Onam from a North Indian Daughter-in-law’s Eyes

By Tanul

For a over a decade we have been making our bi-annual trips to Kochi for Vishu and Onam. From the first time that I made my trip here, a lot has changed, Kochi Airport is now powered through solar panels, more people shop at malls than stores which have been around for years filled with old world charm, and there are more people speaking Hindi.

What hasn’t changed is hues of white and gold sarees, set and mundus lighting up the streets during Onam, mounds of yellow, orange, white flowers, and the vadamalli (tiny violet flowers which don’t seem to wither away for months), the pookalam and the Sadhya.

The Onam Sadhya seems like a representation of life on a Banana leaf, filled with different textures and flavours – sweet, salty, sour, bitter – all in one meal. Sadhya means feast in Malayalam and it literally is! The number of dishes that can be served are limitless and there is an order in which the items need to be served (we shall save that for another day). Onam being a harvest festival, seasonal vegetables such as yam, beans, bitter gourd are abundant in a Sadhya.  Some of the endless list of items that are served in a Sadhya are:

  1. Sharkaravaratti ( Banana chips coated in Jaggery)
  2. Kayavartha (the regular crunchy salted banana chips)
  3. Salt
  4. Narangia or Manga aachar ( Lemon and/or mango pickle)
  5. Banana
  6. Puliinji  (Tamarind and Ginger relish)
  7. Papad
  8. Sambar
  9. Parippu (Daal)
  10. Rasam
  11. Red rice
  12. Avial
  13. Thoran – a dish of sauteed vegetables tempered with coconut and mustard seeds
  14. Kalan: An elaborate curry made with Yoghurt, yam and raw bananas.
  15. Olan: A white curry made with white gourd.
  16. Kootcurry: a delicious dry dish made with yam, raw bananas and black lentils or black gram
  17. Kichadi or Pachadi: We are still not sure of the difference here but we loved this Vellarika Kichadi. You could even substitute the vellarika with mango, pineapple, beetroot, carrot, or any number of other fruits or vegetables.
  18. Theeyal: A thick stew like curry, often with little Madras onions as the main event.
  19. Payasam: This is something that many eagerly await, especially us. There are so many varieties of this milky pudding, it’s exciting to wonder which kind will be served at the end of the Sadhya. There is Pal payasam (Milk payasam), Ada payasam (rice flakes), parippu payasam (made with mung daal).
  20. Mor: The Kerala version of the ubiquitous Indian summer drink, Buttermilk.

Here’s a recipe for a simple and delicious favourite dish, Cabbage Thoran. This features not just during an Onam Sadhya but on regular, every-day lunch menus as well. It’s quick and easy and for how simple the recipe is, it packs huge flavour. The recipe is from my mother-in-law Nandikatt Ponnamma

Cabbage Thoran


250g Cabbage, chopped
4-5 Small onions, sliced (if using regular onions, use only 2)
2-3 Green chili
4-5 Curry leaves
1 tsp Toor Daal
Salt to taste
½ cup grated coconut
A pinch of Mustard seeds
1 tbsp Coconut oil (Or any oil you prefer)


Heat oil in a wok. Add mustard seeds and once they start to pop add curry leaves, green chili and Toor Daal. Stir and add the sliced onions. Saute till the onions turn translucent.

Add the chopped cabbage and salt. Stir well and cover. Cook on a medium flame, stirring every couple of minutes. The beauty of the thoran is that the vegetables are steamed and cooked in their own juice, about 10-15 minutes.

Towards the end, add the grated coconut stir well and cook for 5 minutes.



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