Exploring Sadhya Feast: The Flavours Of Kerala's Rich Cuisine
Image Credit: A traditional Sadhya | Instagram - @saveurs_secretes

Kerala, often referred to as "God's Own Country," is a place with pristine beaches, serene backwaters, and a rich cultural history. Ayurveda, an ancient medical system, is known to have originated in this region, which is also well-known for its spices, coconuts, and seafood. Kerala's cuisine is a unique fusion of flavours and spices, influenced by the topography and history of the region. And the Kerala sadhya is a feast that has for decades captured the attention and taste buds of food enthusiasts. This customary dish, which is traditionally served on a banana leaf, is a fundamental component of Keralan cuisine, and its background is rich in mythology and folklore. Legend has it that Lord Parashurama, a manifestation of Lord Vishnu, threw his axe into the sea to create Kerala. He then extended an invitation to Brahmins to dwell in the newly formed territory and provided them with a lavish feast, which is said to be the first sadhya.

The Sadhya evolved over time to become a meal that is typically served at weddings, festivals, and other special celebrations. Rice, sambar, rasam, aviyal, thoran, pachadi, and a number of other foods make up this vegetarian dinner. The meal is served on a banana leaf, with the dishes spread out in a precise sequence and rice placed in the centre. The sadhya is not just a meal; it is an experience that celebrates the rich cultural heritage of Kerala. The preparation of the meal is an elaborate affair, with each dish prepared using fresh, locally sourced ingredients and spices. The meal is served with a variety of accompaniments, including pickles, papadams, and banana chips, which add to the overall flavour and texture of the elaborate meal experience.

Recipe credits - Shaan Geo

Some of the dishes that commonly feature in a traditional sadhya are:

Rice: The Sadhya always begins with rice, which is placed in the centre of the banana leaf. Steamed rice is usually served with ghee (clarified butter) and has a fluffy texture that complements other dishes that follow.

Sambar: This is a lentil-based vegetable curry that is spiced with a special blend of masalas (spices). The sambar is usually made with vegetables like pumpkin, drumstick, and brinjal and has a tangy flavour from tamarind that balances the richness of the other dishes.

Rasam: A runny and tangy soup made with tamarind, tomatoes, and a tempering of spices is rasam. It is usually served after the sambar and is believed to aid digestion.

Aviyal: This is a vegetable stew made with a variety of vegetables like carrots, beans, drumsticks, and raw plantains. The vegetables are cooked in coconut milk and flavoured with a tempering of blended spices, giving them a creamy texture and a mild, nutty flavour.

Thoran: A dry vegetable dish with a variety of vegetables like cabbage, beans, and carrots along with grated coconut is thoran. The vegetables are cooked with spices and grated coconut, giving the dish a crunchy texture and a rich, nutty flavour.

Pachadi: This is a side dish that is made with yoghurt and vegetables like cucumber, pineapple, and beetroot. The vegetables are cooked and blended with yoghurt to give a creamy dish with a tangy flavour.

Papadum: This is a crispy, thin wafer made with lentil flour. It is usually served as an accompaniment to the other dishes and adds a crunchy texture to the meal. They are even paired with payasam (a milk-based sweet dish).

Pickles: The sadhya is always served with a variety of pickles, including mango, lime, and ginger pickles, which add a tangy and spicy flavour to the meal. And their acidity helps with digestion.

In recent years, the sadhya has gained popularity beyond Kerala’s borders and has become a favourite among food enthusiasts worldwide. Today, restaurants across the globe serve the sadhya, bringing a taste of Kerala’s rich culinary heritage to people everywhere. Tracing the history of the Kerala Sadhya is an exploration of the state’s rich cultural heritage and its unique culinary traditions. It is a journey that takes us through the lush greenery of Kerala’s backwaters, the spice plantations, and the bustling markets, exploring the origins of this culinary masterpiece.