Onam Special: This Mom Reminisces About Her Childhood Memories

Onam is the harvest festival in Kerala. This mom reminisces about her childhood memories and how she still enjoys it even now!

Onam Nostalgia post alert.

When I was a little girl people were always confused about our origins. I was growing up in Saudi Arabia, my parents were originally from a place called Palakkad in Kerala and we spoke Tamil at home. Needless to say, there was no dearth of confusion. My Tamil friends mocked my language because there were Malayalam words they didn’t understand and my Malayali compadres refused to take me into their inner mundu circle because we were just not Mallu enough!

That for a simpering, diffident girl in pigtails was tough enough! So my sister and I secretly decided English was our language of choice. But every Chingam (month on the Malayalam calendar that corresponds to August-September) we would cast aside our Tamil/Malayalam differences and wait with open hearts (and stomachs) for the Onam Sadya.

What Is Onam Sadya?

For the uninitiated, the Onam Sadya is a meal eaten on a banana leaf to mark the festival of Onam. Onam or the harvest festival of Kerala also marks the return of the mythical king Mahabali to his home state. Legend has it that after King Mahabali was banished to the nether world by Vamana (Vishnu’s fifth avatar) he was allowed to return once every year to greet his subjects. This homecoming is celebrated as Onam. Across the state, Onam is celebrated irrespective of region, religion or caste.


Image courtesy: www.bookmyconsult.com

Onam Sadya is lunch with over 25 dishes served on a banana leaf. Every Onam my sister and I would wake up early and start helping with preps. We would be allowed to de-stem curry leaves, peel drumsticks, wash the banana leaves and if we were really lucky, even stir the payasam. A typical Onam Sadya at home would have the following dishes: If you are looking for:

Recipes For Onam Sadya, Here They Are!

  • Avial: A delectable mix of vegetables stewed in a coconut-based gravy
  • Pumpkin Erussery: A mixture which is made to be eaten as an accompaniment with avial and kaalan. Slightly sour, infinitely satisfying!
  • Kaalan: Made with one root vegetable and stewed in yoghurt and coconut
  • Olan: Made with ash gourd and black-eyed beans and stewed in coconut milk
  • Kichadi: Made with okra or cucumber in raw or shredded form and mixed with yoghurt
  • Pachadi: An accompaniment made with mango, jackfruit, pineapple or these days even grapes! It is slightly sweet, sour and spicy as it has a mixture of chillis and mustard added to it.
  • Rice
  • Sambar
  • Rasam
  • Thoran: A dry vegetable preparation garnished with coconut
  • Pappadam: not the ordinary flat kind but the beautiful, light as a feather fluffy, poofy kind.
  • Kondattam: Sago based fryums
  • Banana chips
  • Sarkara Upperi – Twice fried, delectable jackfruit chips
  • Pickles
  • Pulinji: A tamarind based relish that is not just the perfect accompaniment but also aids in digestion
  • Paruppu: or plain dal
  • And the best part of the meal: two different payasam! 

Is Onam Sadya Just About Food?

An Onam Sadya is never just about the food. It is about the entire ceremony of people sitting down to eat on a banana leaf, making sure the leaf points in the right direction, serving every single item on the menu in their proper, designated spot, and then making sure not a single drop of delicious liquid spills out of the leaf as you sit down to eat with your hands.

My sister and I would wear cream pavadais (long skirts) with a red or blue border and tie our hair in braids and pigtails and my mom would insist on us wearing jasmine in our hair. We would hate it but would give in because it was Onam. Then we would eat and take a nap. A long, refreshing one. Years later I would realise the American Thanksgiving meal and nap was similar to the Onam experience.

Cut to the present and I am raising two boys and trying hard for them to like Onam. Every year we make a meeker, muter version of Onam. My older one is at a stage where he hates all vegetables, so he picks at the gravy but last year he loved the ceremony of eating on a banana leaf. This year will be my younger one’s first Onam. Not much has changed. Our Palakkad Tamil brahmin status remains. The food is the same. The festivities are the same. Onam Sadya is and will always take me back to my childhood. The challenge – making sure my boys lick the last dregs of payasam off the leaf just like I do.

Onam Ashamshagal all!

Image source: webneel.com

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