Dubai: From Dubai Mall to nondescript buildings in some Northern Emirates, Kerala restaurants located across the UAE served traditional Onam feast to tens of thousands of people on Monday, the most important day of the harvest festival of Keralites.
For most of the Malayalees celebrating the festival in the UAE, Thiruvonam falling on a working day meant savouring Onasadhya — the vegetarian feast served on banana leaf — from outside.
A typical Onasadhya is a spread of 20 to 25 dishes, including varieties of payasam [a traditional dessert]. But restaurants here compete with each other to offer more than 30 items and some even fly in popular chefs from Kerala for preparing mass sadhya.
Several eateries run by expats from the South Indian state of Kerala witnessed huge rush of people visiting them for dining in and taking away Onasadhya for lunch.
Spice Bowl at Dubai Mall became the first restaurant to offer traditional sadhya in the world’s largest mall, according to its manager Sreejith Cheruvathur.
“Our first experience of offering sadhya on Vishu (another festival celebrated by Keralites) in April was a big success. We had many Malyalis and even Emiratis and [people of] other nationalities dining with us that day. For Onam today, we are offering 32 items including three payasams for Dh35,” he told Gulf News.
Though many eateries had announced booking facilities through various media, popular restaurants catering to the community witnessed long queues of diners. People also bought sadhya from hypermarkets.
“We see a huge demand for Onasadhya especially when Thiruvonam comes on a working day. This time, we had already got a pre-booking for 10,000 Onasadhya which we are selling for Dh24.50. We had to restrict take away service at that number because of the difficulties in packing 20 items including two payasams. So, we have kept sadhya items at our hot food counter for customers to buy separately as well. We also have a payasamela going on,” said V. Nandakumar, chief communication officer at LuLu Group.
Construction sites and offices
Onam celebrations were held at construction sites and labour accommodations in Dubai. Around 200 workers of Tamam Exhibition Services savoured their Onasadhya at a worksite in Dubai Industrial City, said Noushad A.R, the managing director of the company.
“Rest of our workers also celebrated Onam at our labour accommodation in Al Quoz. They also had a sumptuous Onasadhya. Since most of us are from Kerala, we never miss to celebrate Onam,” he said.
Many Malayalees also organised Onam celebrations at their offices. Wearing the traditional Kerala sari and kasavumundu to offices, they feasted on Onasadhya with their colleagues of different nationalities.
Staff canteens of some companies also served Onasadhya for several people.
“Every year we have Onasadhya at our staff canteen. Though we don’t sit down for having the sadhya the traditional way, we enjoy having the feast as the day’s buffet,” said one Jumeirah Group employee living at Oasis Village, who did not wish to be named.
Several families also managed to have sadhya at home even during a working day. “Usually we make sadhya with our friends here. Some of them are on vacation this time. And it is a working day. So, I thought of making a small sadhya at home. My husband took a break to come and have sadhya. We will have a bigger celebration when all our friends are back,” said Dubai resident Nisha Rajesh.
Manjusha Pramod Nair, whose first child is celebrating his first Onam, said her husband took leave to celebrate Onam and have sadhya with their son Aryan. “We want to keep these moments captured for him to show him later how we made his first Onam special,” she said.