Hotels and caterers in Thiruvananthapuram are upbeat about the Onam season

They have opened bookings for Onasadya kits that have the entire spread of the grand feast

Onam celebrations may have changed a great deal, but the grand Onasadya, with its mix of flavours, continues to reign supreme on the day of Thiruvonam when the festivities reach a crescendo. The 26-dish (or even more) spread with finger-licking payasams served on banana leaf is perhaps the pièce de résistance of the festival for many. Despite the pandemic, several hotels and caterers are in high spirits and have opened bookings for Onasadya kits.

“The Malayalam month of Chingam (August-September) is considered auspicious for many events and hence is a peak season for caterers as sadhya orders for engagements, housewarmings and weddings come. Then there are bulk bookings for Onasadya from offices, businesses, residents’ associations and the like. As everything has been on a standstill mode for over four months, Onam has come as a breather,” says Anilkumar SK a.k.a Kannan of Akshaya Caterers.

An Onasadya kit

Considered a pioneer in introducing Onasadya kits in the city 10 years ago, Kannan admits that he had apprehensions about opening bookings for sadya because of the pandemic. “However, Akshaya decided to go ahead after enquiries from our regular clients,” he adds.

Typically, a sadya kit is meant for five adults, and about 200 to 600 kits (that is 1,000 to 3,000 sadyas) are sold by the caterers every year. “I am not sure whether we will get more business this time. Customers keep asking us about safety precautions we have taken while cooking and packing. We have assured them that there is no compromise on the State Government’s guidelines. It’s about keeping the business afloat as a number of daily wage labourers are dependent on our enterprise. They are left with little work because if a wedding had a headcount of 1,000 during the pre-COVID phase, now, as per the protocol, it has been restricted to 50,” says Rajalakshmy of Anandam Home Caterers.

Priya Jayachandran of Mangalya Catering and Events also points out that there is no other option for the caterers but to go ahead in conformation with the guidelines. With hotels and restaurants entering the fray, there is intense competition.

Priya adds that while catering units like hers usually serve takeaway sadya kits on Uthradam and Thiruvonam days, there are hotels that provide sadya for five to 10 days. Although most of the catering firms and hotels insist on a minimum order of five, small enterprises have kits for two and three, offering a varying number of payasams.

Sweetening the deal

Sanal KS, owner of Mother’s Veg Plaza, which has a sadya spread 365 days of the year, says that since only takeaways are possible this Onam, they have increased the number of payasams in each kit. “Last year, we served 10 payasams for the sadya served in the hotel, while takeaway kits had two. But there will be five payasams this year. It’s a question of survival for us,” says Sanal.

With few takers for dine in, high-end hotels and boutique restaurants have also announced sadya packages, with takeaway and home delivery options available.

What’s on the menu

  • A sadya kit for five people is usually served in reusable, food-grade plastic containers and has 20-28 items, including banana leaves. This year, the rate for a kit falls in the range of ₹1,000 and ₹2,300.

“We have never given sadyas as takeaways. So all arrangements are in place to make it a grand culinary experience. In addition, payasams will be available in bulk, including varieties of pradhaman (ada, kadala, unniyappam, banana and dates), Ambalappuzha paal payasam and tender coconut payasam,” says Sashi Jacob, vice-president (food & beverages), The Muthoot Skychef & Villa Maya. Hilton Garden Inn will serve sadya on all the 10 days of the festival, starting August 22. “We are giving discount for family packs. There will also be attractions such as beetroot payasam and jackfruit payasam,” says Sougata Ghosh, manager (food & beverages).

Meanwhile, challenges are many in the new scenario. Constant temperature checks, sanitising of hands, use of masks and gloves and social distancing are mandatory in the kitchen and packing area. “A lot is at stake for all caterers as we invest a lot during the season. The total expense for containers to pack the sadya alone come to around ₹3.5 lakh. Then there is the rent for the auditorium or hall we book to pack the dishes,” says Kannan.

Safe delivery

Social distancing has to be ensured at collection points, says Kannan, adding that his staff members will deliver the kit to the customer’s vehicle. While Anandam has three delivery points this year, Mangalya has given a timeslot for each customer to collect the kits.

Rise in prices of vegetables and bananas are also a cause of worry. “Plantain leaves are generally expensive during this time,” adds Priya with rates going up to ₹10 per leaf.

However, all of them hope that the sadya continues to attract families. Nirmal Kumar, managing partner of BIG Kitchen, says they have gone all out promoting their sadya this time. “We have introduced digital code for contactless delivery,” he says. “Last year, it was a low-key affair and we sold just under 200 kits. But this time, our target is 500-750 kits, with three payasams and more curries.”

Some takeaway points

Mother’s Veg Plaza, Bakery Junction (kits for two or five, August 31): 0471-4012255

Mangalya Catering and Events, , Poojappura (August 31): 9387812150, 7907792271

Anandam Home Caterers, Karamana (August 30 and 31): 9846011907

Akshaya Caterers, Sasthamangalam (August 31): 0471-2722501, 9847063783

BIG Kitchen, Kowdiar (August 31): 9895145450, 9946697920

Villa Maya, Eenchakkal (August 29 to 31): 9746746450, 8129543444

The Muthoot Skychef, Airport Road (August 29 to 31): 9746746441, 9746746410

Hilton Garden Inn, Statue (August 22 to 31): 8111886843/44/46

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