A casually dressed young man who clearly looked like he was fitness-motivated came up to me the other night after he had finished his meal and thanked me profusely. He said he was following a Paleo diet and was incredibly thankful to have found a restaurant he enjoyed while still sticking to his rigid diet plan that prohibits grains, legumes, dairy products, and refined sugar.
As a chef, when someone compliments our food as being “healthy” or working well with their specific diet, I feel gratified—but I can’t always take full credit. Many traditional Indian recipes—if they are made with care from fresh, local ingredients—cater to a wide variety of diets by default. So for this gentleman on the Paleo diet, it was easy to find an Indian meal that incorporated the animal protein and abundance of vegetables his diet required.
Many South Indian Staples Are Naturally Paleo
The abundant rainfall and hot, humid climate of the South Indian peninsula contributes to the thriving growth of fruits and vegetables that drive our cuisine. Paleo-friendly coconut is shredded, grated, or blended into a variety of dishes to add sweetness, crunch, and a creamy texture to sauces. Vegetable korma, for example, uses coconut milk for a rich base and is garnished with beautifully curled dried coconut shavings. Coconut oil is usually our first choice for cooking and frying (especially in health-conscious SF) and is a flavorful source of healthy fat for all diets.
Due to the incredible geographic and cultural variety in South India, many types of Paleo-friendly meat and seafood have become standard in our regional cuisine. It’s not all chickpeas and lentils. Seafood recipes dominate from the coast, and meat-based specialties made with pork, lamb, beef, and chicken are more abundant inland. Yes, there are communities in India, like the Christians, who eat beef or pork!
Of course, the true staple of Indian food, spices, are the star in every dish. Fragrant and bold spices give Indian food its distinctive flavor and add intriguing complexity to even the simplest of dishes. Cloves, cardamom, peppercorns, and nutmeg—among an entire pantry full of other options—combine uniquely in each dish to create a sweet, smoky, or heat-filled piquancy that’s irresistibly Indian. Because of the limited foods available, Paleo diets can get boring and bland pretty quickly, but the complex spices of Indian food provide endless variety and flavor.
The Wide Variety of Delicious Paleo Options
Before our Paleo guest left, I asked him what he had chosen from the menu so I could safely recommend dishes to other Paleo diners. He explained that since he was very “strict Paleo,” he avoided anything with dairy, grains, or legumes but that many Paleo diners make a few exceptions when they dine out.
He told me that coconut milk-based dishes are a Paleo
favorite and was delighted by our Lemon Chile Scallops with lemongrass, curry leaves, and greens. The Goan Prawn Masala would work nicely for those on a Paleo diet as well.
Paleo eaters may want to look for a curry that doesn’t contain dairy and opt out on the choice of grain-based sides (rice, dosa, or uttapam). For this, the Roasted Masala Lamb Shank with its savory tomato-based sauce or the Alaskan Wild Salmon would have been great options for a protein-rich curry.
For dessert, the Tapioca Kheer would make a nice treat for any not-so-strict Paleo dieter. Made with coconut and cashew milk and dairy-free mango sorbet, this one checks most of the boxes.
But what this man found most helpful was the coding on our menu that tells if a dish is gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, egg-free, or vegan. Sometimes it is hard to figure out what goes into a dish based solely on the menu’s description, so we added an extra layer to allow guests to more easily find food that works for their particular dietary needs.
The Perfect Combination of Flavor and Paleo Nutrition
While eating Paleo may be difficult at some restaurants, you can be sure to walk away satisfied when you enjoy a South Indian meal that is naturally nutritious, protein-rich, and low in carbs. Even when avoiding rice, lentils, and traditional Indian breads, there is still a plethora of dishes to try, and Paleo eaters can approach a South Indian menu with confidence. And because Indian cuisine uses traditional, ancient cooking methods, it overlaps with some of the same principles that the Paleo diet is based on.
It’s experiences like meeting this man on the Paleo diet that make me realize how much I love the people in this city. They have taught me so much about the different ways of approaching healthy eating and have introduced me to a California sensibility about food that I wasn’t always exposed to in my upbringing in Bombay. Although our menu at DOSA was initially based on age-old recipes, it makes me happy that we naturally accommodate so many modern diets without any effort, while we still delivering the authentic flavors of our Indian cuisine. Stop by DOSA on Fillmore or Valencia for a bite of flavorful, healthy South Indian fare.