Vishu is a festival celebrating the first day of the Hindu New Year in Kerala and the nearby Karnataka regions. The word ‘Vishu’ is a Sanskrit term that means equal, and it signifies the conclusion of the spring equinox. Friends, family members and relatives get together to have a grand celebration at the start of the new Malayali calendar. For a Keralite, this day is very special because it implies the start of the New Year, the beginning of new aspirations and hopes.
Vishu is usually celebrated in the second week of April (14th April in 2017). This popular festival is known across India by different names – Bihu in Assam, Poila Baisakh in Bengal, Puthandu in Tamil Nadu and Baisakhi in Punjab.
Food is a very important part of Vishu celebrations in Kerala. Usually, a sumptuous feast is prepared and the whole family comes together to enjoy it. The meal, known as ‘Vishu Sadya’, includes a taste bud-tingling mix of salty, bitter, sour and sweet dishes in equal proportions. You will find a number of dishes that include seasonal fruits and vegetables like pumpkin, mangoes and jackfruits. However, not every Sadya is the same. Different homes include different food dishes in their Vishu Sadya, some of which you may not have even heard of.
Here are some of the offbeat dishes to try this Vishu:
Avial With A Twist
Avial is one of the most traditional dishes included in every Vishu Sadya and is made with seasonal vegetables. This dish can be made interesting by adding vegetables that you would never eat otherwise, like ivy gourd, brinjal, and even spinach. This is also a healthy alternative to your typical Avial served at Vishu feasts.
Thoran is a traditional dish that is cooked in every household during Vishu. It is typically made with vegetables like carrots, beans or cabbage. This Vishu, get a taste of Capsicum Thoran, which is made with ingredients like mustard seeds, curry leaves, turmeric powder, and channa dal. In the end, a sprinkle of ground coconut is added as garnish.
Pachadi is a mouth-watering curry with a yoghurt base and is usually made with bitter gourd, pineapple or raw mango. Instead of sticking to the traditional Pachadi, try the Beetroot Pachadi. Seasoned with dry red chili, mustard seeds and curry leaves, this Pachadi makes an excellent side dish.
Theeyal is a traditional dish of Kerala that is known for its rich taste of roasted coconut and tanginess from tamarind. The trick to making the perfect Theeyal is to ensure that one of these flavours does not overpower the other. The typical Theeyal is made without adding any vegetables to it apart from onions. Enjoy this Vishu Sadya by tasting a unique dish like Mushroom Theeyal, a reinvention of the traditional Kerala dish.
Raw Mango Curry
Add a bit of a tang to this year’s Vishu Sadya by including Raw Mango Curry in it. This dish is made by cooking finely chopped raw mango in rich coconut milk. It is seasoned with green chili, ginger, curry leaves, mustard seeds, chili powder and turmeric powder.
Ripe Banana Kalan
Traditional Kalan is prepared by using coconut, raw bananas, yams, butter milk and mustard seeds. You can be a little adventurous this year by including Ripe Banana Kalan in your Vishu Sadya. This Kalan is made with ingredients like buttermilk, coconut, chili powder, curry leaves, turmeric powder and mustard seeds.
Green Chilli Pickle
Forget about mango and lemon pickle this Vishu, and try the new green chili pickle. A word of advice –you may want go slow while eating this pickle as it can be extremely spicy. Made with simple ingredients like lemon, green chillies, mustard seeds, fenugreek, turmeric powder and asafoetida, green chilli pickle can be a zesty addition to the menu if you have a fiery palate.
Desserts are a vital element of Vishu Sadya, particularly the different kinds of Payasam. Enjoy a healthy feast this Vishu and eat Carrot Payasam instead of the traditional one made with rice. Since carrots contain naturally sweet sugars, there is usually less artificial sugar added to this Payasam compared to the traditional one. Not to mention the numerous health benefits of antioxidants, fibre, and beta-carotene present in carrots.
Yet another variation of the traditional Payasam is the Chena Payasam or the Yam Payasam. Yams are known to be a rich source of Vitamin C, potassium, fibre, and manganese. Yam Payasam is a healthier alternative to the typical Payasam, and it tastes just as good.
Kerala cuisine is known for its amazing use of spices, and the Vishu Sadya is a great way to taste some of the most traditional delicacies from this state. Make this year’s Vishu even more memorable by tucking into some of these offbeat Kerala dishes served on a banana leaf.
• Location: On the Malabar coast in South India
• How to Reach: Three international airports – Calicut, Cochin, and Trivandrum; Southern Railway line of Indian Railways has stations at most major cities and towns.
• Official Language: Malayalam
• Currency: INR
• Time Zone: IST (UTC+5.30)
• Climate: Maritime tropical climate
• Food & Drink: Fish Moilee, Thalassery Biryani, and Appam with Stew are iconic dishes.
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