Celebrating Onam with a 20-item Sadhya (Banana Leaf Meal) @ Saffron’s

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For the past 2 Saturdays, my Indian gym buddy and I celebrated the festival of Onam at Saffron’s Fine Indian Cuisine (ponsonby) where a special once-a-year vegetarian Sadhya meal was being served. Sadhya means banquet in Malayalam and this was literally a vegetarian feast!

Held once a year, Onam or Harvest Festival, is the state festival of Kerela, which so happens to be my friend’s hometown too. Currently the town is dealing with the aftermath of massive floods to the point that this year’s festivities were cancelled and the funds directed towards rescue efforts. Do spare some time and say a short prayer for the victims. 🙏

Traditionally, this special meal is served on a banana leaf and consists of multiple food items. This year, our meal consisted of 2 different types of rice – a long, thin basmati one and a short, fat and brown variety which the waiters called ‘Kerala rice’. I preferred the long one and actually thought it was more fragrant.

Then there were about 4 vegetable based dishes – green banana one, a pumpkin one, a vegetable mixed with coconut cream and curry leaves one (avial) and a cabbage+dal one.

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Picture source.

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Of course, there were the curries too! From left to right, we had a yogurt based one (kaalan), a dal one and a Sambar (lentil based vegetable stew). There was another “tamarind soup” kind that came later so it wasn’t in the picture.

Lastly, the condiments included a ginger chutney, some pickles, beetroot chutney, banana chips, some sweets, papadum, fresh banana and 2 different desserts.

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Picture source

Last week was also the first time my friend taught me to eat with my hands. I guess that first time was a bit of a shock to my neural circuits and I felt like I was learning how to “walk” with my hands. This week though, I guess my neuromuscular circuits were better adjusted as I felt so much more comfortable using my hands as “scoops” and my movements were much more graceful and natural.

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Service wise, the staff at Saffron were excellent as usual.

At the start its just an empty “banana leaf” (plastic, not the real thing as I guess it’s hard to come by in New Zealand?). The staff would then come around and place each item one by one onto our leaves.

I guess this adds to the atmosphere as you see your ‘plate’ slowly building up into the final masterpiece.

As you begin eating, the staff would periodically come around with more food asking if you want more. So it also felt like a buffet except that the food comes to your rather than you walking to it which is a pleasant change. 🙂

I thoroughly enjoyed every part of this vegetarian meal, but my favourites were the long rice with the kaalan, the avial as well as the Sarkara Upperi (sweet plantain chips) and the Payasam (white coloured dessert)!

Last week I was mixing almost everything together such that it all became one big mash of spices and curries. This week I tried a different approach and chose to eat each dish separately. This was way better as I could savour the unique variations in flavors and spices of the different food items. It was so good I think I had at least 3 servings of each!

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Awesome experience.

Already looking forward to next year.

Happy Onam!

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