Sunday, August 31, 2008

Kerala food: Aviyal, Bhima’s own dish, for Onam

Onam, the most famous festival of Kerala is just around the corner. Thiruonam is on the 12th of September. Can a Malayalee (Keralite) think of Onasadhya without aviyal? This famous cooked vegetable ‘salad’ is supposed to have been invented by Bhima.

It is believed that the Pandavas spent a considerable time in Kerala during their year of hiding after the vanavasa (living in the forests) of 12 years. (See Travel: Mist covers the mountain tops)

If they were recognized during that period the cycle of vanavasa and hiding had to be repeated. They had to be very careful to remain incognito. While the other Pandavas were satisfied with living on fruits etc., Bhima’s appetite required more solid food.

One day in desperation, he gathered all the edible vegetables available, cut them up, put them in a vessel and poured some water into it. He added grated coconut, curry leaves, salt, turmeric etc and boiled the pot. He took it off the fire when the water had almost dried up. And, aviyal was born! Possibly it looked something like in the picture below:

Bhima loved it and so did the people during the millenniums that followed. I don't think anyone would dispute that aviyal is Kerala’s favorite vegetable dish.

One could possibly write the recipe for aviyal by looking at the photo. There are no hard and fast rules or rigid list of ingredients. The requirements are vegetables on hand, coconut, turmeric, curry leaves and salt. Add something for sourness if you like. May be a little coconut oil or coconut milk, before taking off the fire.

In short, aviyal is a dish that you blend to your taste with available inputs. Or, if you like, there are many recipes available on the Internet.

Aviyal is great, any time.

Photo by me from Olavipe. Copyright reserved. Click to enlarge.

Also see: Sadhya - a sumptuous Kerala meal



Interesting story - first time I hear this

Abraham Tharakan said...

Raji, there are quite a few stories about Pandavas in Kerala. It would make interesting reading if they are compiled. Perhaps there are anecdotes in Tamil Nadu as well.

Ashvin said...

I had never heard of the Bhima / aviyal connection. The story I have heard is that of Sakthan Thampuran. Apparently one his first acts as ruler of Cochin was to inspect the palace kitchens and behead the chief palace cook and probably a few assorted assistants as well when he saw the filthy condition of the kitchens. The practice then was to use the best pieces of vegetables were used for cooking and the rest (tips etc) were thrown away. To avoid wastage and achieve better food costs (hoteliering terms) he ordered that all the left over pieces of vegetables be mixed, cooked and made into one dish and aviyal was born. I like this version better, especially the beheading of the cooks part :-)

Irimpanam near Cochin was supposed to be location of the dense forests where the Pandavas met the Rakshasa brother and sister Hidimba and Hidimbi. Bheema killed the brother, married the sister and their son was the famous Ghatolkacha of the Mahabharata. Hidimbavanam gradually became Irimpanam.

Abraham Tharakan said...

ashvin, it could very well be true that Shakthan Thampuran invented the modern avial. However, the Bhima angle sounds logical.

Thanks for the information on Irumpanam. There are so many legends about the Pandavas in Kerala. I have an idea to write about some of them.

Incidentally, my email id is

Kariyachan said...

The Legend is, the Edakkal caves at Ambalavayal, Wayanad were also inhabited by the Pandavas during their 'vanavasam' period.

Sudha Naik said...

Aviyal photo ugran .. kothi varunnu :)

Urs....Jina said...

Hello Sir,

I recently found your blog which was recommended by Kitchenmishmash for research for my food history blog. I have taken information from this particular post and used it in the blog for this post-
Please do read if you have time and I will be honoured if you could offer more insights