerala. The key elements of Onam food include:
Kerala is known as the “Land of Spices,” and rice is a staple in its cuisine. A variety of rice dishes are central to Onam feasting, including boiled rice (parboiled rice) or the fragrant “matta rice.”
Sambar and Rasam
These are traditional South Indian lentil-based soups with varying degrees of spiciness. Sambar is usually a mix of lentils, vegetables, and a tangy tamarind-based broth, while rasam is a lighter soup with a more pronounced tamarind flavour.
A delicious mixed vegetable dish cooked with grated coconut and yoghurt. It’s a creamy and flavorful preparation that balances the flavours of different vegetables.
This dish uses pumpkin, fried shallots, ground coconut, and fried coconut to create a rich and flavorful taste.
Thorans and Mezhukkupuratti
People make Thorans by mixing grated coconut with dry vegetable stir-fries, while they sauté vegetables like raw banana, yam, or beans with spices for Mezhukkupuratti.
A mild curry made with white pumpkin, cowpeas, and coconut milk. It’s known for its simple and delicate flavours.
A yoghurt-based curry made with vegetables like yam, plantains, or raw bananas and flavoured with roasted coconut and spices.
A sweet and sour side dish made with yoghurt and a main ingredient like cucumber, pineapple, or beetroot. It’s often tempered with mustard seeds and curry leaves.
A yoghurt-based curry with a hint of tanginess, typically made with ripe mangoes or ripe plantains.
Condiments and Desserts of Onam special food items
Pappadam and Banana Chips
These crispy snacks add crunch and texture to the meal.
Pickles and Chutneys
Spicy and tangy accompaniments like ginger pickle, mango pickle, and coconut chutney complement the flavours of the main dishes.
People typically serve the meal on a clean, fresh banana leaf, which not only imparts a subtle aroma but also holds cultural significance.
Paal Payasam, sometimes referred to as Unakkalari in the Malayalam language, is a profoundly spiritual culinary creation. The subtle pink tint emanating from the slow-cooked red rice, along with the understated garnish, renders it an ideal ending to a remarkable culinary assortment.
Ada Pradhaman is a conventional dessert from Kerala, India, which uses ingredients such as jaggery, coconut milk, and rice ada, also known as rice flakes. The rice batter fragments are immersed in a dense mixture of jaggery, coconut, and cardamom.
Onam food is a reflection of the agrarian lifestyle and the close relationship Keralites have with nature. The use of local produce, aromatic spices, and traditional cooking techniques enhances the unique flavours of the dishes. Through its diverse flavours and cultural importance, Onam food items celebrate the spirit of togetherness, generosity, and gratitude for the harvest season.
IRCTC eCatering’s Onam Food Menu
The Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) has taken a wonderful turn by delivering a menu that reflects the essence of regional and local food, festivals and occasions, allowing travellers to enjoy the traditional flavours even when on the go.
The IRCTC’s Onam menu features a variety of traditional delicacies that are emblematic of the spirit of the celebration and serve as a tribute to Kerala’s rich culinary history. Passengers can look forward to relishing dishes like fragrant coconut rice, Thoran, Adi Avial, tangy Rasam, Moru Curry, Buttermilk, Papad, Payasam and many more. The inclusion of these authentic flavours ensures that travellers get a taste of Onam Sadya’s magnificence, all within the confines of a train journey.
Navigating the Onam eCatering Experience
You can experience the flavours of Onam with eCatering by visiting the website at https://www.ecatering.irctc.co.in/ or downloading the Food on Track app from Play Store or the App Store. Alternatively, you can also call and place your order with customer care at 1323.
Once you open the website or app, you can enter your confirmed PNR number to order the Onam food you desire. Subsequently, proceed to select the desired food delivery destination from the provided list of stations along your designated route. Once you have got that, you can select from the choice of vendors and the menu options available. Confirm your order by selecting Pay on Delivery or making an online payment. Sit back and relax while your Onam food is delivered to your seat at the station of your choice.
In essence, Onam is more than just a harvest festival and Onam food is much more than just a meal; it is a celebration of tradition, culture, unity, and a reflection of the values and beliefs of the people of Kerala. It brings people together, promotes harmony, and honours the land’s fertility and bounty. So, whether you’re a passenger embarking on a long train journey on Onam or someone wanting to try the flavours of Onam food on train, the flavours of Onam are now more accessible than ever before via eCatering!
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