The banana leaves were held up at Dubai!
I had been looking forward to the Onam feast for weeks, and we made sure to be the first to arrive to get a chance to have a bit of a chat with the team at The Lanterns.
Greeted by a beaming Mahesh Pillai, the restaurant was the very picture of orderliness and calm. “It nearly didn’t go ahead!” he smiled, the banana leaves were held up at Dubai until yesterday!”
I had never experienced an Onam feast served in the traditional way so I had no idea what to expect. The main thing I wondered was how they would get the banana leaves, laden with food from the kitchen to the table! Would they be carried on wooden platters?
Once we got to our table it was clear that the meal was to be assembled right in front of us! And now I began to understand why the Onasadya Feast was such a test of a chef’s art.
Manoj Kumar introduced us to Chef Vijayan Narayan, who with typical Kerala hospitality was serving some of the dishes himself. Apparently hosting a feast at a busy Nottingham restaurant was no particular challenge to the master chef, who had previously provided food for over a thousand diners! Judging from his broad smile, you would never have guessed that he had been working into the small hours to guarantee the food was as fresh as possible in order to bring us this amazing experience.
A feast steeped in tradition
Manoj explained that there were very strict customs to be observed for every aspect of the feast that included fine detail such as the orientation of the banana leaf, the dishes themselves, the order in which the dishes were served, and their placement.
Apparently, although the precise ingredients that constitute the feast are not prescribed, nonetheless certain types of dish are always present, including rice, vegetable dishes, pickles, pappadam, and pudding. The Lanterns chose to present 18 separate items! A feast indeed!
A delight for all the senses
The feast was certainly a tour de force: no corners were cut in order to provide us with the most divinely authentic experience, a delight for all the senses! All the ingredients had been chosen to be exactly right for the occasion. Manoj explained that the every item in the meal was significant – even down to the rice with its plump grains, flecked with red. “That’s specially aged rice, matured like a good wine!” said Manoj.
Harmony and counterbalance
As we left, the place was beginning to fill up with happy families celebrating Onam in traditional style.
I can tell you that I felt privileged to be able to enjoy this amazing feast, the complexity of flavours, the harmony and counterbalance of tastes, textures, sweet spicy, hot and cold!
My eyes have been opened to a world of possibilities! I wonder if I speak nicely to the chef whether he’ll let me one of his recipes? Perhaps I should reserve my table for next year’s Onam now?