How this P.E.I. caterer is preparing its 1st in-person Indian harvest festival feast

·3 min read
Charlottetown-based 4 S Catering is expecting to serve up to 150 people for their Onam Sadhya set for Sept. 6. From left, daughter Sandra Sunil, mother Sheena Mathew, son Samel Sunil, team member Aljo Johnson, and father Sunil Daniel. (Mikee Mutuc/CBC - image credit)
Charlottetown-based 4 S Catering is expecting to serve up to 150 people for their Onam Sadhya set for Sept. 6. From left, daughter Sandra Sunil, mother Sheena Mathew, son Samel Sunil, team member Aljo Johnson, and father Sunil Daniel. (Mikee Mutuc/CBC - image credit)

A P.E.I. family-run business is going to great lengths to prepare a feast consisting of more than 25 dishes as part of an annual Indian harvest festival called Onam.

The 10-day festival runs from Aug. 30 to Sept. 8 this year, and it marks the first month of the calendar year for the Malayali people — an ethnolinguistic group from Kerala, India.

Each day of the festival has its own significance, with an elaborate assortment of celebrations and events ranging from dance performances to competitive games.

An essential part of the festival is called Onam Sadhya, a traditional multi-course meal served on a bed of banana leaves and meant to be eaten by hand.

That's what 4 S Catering in Charlottetown has decided to prepare for Islanders. The caterer, which many will know from their booth at the Charlottetown Farmers' Market, will be hosting the event in-person for the first time at the Jack Blanchard Family Centre on Tuesday.

"It's basically a collection of the harvest, and really celebrating family connectedness and community, and sharing and cooking meals together and just eating and having a great time," said Sandra Sunil, the catering company's manager.

Sunil runs the business with her mother Sheena Mathew, father Sunil Daniel, and brother Samel Sunil.

She said they began hosting the feast last year but chose to deliver the food through a takeout option due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Mikee Mutuc/CBC
Mikee Mutuc/CBC

After receiving "overwhelming support" with more than 50 orders placed, the company decided to continue Onam Sadhya this year with an in-person dinner.

As people enter the community centre, they can expect cultural music playing in the background throughout the event.

The family is expecting to serve about 100 to 150 people. Sunil said the company already has 30 people registered, on top of others they know who are waiting to book until they get a final head count from relatives and friends interested in joining.

"We're super excited to host it and just have everyone together and really enjoy the time," she said.

Meal prep

All the dishes served for the Onam Sadhya will be vegetarian, more than 25 in all.

"Whether you're [a] child or whether you're an adult — you can really have and find something to like in the array of dishes," said Sunil.

The family of four will be relying on each other, and a small number of team members, to cook enough food for the number of guests anticipated, but she said the business has catered for even bigger crowds so it's no surprise to them.

Mathew said it was difficult to find banana leaves to use on the tables for the feast, so they have resorted to cutting large pieces of green paper to recreate the experience for their guests.

Sourcing the rest of their grocery list was made easier thanks to the Indian grocers on the Island as well as in cities like Moncton, Halifax, and Toronto. They have also ordered online to get products directly from India, including some that most Islanders would not recognize.

"Drumstick, we don't use often here. It's a green vegetable," said Mathew. "And cucumber, different types of cucumber. And yam, mostly people doesn't use here. Okra. Yeah, that kind of vegetables we use a lot in this.

"I am excited. So it is the way of, you know, showing the culture to all the people. So we are really excited to show that to you.... We want to involve everyone."

The event will run from 5 to 7 p.m. More information on how to register can be found on the 4 S Catering Facebook page.