Food is an integral part of celebrations in the Indian ethos. Every festival has its own array of dishes to commemorate the festivities. New Year celebrations in the Southern part of India are no different.
Tamil Puthandu in Tamil Nadu, Vishu in Kerala, Ugadi in Karanataka and Andhra Pradesh – the New Year is celebrated on the same day, usually April 13th or 14th of the Gregorian calendar. Apart from decorations and rituals during the New Year celebrations, there are several food items, which are symbols of tradition as these usher in good luck and fortune.
Festive Food in Tamil Nadu
Puthandu or Chithirai thiru naal, is the first day of the traditional Tamil solar calendar, which is also a day of feasting in Tamil Nadu. Chef Senthil of Hyatt Regency Chennai, elaborates, “The highlight of the festival is the consumption of the Maanga Pachadi. This is a unique preparation made from jaggery, raw mangoes and neem flowers. It is a dish which is bitter, sweet and sour all in one, representing the various aspects or colours of life and how it should be met and accepted with equal equanimity.” This dish sets the tone of the year to come for most people in Tamil Nadu.
The menu on Puthandu, in every household is usually elaborate, as the dishes are made as offerings or Naivedhyam to God and then partaken by the family. Small wonder then, people go all out to prepare an exhaustive meal. rice payasam or adai pradhaman, masala or medhu vadai, mangai veppampoo pachadi, avial and vegetable kootu or porial, are some must-haves.
These dishes symbolise the arrival of spring, a month to signify growth and prosperity as per Tamil traditions. It is customary for the family to have a meal together after a bath in the morning, followed by prayers and rituals. Chef Senthil, further substantiates, “Avial is a very common dish in South India, which is made of vegetables, coconut, curd and adorned with curry leaves. Any feast is incomplete without this dish and puthandu is no exception. Vegetable kootu is another dish, which makes use of all the seasonal vegetables that are locally available. There are different methods of making this dish.” He adds, “All the dishes are neatly placed on a plantain leaf and the whole family has this meal together. This symbolises the togetherness and unity of the family.”
Savouring a 26-course ‘Vishu’ lunch or ‘Sadhya’ served on a plantain leaf is an integral part of this festival. While in the central and southern districts of Kerala, the lunch is purely a vegetarian one, in northern districts, non-vegetarian dishes are also included. Special dishes are made using jackfruit, pumpkin, mango and other seasonal fruits and vegetables.
Several popular dishes cooked during this feast are mampazha pulissery or a sour mango soup, Vishu kanji, Vishu katta and payasam, amongst others. But the main dish is the Kerala matta rice or red parboiled rice, which is eaten with all the side dishes. Banana chips or upperi and fritters, coated with jaggery called sarkara varrati are a must for starters, along with a variety of chutneys and buttermilk, served on a banana leaf. No auspicious occasion in Kerala is complete without the inclusion of Olan, a traditional Kerala side dish which is regular at every Sadhya. Prepared with red gram and vegetables like pumpkin, simmered in coconut milk, this dish has a rich flavour and texture. Kerala style parippu curry or parippu koottan is also served. Other staples include, moong dal curry served with appam, steamed rice, injikkari, thengachoru and pachadi. Pachadi again, is a popular side dish in every Kerala feast. The main ingredient in pachadi is curd. Pachadi can be made with an array of vegetables. But typically, pumpkin, pineapple and banana are used on Vishu.
Feasting on Ugadi
Uga means age and aadi means beginning or in short, Ugadi means, ‘The beginning of a new age’. As in the other Southern states, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh too welcome the New Year with several irresistible delicacies. According to Suresh Thampy, Executive Chef, Sheraton Grand Bangalore Hotel at Brigade Gateway, Vepapoota Pachadi is a dish which is eaten after offering prayers to the Sun God. Vepapoota pachadi or neem flower pickle, is generally eaten on an empty stomach.
Lemon rice or mango rice is always served on the festive thali in Karnataka, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. Obbattu saaru is made from the liquid left over from cooking the toor dal used in obbatu or oliga. Made from fresh masala powder, it is a semi-watery but thickish curry and is eaten with plain white rice. Eggplant curry or vankaya vepudu is a staple on Ugadi in Telugu homes. The blend of fresh ginger, garlic and coconut imparts this dish an unparalleled aroma and flavour.
Ugadi is incomplete without Ugadi Pachadi, made of jaggery, raw mango pieces, neem flowers, and tamarind. It symbolically represents the flavours of life, both the happy and not-so-happy moments. It is a healthy dish since it contains neem leaves. This also symbolises starting the year on a healthy note.
Chef Thampy adds, “Similarly, Bevu Bella is the main festival preparation during Ugadi. It is made using Neem leaves and jaggery. To ensure that these neem trees are protected through the ages, the custom of preparing and eating Bevu Bella, as it is called in Kannada, or Ugadi Pachadi, as it is called in Telugu, was introduced. A special significance was attached to it as a story, to aid people to remember the custom. The word rasa means two things: taste and emotion. Bevu Bella is a preparation of the six rasas – neem buds or flowers for bitterness, signifying sadness; jaggery and ripe banana for sweetness, signifying happiness; green chilli or pepper for the hot taste signifying anger; salt for saltiness, signifying fear; tamarind for sourness, signifying disgust and raw mango for its tang, signifying surprise.” Desserts occupy a pride of place on Ugadi. Senagapappu saggubiyyam is a traditional South Indian sweet dish that is prepared on this day. Apart from the coconut milk and jaggery used in regular payasam, chana dal and sago are liberally made use of. Uniappam made from rice, jaggery, banana, roasted coconut pieces, roasted sesame seeds, ghee and cardamom powder, is also a typical New Year delicacy.
Obbattu is also served as a part of dessert at the end of the meal. It is essentially a stuffed wheat bread with yellow gram, jaggery and cardamom and is served with a dollop of ghee. It is similar to puran poli in Maharashtra. Obbattu can have many other variants as fillings.
Written by: Mini Ribeiro