Kerala Sadhya – The Ultimate Vegetarian Feast!

When I reminisce about my childhood growing up in the tropical state of Kerala, a memory that fills and lifts all my senses is the taste of a mélange of warm rice, tangy lentil soup and dozens of coconut-based curries in a coating of crispy pappadom on a large fresh banana leaf – the Kerala Sadhya! There’s no meal on Earth as self-sufficient in taste as this 20+ dish meal, a staple of Kerala cuisine.

Kerala Sadhya – The King’s Feast

Kerala Sadhya is famous across India for being a wholesome meal comprising of a main course of par-boiled rice served with an assortment of dry and liquid curries, pickles, fryums and ending with a milk-rich dessert called “payasam.” These dishes are served in a specific order on a washed banana leaf. The mix of sourness, sweetness and bitterness merge in the mouth, creating a tantalizing burst of flavor with every bite.

The elaborate preparation and presentation has earned the Kerala Sadhya the title of “King’s Feast.”

What are the 20+ curries in the Kerala Sadhya?

I have seen 2 types of sadhya meals served across the state, one being the complete and elaborate type, and the second the simple everyday sadhya for the common man just having a regular lunch.

For the Kerala Sadhya in its entirety, the accompaniments for the main course of rice include the following:

  • Dal curry with ghee
  • Kaalan – A delicious yellow dish made from steamed yam or plantain in a broth of curd and coconut
  • Olan – A flowing white color dish made with coconut milk, peas, ash gourd or pumpkin
  • Thoran – A dry dish prepared from cabbage, peas or jackfruit with shavings of coconut
  • Pachadi – Ground curd and coconut poured over boiled winter vegetables like cucumber, squash, etc.
  • Avial – A dry dish with steamed vegetables and coconut and curd
  • Kichadi – A mix of curd with cucumber or bitter guard or okra. Famous in other parts of India also.
  • Rasam – A watery and spicy soup made from tomatoes and topped with coriander leaves
  • Koottu curry – Cooked chick peas and raw plantain mixed in a bed of coconut
  • Erissery – A thick mélange of boiled brown peas and pumpkin
  • Mezhukkuperatti – A stir fry of multiple vegetables
  • Sambhar – A tangy broth of tamarind and vegetables
  • Buttermilk – Seasoned with curry leaves, dry chilly and mustard
  • Pickles – Usually mango or lime pickle
  • Inji or ginger curry – A thick spicy curry made from fried ginger
  • Fryums such as banana chips, jaggery-coated plantain and the lentil-based pappadom
  • Payasam – A sweet dessert made from milk with flavourings such as vermicelli, wheat, pineapple, dal, banana and jaggery

Does reading this list make your eyes pop and your mouth drool? If yes, you should totally come to Kerala to try this all-vegetarian super meal at least once in your lifetime!

Sadhya etiquette

The Sadhya dishes are served in a specific order. The positioning of the banana leaf is also significant. I find that the correct way to get all the flavors infused into the rice is by mixing all the items with our fingers. Using spoons and forks will take away the fun of the entire messing and mashing of curries with all other accompaniments.

Can we get this Kerala Sadhya right about anywhere in the state?

Yes, you can! Kerala Sadhya is available all 365 days a year in all parts of the state in most big restaurants and a miniature one with maybe 6-7 accompaniments in almost every small hotel. During the festival of Onam in August-September, sadhyas become even more common and competitive with restaurants, schools and colleges hosting mega buffets. Most traditional Hindu marriages also serve lip-smacking sadhyas for their lunch receptions.

Regional differences in Kerala Sadhyas

Another quick point I’d like to mention is that there are many regional differences that creep into sadhya menus across Kerala. An example of this would be the presence of a thick gram-flour based sweet known as boli in southern districts and the accompaniment of certain specific non-vegetarian dishes on the northern districts of the state.

This lavish coconut feast is a must-try for not just vegetarians, but anyone with a love for king-sized food! So go ahead and try your hand at this tantalizing platter full of taste and flavour!

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