Dubai: Kerala’s sadhya, the vegetarian feast spread on banana leaves, took over kitchens in homes, restaurants and five star hotels in the UAE as Malayali expats from the South Indian state celebrated Thiruvonam on Thursday.
Thiruvonam is the most important day of the 10-day long harvest festival Onam. It celebrates the mythological homecoming of King Mahabali or Maveli, whose rule marked the golden era of the state, according to Hindu beliefs.
Celebrated by Malayalis across the world irrespective of their religions, Thiruvonam falling on a working day this year meant most of the one million strong Keralites in the UAE savouring the sadhya, the highlight of the festival, made in eateries.
Traditionally, sadhya consists of a minimum of 12 to a maximum of 30 items and it is customary to make the sadhya at home. However, only a few like the family of Dubai resident Maneesh G managed to do it on a working day. Maneesh and family celebrated Onam with his friend Thazhe Purayil Sajith, whose family is back home in Kerala.
“I could have had sadhya from any of the hundreds of restaurants offering it today. But, when Maneesh invited me for the home-made sadhya, I couldn’t resist it,” Sajith, a project manager, told Gulf News.
There were also families of friends who made sadhya together and celebrated Onam in a grand way.
Celebrating with friends
“It is a special Onam for us as we are celebrating the first Onam of our son Devrath, who was born last year,” said Balagopal G, who celebrated Onam with families of three of his friends.
“We wore our ethnic dresses and all of us went to the temple in the morning. Then we made pookkalam and cooked sadhya. We taught kids about different items served in sadhya and made them serve as per the customs. We also had Onam games. Kids had a great time,” he said.
However, people like Priya Vishnu, a graphic designer, found it wise to order sadhya from a restaurant due to shortage of time to prepare it for many guests on a working day. “We were 11 in total including my friends from other Indian states. So, I thought of ordering sadhya from Foodies Junction, a restaurant near our apartment,” she said.
UAE nationals, other expats
Several restaurants and offices across the UAE witnessed people of different nationalities savouring the sadhya with their Malayali colleagues.
Febin Shams, a HR professional, took her Emirati colleague Suzan Al Mulla for having sadhya from a restaurant. “It was my first experience. We waited for 20 minutes just to get inside the restaurant. I loved the banana chips and the mango curry the most. Waiters and guests were wearing traditional outfits and I really felt like I was in Kerala,” said Al Mulla.
Philip Borbon from the Philippines, who had sadhay with his colleagues at his office, said: “It was fun eating the Kerala dishes with colleagues. It was a new experience for me. I am always fond of eating spicy food. But, I didn’t find it very spicy. It had different flavours,” said
According to Dubai Municipality, a large number of food establishments in Dubai are owned by Malayalis. Most of the restaurants and hypermarkets catering to the large community offered sadhya for dining and take-away on Thursday. Some have extended it for the weekend as celebrations will continue in full swing on weekends.
Lulu Hypermarkets alone sold over 34,600 sadhyas across the UAE on Thiruvonam day, said V. Nandakumar, director, marketing and communication at Lulu Group.
“We had flown in famous Malayali chef Pazhayidom Mohanan Namboothiri for preparing this year’s sadhya. On public demand, we have extended the sadhya home delivery offer and takeaways till Sunday. Apart from this, we have sold 920 tonnes of vegetables and 35 tonnes of fresh flowers that were specifically imported for Onam,” said Nandakumar.
While most restaurants rolled out the explosion of flavours on plain banana leaves laid on tables, restaurants in five-star facilities like Taj Jumeriah Lake Towers custom-made the presentation to give a swanky look to sadhya.
“We have to take extra care of hygiene, cleanliness and presentation. So, we presented sadhya in the traditional Indian thali style by putting dishes on fresh banana leaf kept on the thali plate. Everyone including our in-house guests from other countries loved it,” said Hasan Shaikh, food and beverage operations manager, Taj, JLT.
Ensuring food safety
Dubai Municipality had made special arrangements to ensure food safety was maintained during preparation, packaging and delivery of sadhya, said Bobby Krishna, senior food safety specialist.
“The cook-chill process was adopted by outlets preparing sadhya in bulk. It is a tried and tested measure to ensure food is safe with extended shelf life. It was found successful in the case of bulk preparations of sadhya also,” he said.
Celebrations in schools, offices
Wearing ethnic attires and putting floral decorations (pookkalam) on the floors at homes, offices and schools, Malayali expats celebrated the festival with full gaiety.
In Indian schools like GEMS Our Own Indian Schools, students celebrated the day as ethnic day by wearing traditional Onam dresses and playing Onam games and making pookkalam.