Auckland Restaurants foster the festive spirit with Onam Sadhya

A banquet so delicious that you would want it every other day!

Venkat Raman
Auckland, August 26, 2023

At least three restaurants in Auckland have kindled the spirit of Onam with exquisite and extensive Sadhya, tickling the palate of thousands of diners of varied ethnicities.

While Saffron Restaurant held the banquet tonight (August 26), its Sister-Restaurant Platform 8 and Saravanaa Bhavan will feature

The Festival of Onam, being marked from August 20 to August 31, 2023, brings together not only Hindu Malayalis but also those of other faiths including Islam and Christianity. Malayali Associations have also been conducting the Festival all over New Zealand over the past week with Onam Sadhya at the core of their festivities.

The Auckland Malayali Samajam attracted about 1000 guests at its Onam Festival held at the Mahatma Gandhi Centre on August 19, 2023, a feat set to be repeated by the Organisation of Hindu Malayalis (OHM) New Zealand on September 2, 2023 at the same venue.

Saffron Restaurant Manukau

Thangavel Mariappan, his wife Vidya and their team of chefs and other staff repeated their five-year record at the Special Banana Leaf Dinner tonight (August 26) at their Saffron Indian Restaurant located at 57 Cavendish Drive in Manukau.

There were 25 items in their Onam Sadhya Menu which included 1. Rice (Kerala Rice Or Basmati Rice); 2. Parippu 3. Neiyu 4. Sambar 5. Aviyal 6. Kootu Curry (Brown Channa & Raw Banana) 7. Thoran (Cabbage) 8. Erissery (Pumpkin and Redbeans) 9. Kichadi (Okra)10. Olan (Cowpeas & Ashguard); 11. Pachadi (Beetroot); 12. Kalan (Yogurt & Raw Banana ); 13 Rasam 14. Pacha Moru 15. Yoghurt Chilli (Thaiyuru Molagu) 16. Banana Chips (Kaaya Varuthath) 17. Sweet Chips (Sharkara Upperi) 18. Pappadom 19. Pickle 20. Ginger Chutney (Inchi Puli) 21. Payasam 22. Banana 23. Mita Paan 24 Salt all served on 25. Banana Leaf.

True to the spirit of Onam Sadhya, food was served at the tables. The Restaurant had suspended its regular menu, since the hourly dinner session was largely for people who had booked their seats earlier.

Platform 8, Auckland Central

Thangavel and Vidya also own Platform 8, a Restaurant located at the Auckland Heritage Railway Station next to the Spark Arena on 26 Te Taou Cresent in the Auckland Central Business District.

“Platform 8 is a Restaurant and Bar with a seasonal menu based on fresh local produce. We cater to all types of functions and events, open from 5 pm on all days of the week (except Monday). However, we will serve Onam Sadya on Sunday, August 27, 2023 and Tuesday (August 29) from 6 pm. The Menu will be identical to the service that we provided tonight (August 26),” Thangavel said.

Saravanaa Bhavan, Auckland CBD

Saravanaa Bhavan, which accounts for the largest international chain of South Indian restaurants will offer Onam Special from 11.30 am on Sunday, August 27 and Tuesday, Auckland 28, 2023 at its Restaurant located at 51E Hobson Street, Auckland CBD.

Onam Sadya comprise 18 items, priced at $26.90 per person.

These will include 1. Motu Rice 2. Mixed Vegetable Sambar 3. Pineapple Rasam 4. Cabbage Thoran 5. Avial 6. Moru Curry (Bhindi) 7. Pumpkin Erissery 8. Ada Pradhaman (Payasam) 9. Mixed Vegetable Sweet Pachadi 10. Inji Puli Curry 11. Sarkara Varatti 12. Banana Chips 13. Pappadom 14. Mango Pickle 15. Banana 16. Butter Milk 17. Moru Chilli and 18. Poori or Chapati.

Onam Sadya served at Saffron Restaurant, Manukau, Auckland on August 26, 2023 (INL Photo)

The Spirit of Unity

The folklore of Onam is that the King Mahabali comes to visit his subjects on the festive day and people invite him home with great fanfare. This is also celebrated as the Harvest festival of Kerala, as it follows the monsoon season.

People celebrate the festival by making rangolis of flowers which is known as ‘Pookkalam’ in front of their house. Other festivities comprise of Snake Boat Races, Onappottan, Kaazhchakkula, Puli Kali, Kaikottikali, Vadamvali and so on.

Onam festival is celebrated over ten days and the first day of this is known as Atham, as it falls on the day the ‘Atham’ star has prevalence, and the final day of celebration falls on Thiruonam.

The community spirit and sense of belonging of people of Kerala come to the fore at Onam festivities every year. There are no Hindus, Christians, Muslims, Nairs, Menons, Namboodris or any other faiths in such gatherings. There are just Malayalis coming together to mark the change of season to one of harvesting the goodness sown months earlier. The reason for the gathering could have a historic perspective but the objective among the Malayali Diaspora is to foster harmony and peace that are so conspicuous by their absence in the modern world.

A typical Sadya can have about 24–28 dishes served as a single course. In cases where it is a much larger one it can have over 64 or more items, such as the Sadya for Aranmula Boatrace (Valla Sadya). During a traditional Sadya celebration, people are seated cross-legged on mats. Food is eaten with the right hand, without cutlery. The fingers are cupped to form a ladle.

The dishes are served in different spots on the banana leaf. For example, the pickles are served on the top left corner and the banana on the bottom left corner, which helps the waiters to easily identify and decide on offering additional servings. The common ingredients are vegetables, coconut and coconut oil as they are abundant in Kerala. Coconut milk is used in some dishes and coconut oil is used for frying.

Kerala’s USP

There are variations in the menu depending on the place. Although the custom is to use traditional and seasonal vegetables indigenous to Kerala or Southwest Coast of India, it has become common practice to include vegetables such as carrots, pineapples and beans in the dishes. Tradition has it that onion and garlic are not typically used in the Sadya. Conventionally, the meal may be followed by chewing of vettila murukkaan, betel leaf with lime and areca nut. This helps digestion of the meal and cleanses the palate.

There is an old saying that resonates with the Festival: “Kaanam Vittum Onam Unnanam” (One must feast during Onam, even if it means selling one’s land). Onam is an observance that sends Keralites to a near frenzy as Winter bids goodbye to Southern Hemisphere and embraces those in the North, heralding respectively Spring and Winter.

Mythological connotations apart, Onam is today a unique selling proposition for Kerala’s tour marketing machinery. The pretty coy bride State has many beauty enhancers in its Onam make-up kitty. The Kerala Tourism Department reinforces its brand image on the international billboard attracting tourists.

Kathakali, Kaikotti Kali, Thiruvathira Kali, Theyyam, Boat Races, and caparisoned elephants add to Kerala’s brand image during the festival season. All of these form part of the global tourist’s Kerala itinerary as they land in the State’s four international airports in thousands during Onam.

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