By Meghana Dayanand
Updated:Aug 29, 2023
While most people will argue that ‘sadhya’ predominantly signifies a vegetarian spread along with a set of 26 dishes, it is celebrated differently across various parts of the state. Some regions in North Kerala also incorporate non-vegetarian dishes into their sadhya, making it a fare of 30 dishes or more.
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Certain dishes are prepared differently with variations in ingredients used, and in some parts of Kerala, a few dishes are unique additions like the boli, which is famous in Tiruvananthapuram and many areas of southern Kerala. Some regions in North Kerala also incorporate non-vegetarian dishes into their sadhya, making it a fare of 30 dishes or more.
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Geographically, the state of Kerala can be categorised into three distinctive regions: South Kerala encompasses the districts of Pathanamthitta and Alleppey (Alappuzha), along with the southernmost parts of Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram. Central Kerala extends across Palakkad, Thrissur, Ernakulam, Idukki, Malappuram, and Kottayam, encompassing the illustrious Vembanad Lake. The final segment includes North Kerala, which comprises Kozhikode, Kannur, Wayanad, and Kasargode.
Sadhyas in the Tiruvanathapuram region serve side dishes like kichadis, pachadis, avial, and thoran only once, with second helpings considered impolite, except at Aranmulla sadhya, which allows unlimited servings. Conversely, in north Malabar, Valluvanadan, and Ernakulam, guests are offered seconds and thirds as a gesture of respect and hospitality.
We add a meat dish or two to our sadhyas in the northern parts of Kerala. We include either a fish fry or a fish, mutton, or chicken curry where coconut is toasted, ground, and blended with masalas. In the south, Palakkad uses matta rice; in the north, we use parboiled rice; and in other regions, they use ponni rice or so. In North Kerala, we use a lot of whole spices, which is not so in the southern part of Kerala. I think it may be because of the Portuguese or Moplah influence in North Kerala. Towards the east that comprises Palakkad, etc., the sadhya is strictly sattvic in nature,” says Chef Sandeep Sreedharan, of ElaaGoa.
The Malabar sadhya, in contrast to other Kerala regions, features an assortment of meat and fish dishes alongside fresh vegetable-based offerings. Meat, including beef, holds a significant place in Malabar sadhya, even in Hindu households. This meatiness includes dishes like fish fry, beef roast, and chicken curry, which are essential to Malabar palates. In Kollam, which belongs to the southern region, the presence of dishes like sizzling meen porichattu (fish fry) alongside thoran might surprise those from Thrissur and Trivandrum districts, where such non-vegetarian items are known to be uncommon.
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He adds, “When Onam is celebrated in larger groups, it is not unusual to have some non-vegetarian options present for those who wish to partake in it. In the north of Kerala, where many communities consider meat an essential part of festival celebrations, meat is always on the menu. Even restaurants in Kerala have caught on to this, often serving Onam Sadhyas with meat dishes as sides. There are no changes with a non-vegetarian sadhya other than adding a dish or two to the total vegetarian dishes, so if there are 26 items, with the additional non-vegetarian items, it would come up to perhaps 30. The flavour profile rules of sweet, sour, spicy, and savoury tastes are integral to the Onam Sadhya regardless.”