27 lip-smacking, vegetarian dishes to try during Kerala’s grandest feast

Image: Augustus Binu/Wikimedia
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Like most Indian festivals, Onam is typically celebrated with food—lots and lots of it, consisting of at least six courses.

So much so that a proverb in Malayalam on the harvest festival goes ”kaanam vittum onam unnanam.” It means a man must host a sadya—or a grand vegetarian lunch banqueteven if he is forced to sell his property.

The sadya, which is served on a banana leaf and relished best without the use of cutlery, is historically known to have included 60 dishes. Over the years, however, the number of dishes has reduced and several recipes forgotten.

But even today, sadya cooked in most households in the south Indian state includes around 30 different items. The meal is served in a strict order, which can vary from one region to another, and sometimes even from family to family.

A local belief is that the strong aroma of tempering of curry leaves and mustard seeds in coconut oil while cooking Onam sadya, draws the demon king Mahabali to the house to bless its residents.

Here’s a list of some of the items that will be served on banana-leaf platters in Kerala today:


A variety of pickles and chutneys is an essential part of the sadya. Preparations for some of the pickles start almost three months ahead of the festival, since they need to be fermented in the sunlight before they are ready to eat.

Pickles and chutneys are traditionally served on the bottom left corner of the leaf. Some of the popular sadya pickles include:

1. Vadukapuli naranga kari: A pickle prepared with naranga, a fruit that looks like a large lemon but is more sour and juicy.

2. Puli inji: Dark brown chutney made with ginger, green chillies and jaggery.

3Manga kari: A raw mango pickle that can be prepared instantly, and is often served at weddings in Kerala.

4. Inji Thayir: It’s a chutney made with yoghurt, spiced with ginger, and goes particularly well with hot rice.

Served fried

Sadya is incomplete without an assortment of deep fried, crispy goodies. These are placed just above the pickles on the left side of the leaf.

5. Kaaya varuthathu: Banana chips are a famous snack in south India. The kaaya varuthathu served on Onam is cooked in coconut oil.

6. Sharkara upperi: It is prepared by deep frying thick-chopped bananas and mixing them with molten jaggery.

7. Chena varuthathu: Chips made from yam, seasoned with salt and other spices.

8. Fried plantains: Deep fried banana pieces but of a less sweet variety.


Called koottan in the local language, there are a variety of curries served as part of the feast. Most of them are cooked in coconut milk or with grated dry coconut. These are served at several places on the leaf.

9. Olan: A true Kerala dish made with white gourd, coconut milk and ginger. A local proverb in Kerala says if sambhar is the king, olan is the minister.

10. AvialRich in vitamins and other nutrients, this is a thick mixture of vegetables, seasoned with grated dry coconut, coconut oil and curry leaves.

11. Erissery: This curry, prepared with pumpkin and beans, is cooked in a grated coconut gravy and garnished with red chillies, mustard and curry leaves.

12. Kurukku Kaalan: Yam and raw banana cooked in a tangy yoghurt sauce.

13. Kichadi: A curry prepared with okra or bitter gourd in a spicy yoghurt sauce.

14. Pachadi: The pineapple, yoghurt and grated coconut curry dish is believed to have found place in the sadya only some 15-20 years ago. Since pineapple is not native to Kerala, some Malayalees say the dish was not traditionally included in the feast. For the younger generation, however, it is a favourite.

15. Vegetable stew:  A Kerala staple, prepared with a combination of vegetables like potatoes, carrots, beans, cauliflower and peas, cooked in a mild but flavoured curry.

16. Parippu: Boiled lentils served with a generous helping of ghee. According to the local belief, the size of the helping of ghee represents the prosperity and wealth of the family hosting the meal.

17. Sambhar: This lentil-based vegetable stew is a staple curry in all of south India, but differs in taste from state to state.

18. Rasam: A tangy, watery curry soup prepared with tamarind and tomatoes.

Dry preparations

The sadya also includes several seasonal vegetables cooked in a dry preparation. The choice of vegetables for these dishes vary from village to village. The dry vegetables, locally known as mezhkupuratti or thoran, are served towards the top of the leaf.

19. Cherupayaru mezhkupuratti: Long yard beans are finely chopped, stir fried, and garnished with grated coconut and dry spices.

20. Cabbage thoran: A dish cooked by stir-frying cabbage and grated dry coconut. Sometimes other vegetables like carrot or capsicum may also make an appearance.


21. Steamed rice: The sadya does not include the famous Indian basmati rice, but a variety of locally grown brown rice. This variety of rice is lesser aromatic than the white rice, but much easier to digest.

22. Buttermilk: The acid-neutralising buttermilk is prepared with yoghurt, and garnished with roasted cumin and fresh coriander leaves. The drink is traditionally served at the end of the meal to aid digestion.

23. PapadumA traditional sadya includes a variety of papadums—in different flavours and sizes. Traditionally, these are placed just above the pickles on the left side of the leaf.

24. Banana: The fruit is produced in huge quantities in Kerala. A sadya platter is incomplete with a banana on it, often plucked from a tree in the house.


25. Pazha pradhaman: A ripe banana pudding prepared with molten jaggery and coconut milk, garnished with cashew nuts.

26. PayasamKnown as kheer in north India, Kerala has more than 20 different recipes for payasam. Some of the best-known payasams are cooked with lentil, vermicelli, jaggery, flattened rice or wheat flour.

27. Vettila Murukkan: Commonly known as paan, this is a made by wrapping areca nut, lime and some other mouth fresheners in a betel leaf. This helps in digestion, and cleanses the palate.

Image by Augustus Binu on Wikimedia licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

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