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City hotels spread a traditional fare

HAREESH BAL finds most city hotels serving the traditional Onam sadya, some with attractive offers in tug

"The way to a Malayali's heart is through his stomach." This restructured adage may be true atleast during Onam.

Come afternoon on Onam day and festivity is at its peak. With the plantain set in reverence to the noble demon king, men, women and children in their new `dhotis' and traditional `kasavumundus' take their seats on the floor, to devour the salt of the `olan,' sourness of the `pulissery,' the hot `mulaku kondattam,' and the heart melting `palada payasam.' It is the coming together of generations, a celebration of the family as an institution.

Take a break from those sighing wistful faces of the older generation, those golden days are still revived in many a city home. "But with the families getting smaller and life getting busier, it is difficult to have Onam in the congested space in an apartment; you cannot afford to leave your work and go to your ancestral home," says Shobha, Residential Manager, Hotel Woods Manor. "So we try to give our customers an Onam with the food and ambience of those good old days," she adds with a smile. The hotel had a week-long Onam festival.

The South Indian chef Saji of this hotel offers some magic tips. The `ada' for the `palada payasam' is prepared in the hotel, rather than going for the ready made ones. Boiled rice is ground and flattened on a plantain leaf and boiled. "To the ground rice we add bananas, especially the `kadali' variety; this is a secret which I'm divulging," he says. The chef makes variations with the same dishes on different days. The `aviyal' can be of two or three kinds, adding curd to it in the Palakkad style or certain other ingredients. The `koottukari' can be of brinjal, pumpkin or black chana with unripe banana. If alterations in `pachadi' could be with beetroot, bitter gourd, ladies finger and white pumpkin, you also have banana and pineapple `kaalans.'

In a usual buffet one or two typically Kerala dishes are included. Otherwise it is only during this season that such myriads of dishes find its place in star cuisines. Even then no external help is sought, and it is the culinary prowess of the in-house chefs that appease your appetites. Shobha says that their guests, including foreigners and North Indians take a liking for this traditional feast and there is a huge demand for the `palada' and other variety of `payasams.' Payasam parcels are also sold at a rate of Rs. 150 a litre.

Penny George, PR Executive of Le Meridien has something different to say, "There are less takers for the traditional vegetarian `sadya.' Apart from the local guests, few of the in-house guests welcome it as a change. But coconut paste and oil in their curries and boiled rice for a few more days, brings out a big `NO' from most of them." So, apart from the `sadya,' the hotel goes for a buffet with both vegetarian and non-vegetarian delicacies, mind you even on the very day of Onam. So there is the Travancore Maharaja style `aviyal,' `kadachakka thoran' and `injipuli' on the veg menu, and konju mangakari, Kerala chicken roast, Malabar biriyani and meen thavayil porichathu are some of the non-vegetarian delicacies. And to tickle your taste buds are the deserts ranging from Ambalappuzha palpayasam, adaprathaman, pazham payasam, semiya payasam and boli.

Varun Chibber, F & B Manager, Trident, had more than a hundred guests, including foreigners for the Onam sadya last year and he expects a more favourable response this year.

For some hotels Onam day is just another lukewarm yellow day. The Avenue Regent, celebrating its 10th anniversary, has a food festival every week. Following the Chettinad Festival, it is the Biriyani Festival during Onam.

Rupees 125 with taxes inclusive is the least rate of an Onam sadya at Woods Manor, which again is 250 at Le Meridien and 149 with additional taxes at Trident.

If potential corporates are the target group for Woods Manor, local and regular customers form the database for Trident and Le Meridien. Tele calls and mailers attract customers in good numbers during the season. The Trident goes for catchy hoardings as well. Apart from the food and feast, most of the hotels strive to recreate the decor and ambience akin to Onam. The service personnel go to adorn traditional attire and pookkalams grace the lobbies. The Woods Manor also plans to have a live Maveli, while Le Meridien welcomes the guest with a `velvet tender coconut juice,' which is flavoured with lemon, and honey drops. Kids below five years get a discount on the sadya and buffet, get to use the swimming pool for free and the best dressed family walks away with a prize. The sadya is usually served on plantain leaves, while nagaswaram recitals will add to the colour at the Trident.

Gone are the days of families getting together and celebrating Onam at their traditional homes. The `nadumuttams' and `thumba kudams' have almost vanished in the bustle of the city. For those who may still turn nostalgic during such festive days, missing the dear and near ones, the smell, the roots and culture, these abodes of comfort go a long way in giving you that flavour, fanfare and feeling.

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