4/1/2017 2:22:13 AM
|written By : Nithya Subramanian|
Kerala has for a large part of time been a secular state where its two major festivals – Onam and Vishu – are celebrated with enthusiasm by everyone. While the celebrations may differ, one common uniting factor is the Sadhya or banquet usually served for lunch. This is something that everyone looks forward to on these festive days.
The tradition of Sadhya is being kept alive in Singapore by two dynamic women – Prasanna Kumari Dayanandan (67) and Radha Devi Vijayan (75) – who specialise in cooking this authentic vegetarian spread. They have been catering this for 30 years now and have been volunteering for the Sree Narayana Mission Home’s annual Onam Sadhya for the last 15 years.
“I came to Singapore from Kerala as a 19-year-old bride and initially my neighbours would be curious about the wonderful aroma emanating out of my kitchen. We lived in Chinatown then and most of my neighbours were non-Indians. So I started cooking in small quantities for them and my first customers were non-Indians. Soon when orders became larger, I asked Chechi (older sister) to help,” said Dayanandan referring to Vijayan.
Their popularity spread within the Malayali community and from small orders they started getting wedding contracts. Their first wedding catering was for politician Murali Pillai’s sister. Since then they have catered to several weddings and events, mainly specialising in Sadhya dishes catering to up to 1000 people. Even the late former president S R Nathan regularly ordered from them. “We do get requests for other fish and meat dishes, but we prefer to stick to Sadhya food,” said the duo.
They operate out of an industrial kitchen owned by one of their partners, with the two women supervising the entire cooking. “If there is a wedding order, we start preparations well in advance, sourcing all the necessary ingredients and often work through the night to fulfill it. The key to a good Sadhya is freshness and taste,” said Dayanandan, adding that their masalas are a secret.
Vijayan said that with the influx of new Indians, most of the ingredients are easily available in Singapore now. “Earlier we had to source plantain chips, Adai (steamed rice flakes) and other such ingredients from India. Now we can find them here itself,” she said.
A Sadhya is usually served on a fresh banana leaf in a specific order. A team of waiters will move in a procession with usually the sweet or payasam being served as the first dish. While unpolished par boiled rice is the main carbohydrate, Parippu (dal), Sambar, Rasam, Pulisseri, Kaalan, Avial, Thoran, Pachadi, Pickle, Papad, Banana chips, curd and buttermilk are served. Since coconuts are found in abundance in Kerala, coconut oil, fresh grated coconut and coconut milk are used in these dishes.