Daana hosts an Onam Sadhya feast for Canberrans
Onam runs each year for 10 days and while there’s the exciting snake boat races, nothing compares to the highlight, a Sadhya or banana leaf super-thali with as many different foods and dishes as possible. Sunita says she’s had one with 108 dishes.
The passion driving Daana
Sanjay and Sunita have a passion to bring lesser known traditional Indian cuisines to Canberra. They’ve been in their Curtin home for almost 1 year and are proud of having created 50 regional menus for Canberrans. Even though they offer something different every weekend, Sunita says they’re only half way through showcasing the diversity of India.
But twice a year they do something really special and create an exceptional banana leaf super thali. In April they celebrate the Hindu new year and around August/September it’s the Onam Rice Harvest Festival which is a little like Thanksgiving in the US.
The Onam Legend
As Sunita explained the Onam legend is all about the ancient King Mahabali, who was very popular and generous. Legend says that while he reigned, Kerala was full of joy and prosperity. But sadly the other gods became jeolous and his reign was tragically cut short. However, one mercy that was granted to King Mahabali was that he could return to his people for 10 days each year and again bring them abundance and happiness.
The Onam Sadya at Daana
So it’s quite fitting that the celebratory feast is opulant and generous. Sunita had been cooking since before dawn and treated us to over 40 different foods. She served them in a specific tradtional order with condiments arriving first. The significance of the salt, honey, pickles, chutneys, banana and jackfruit chips, donut-like vadai and appals, is that they represent different tastes and textures to remind us that life brings a variety of experiences and we need to embrace them all. It’s an idea based on Aruveydic principles of something salty, sweet, spicy, tangy, bitter and sour. These were some of my favourite parts of the meal as I just love the ginger chutney and fresh mango pickle. And they were just so pretty!
Then came the dishes – curries, stir-fries, side dishes, accomaniments and desserts. Some I recognised but many were completely new. I was amazed at the variety of purely vegetarian dishes.
It’s the rice harvest festival so of course the main dish was plain boiled rice but there was also the special fat Kerala rice. Other dishes included sambar, rasam, kalan, aviyal, thoran, olan, pachadi, kichadi, koottukari, erissery, pulinji, as well as papadam, yogurt and buttermilk. We finished off with two varieties of the traditional dessert, payasam.
Wow! It was a taste bonanza but what an incredible treat for all the senses! And if this alone was not enough, in true Indian style, there was as many second or third serves as you could possibly desire.
Even more fun than the joy of the feast was the company of others who had come to experience and savour. My dining companions were two great guys from Sri Lanka and Central India. Many dishes were new to them too and they shared great travel and cooking tips with me.
I left knowing that I’d experienced someting pretty unique and special without leaving Canberra. We were indeed very grateful for the passion and commitment of Sunita and Sanjay who went to such efforts to be authentic and traditional.
Thank you Daana!
Food and Travel Secrets was hosted as a guest of Daana