Rooted in both cultural and culinary brilliance, Sadya is a lavish meal hailing from Kerala in the South of India. It has been labelled one of the most balanced meals in the world despite its numerous sets of curries and a portion of rice that makes it look heavy.
Served on a green banana leaf, this completely-vegetarian meal consists of local vegetables and ingredients such as coconuts, yam, jaggery, and lentils. It also covers almost all flavors ranging from sweet and savory to spicy and salty.
The Hindustan Times reported that according to Naaznin Husein, founder, and director of Freedom wellness and lifestyle management, Sadya is a nutrition-dense meal. “It has a great balance of antioxidants, anti-inflammatory foods, high calcium, and gut-friendly foods,” she says.
Origin of the meal
The word Sadya translates to “banquet”, which explains the elaborate number of dishes in a single meal. Sometimes, these dishes can even go up to 50! Though most of the time they range from 10 to 38.
The Sadya originated as a part of Hindu mythology which talks about a legend between a king and a deity. It states that there was once a generous king named Mahabali, who served his people justly. To test the truth of his kindness and the goodness of his heart, a Hindu god called Lord Vishnu appeared in front of him as an avatar of Vamana, a poor dwarf.
He requested Mahabali for three steps of land which the king granted. As soon as this permission was given, Vamana grew as big as the sky. His first step destroyed the earth, the second destroyed the heavens and when there was nothing left, Mahabali offered his head so Vamana could claim his third step.
The gods were pleased with the king’s act of kindness. They granted him a wish in return. Mahabali asked permission to visit the land and his people every year henceforth.
The day when Mahabali returns to the mortal world is called “Onam” and is celebrated by the people of Kerala. They mark it with a huge feast (Sadya) to welcome back the king with joy and glory.
While that speaks of the mythical aspect, scientifically Onam is also a harvest festival that is celebrated annually in August/September. The Sadya meal is part of this harvest and a center point in celebrating the harvest festival.
Though the meal and its festival have roots in Hinduism, Sadya is enjoyed by every Keralite, regardless of religion. It is a celebratory meal enjoyed on special occasions and events such as weddings, celebrations, and more by people of all types showcasing Kerala’s high tolerance to religious differences.
Healthy food components
There are many reasons that make Sadya an all- around healthy food from the way it’s served to the eating style and food components. The use of raw ingredients ensures that there are no additives or artificial flavorings involved.
While there are several dozen curries and gravies in a Sadya, here are the main dishes that are served during the meal.
Sadya’s use of brown rice not only makes it a fat-controlling component but is also one of the healthiest options of energy for diabetic patients and for people with other lifestyle or food difficulties. Brown rice is also said to be rich in phytonutrients and provides 80% of the manganese required by the body.
A tangy mix of spices and light sweetness, ginger curry aids digestion, and the antioxidants in it boosts immunity. It is also rich in vitamins A, D, and E, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and calcium. Ginger curry is also known to fight fungus, viruses, and flush out toxins.
A blend of various vegetables, Avail is cooked with coconut and is also loaded with nutrients and antioxidants.
A lentil-based brown stew, Sambar is a high-fiber food that fights cholesterol and keeps the heart working to its best capacity. This curry is also high in vitamins, minerals, iron, zinc, folate, and magnesium. Sambar also gives an added health benefit due to its mix of herbs and spices.
A type of soup that is often devoured at the end instead of the beginning, Rasam is a flavourful dish made with dal and tomatoes. Its healthy mix of herbs such as fenugreek, peppercorn, turmeric, and coriander seeds make it the best dish to aid digestion, energy, and immunity. It is also believed to have great anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and antioxidant-rich properties that help people of all ages.
This traditional dessert is sweet. Slurping is completely acceptable here. Its use of lentils, jaggery, and coconut milk makes it a wonderful and healthy after-course dish.
Pickles might have a bad name due to their salty nature and use of preservatives but the pickles served in Sadya are made of spices and oil that act as natural preservatives.
Sadya has a certain etiquette to follow while eating which is unlike anywhere else. Instead of a plate, this fascinating meal is served on a banana leaf that adds another health benefit to the food.
Banana leaves act as natural antioxidants that can be beneficial in preventing the onset of diseases and the development of free radicals. Serving fresh warm food on the leaf causes it to absorb the polyphenols (micronutrients) present in the leaf[2.
Forgoing all utensils, Sadya is also eaten with the hands – which is a normal practice for eating meals in Kerala. Eating with hands is believed to increase immunity because of the “normal flora” that occurs. In this case, normal flora is bacteria found on the palms and fingers that protect the skin and body from harmful microbes in the environment.
Eating with the hands is said to prevent over-eating because it’s considerably slower than eating with forks and spoons.
When the meal is finished, the banana leaf is folded in the opposite direction to show that you are content with the food.
WORDS: Ameena Navab.