Malayali Chefs Share Vishu Sadhya Favourites From Kerala Cuisine
Image Credit: Chef Regi Mathew

Vishu, a Hindu festival celebrated across Kerala, is the Malayali New Year that witnesses communities, irrespective of religion, coming together to celebrate the harvest. Starting with waking up early in the morning, sighting Vishukkani, preparing for veneration, visiting a local temple, and relishing sadhya, a vegetarian meal arranged on a banana leaf, it is an entire day packed with festive rituals. This year, Vishu will be celebrated on April 14, 2024.

Video Credit: Sanjeev Kapoor Khazana/ YouTube

Sadhya is an important aspect of Vishu, as it is for other festivals and special occasions like weddings, celebrated in God's Own Country. The dishes included in it like pulissery, avial, thoran, pachadi, red rice, payasam, and other traditional delicacies. While most households prepare sadhya in the state, chefs and home chefs are the ones who are introducing the world to the authentic flavours of this wholesome meal.

Slurrp spoke to a few popular Kerala-based chefs and home chefs who have learnt the art of making sadhya from their mothers and grandmothers. They have perfected the recipe for every dish that is included in this meal. They shared their memories of savouring sadhya, participating in Vishu traditions, and how they will be incorporating their memories and culinary excellence while preparing the festive meal this year.

Chef Regi Mathew, Co-Founder Of Kappa Chakka Kandhari

Picture Credit: Chef Regi Mathew

While speaking to Slurrp about his memories related to Vishu and sadhya, Chef Regi Mathew, co-founder of Kappa Chakka Kandhari, said, “Vishu is the first day of the Malayalam month. Though it is all about Vishukkani and predominantly observed by Hindus in Kerala, it is celebrated across the state. I remember that Vishu flower (kanikonna) was offered to God Vishnu and the elders in the house used to give money to house helpers and young children.”

He shared that people eat Vishu kanji or Vishu katta in the morning. Vishu kanji is rice cooked with coconut and cumin seeds. “Sadhya includes what is available in the market or what can be sourced from the forests. Therefore, it includes mambazha pulissery, red rice, sambar, pachadi, rice-based payasam, jackfruit payasam, jaggery payasam, etc. and all used to be served on a banana leaf. I always loved relishing Vishu kanji and rice with mambazha pulissery prepared by my mother.”

At Kappa Chakka Kandhari, Chef Regi Mathew will introduce Vishu meal or sadhya which will comprise at least 15 dishes, namely mambazha pulissery, pineapple pachadi, avial, and thoran among others. 

Chef Velu Murugan, Corporate Executive Chef At CGH Earth Experience Hotels

Chef Velu Murugan, who is currently working at CGH Earth Experience Hotels as the corporate executive chef, shared his Vishu memory. He said, “I remember waking up early in the morning, buying kanikonna from the market, arranging new dresses, taking out gold and money, and offering everything to God. We used to pray first and eat some sweets or payasam together. After praying at home, we used to visit the nearby temples.”

After visiting the temple home, Chef Velu Murugan and his family used to sit for a vegetarian feast, called sadhya, together. It used to include avial, poriyal, sabar, chutneys, pickles, curd, chillies, and bananas. “As the banana leaves were laid out on the floors, we all used to sit and eat together.

The meal used to contain somewhere between 15-18 dishes.” He used to love eating avial, thoran, erissery (made of white pumpkin), kalan (made of raw banana), rice with papad, and rice pradhaman (sweet pudding) cooked with jaggery and flavoured with cardamom seeds and roasted cumin powder.

Speaking about the sadhya menu this year for which Chef Velu Murugan will be cooking 19-21 dishes, he said, “It is going to be a traditional feast that I remember as a child. My fellow chefs will be following the same cooking techniques. A day before Vishu, we will buy all the ingredients from the market, start the preparation around 8 am - 8:30 am, and sadhya will be ready to be served around 12 pm-12.30 pm.”

Chef Jomon, Director Of Culinary, The Tiffin Box

Image Credit: The Tiffin Box & Chef Jomon

Chef Jomon, who is currently the director of culinary at The Tiffin Box, UK, shared that he never celebrated Vishu at home. Reminiscing about his childhood, he shared, “I remember going to my friend’s house to celebrate the harvest festival. I used to eat sadhya with them.”

However, this year, Chef Jomon will be preparing sadhya for his customers abroad. He will be introducing them to the traditional dishes of Kerala. He added, “This time, I will be cooking 19 vegetarian dishes for sadhya, including matta rice, inji curry, cheru pazham, avial, pacha moru, kaya kalan, and payasam among others. We will also be sourcing njalipoovan pazham (small banana grown in the state and served for sadhya) from Kerala this year.”

Smitha Vinod, Food Vlogger

Picture Credit: Smitha Vinod

Smitha Vinod, who is a food vlogger from Kerala and often shares traditional recipes on Instagram, said, “My favourite Vishu memory will always be my mother arranging Vishukkani (a set up in the house where Gods are offered gold, rice, coconut, jackfruit, mangoes, and other freshly harvested grains, vegetables, and fruits). Early morning when we wake up, the first sight has to be of Vishukkanni. After this, elders give younger people coins (a sign of prosperity) as Vishu kaineetam (Vishukaineetam or Vishu kaineettam).”

Smitha lives with her daughter and husband in Trivandrum. She continues the tradition of decorating Vishukkanni. Together with her husband, they give their daughter coins as Vishu kaineetam. “Sadhya includes rice, pickle, curd-based dishes, avial, thoran, sambar, payasam, and everything is arranged on the banana leaf. We invite our friends, parents, and neighbours and enjoy the meal together.” She shared that in many parts of the states, people can witness fireworks, but not so much in the capital of the state.