My 8 Favorite International Dishes to Expand Your Primal Palate

Inline_International_dishesStandard Primal eating is quite simple. Meat, veggies, and perhaps some starch. That’s partly what makes it so effective and intuitive. As far as dietary lifestyles that call for making most of your food from scratch, the Primal Blueprint is one of the easier ones.

As a red-blooded American, most of the recipes I post on MDA and publish in my books are “Primalized” versions of American cuisine. It’s only natural. So you get Primal meatloaf, Primal casserole, Primal pancakes, and other familiar fare. I even published an entire cookbook devoted to it called Primal Cravings.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t like different flavors. I do.

Today, I’m going to expand the Primal horizons. Sit back, and fire up your imagination. Primal is going full-on global.

Anticuchos, or Grilled Stew Meat

Peruvian cuisine is enjoying increased attention, but I’ve always loved it. My favorite dish, bar none, is the anticuchos: marinated and grilled beef hearts. From what I understand, an “anticucho” can be many things, but I’ve only ever had the beef heart version. I don’t think I’d try anything else if it was offered, to be honest.

So what’s it taste like? Cumin, garlic, roasted chiles, oregano, acid (from lime or vinegar), atop the mineral backdrop of fire-grilled beef heart. Heart itself is a mild organ. It’s more of a muscle, really. And if you’re particularly squeamish or sensitive, the powerful marinade drowns out the “organy” flavor.

Heart is the best dietary source of CoQ10, the vital compound required for muscle contractions and heart function that many common prescription drugs deplete.

Plus, there’s nothing like eating meat on a stick, is there?

Nutrient highlights: CoQ10, protein, B-vitamins, phytonutrients from spices and herbs.

Canh Rong Bien, or Vietnamese Seaweed Soup

This one’s tough to find in restaurants. A close friend of mine told me his mom used to make it for him every time he was feeling sick or blue. For him, it was comfort food.

It boils down (get it?) to laver (a type of seaweed high in iodine), fish sauce, and broth. Real simple. Sometimes there’s ground pork or chiles, but not always. Limes and basil or cilantro served on the side.

If there’s one thing the Vietnamese do well, it’s make a hearty broth. They don’t just throw some chicken backs in a pot for a couple hours. They throw tails and tendons and tripe and marrow bones and feet into a 60 gallon stockpot for days on end to produce a gelatinous, syrupy substance. A good Vietnamese restaurant will use this magic liquid in every soup they have.

Nutrient highlights: Iodine, collagen.

Turkish Shepherd’s Salad

We’re all big fans of herbs. They’re great, they have antioxidants, they protect food from heat damage, they confer many health benefits. If only we could eat more of them. How about eating an entire plateful of them as if they were baby spinach? Turkish salads are unlike any I’ve had before, and the shepherd’s salad is the best of the bunch.

Fresh herbs comprise the bulk of the leafy vegetation. Thyme, parsley, mint in amounts you’d just as soon use to stuff a 25 pound turkey.

Finely chopped red onion and tomatoes.

Whole green olives (watch for pits). Good olive oil.

Pomegranate molasses.

A dry salty cheese similar to feta.

That’s what mine had. Looking around the web, I see that Turkish shepherd’s salad are all a little different. They’re all good.

Nutrient highlights: Manganese, vitamin C, vitamin K, magnesium, prebiotic fiber, tons of phytonutrients from all the herbs and vegetables.


Everyone always thinks Thai food is nothing but rice and noodles. That going low-carb at a Thai joint is nigh impossible. Well, you probably haven’t looked at the salad section. Larb is classified as a salad, but it’s heartier than most. Ground chicken or pork is mixed with chiles, lime, Thai basil, fish sauce, and toasted rice powder. Thai friends of mine tell me larb isn’t always stir-fried, so if you’re worried about the restaurant using substandard industrial oils, you may be okay.

Don’t ask for “Thai spicy,” by the way. The cook will overdo the chiles to please the overly-confident foreigner and you’ll end up a sweaty mess with a ruined palate. Instead, ask for “Tham Thai Thai noi krahp,” or “Make it as you would for a Thai person.”

Nutrient highlights: Low carbohydrate content, protein, antioxidants from the spices and herbs.

Ankimo, or Monkfish Liver

First thing I do anytime I enter a sushi restaurant is ask if they have ankimo. If they have it, I order it. Ankimo, or monkfish liver, is marine foie gras. It’s buttery, silky smooth, creamy, velvety, and pretty much every other synonym for “smooth” you can imagine.

Ankimo is mild. It doesn’t taste like liver, instead reminding me of a slightly fishy bone marrow. If I ate toast, I’d probably spread ankimo all over it. Don’t eat this every day, though. Monkfish liver tends to accumulate extremely high levels of selenium (but, thankfully, not mercury).

Besides, a little bit goes a long way. Ankimo isn’t something you fill up on. No one sits down to a big bowl of ankimo. They eat delicate slivers, and that’s enough.

Nutrient highlights: Selenium, vitamin A, vitamin D (likely, if it’s anything like cod liver), omega-3s.

Dry Mutton Roast, Kerala Style

Kerala is a region in the south of India. Far more reliant on meat and coconut than other regions of India, its cuisine is perfect for Primal eaters. My absolute favorite dish—and to be fair, I haven’t tried very many—is the mutton roast, a kind of “dry” curry. Instead of a small handful of meat chunks swimming in a bowl of creamy curry, every Kerala mutton roast I’ve encountered has provided a substantial amount of lamb chunks coated in a gingery, coriandery (sure, that’s a word), fiery curry paste.

The wetter Indian curries are gateways to rice gorging. You can’t help but eat an entire plate of rice just to sop up the deliciousness. With the dry mutton roast, there’s nothing to sop up—just lamb to put in your mouth.

I’m also a big fan of the word “mutton.” Makes me feel like a medieval lord wiping his greasy sheep-fat fingers on his fur cloak.

Nutrient highlights: A ton of grass-fed lamb, medium chain triglycerides from coconut, plus the obligatory spice-and-herb-based antioxidants, a reduced compulsion to eat rice.

West African Peanut Stew

An old pal who did a few years in the Peace Corps in Togo made this for me once. It was incredible, incorporating chicken, red palm oil, ginger, garlic, onions, spicy red peppers, real chicken broth, collard greens, yams, and chunky peanut butter (not Jif, the real stuff) in a silky smooth gravy. Every ingredient is familiar, but together it’s unlike anything you’ve had.

The peanut butter/legume deal? Relax. You’re eating it once in a blue moon. A few tablespoons of peanuts and peanut butter won’t hurt you, no matter how rich they are in aflatoxin. And legumes aren’t even as bad as we used to think.

Nutrient highlights: Spice antioxidants, full spectrum vitamin E from red palm oil, magnesium and vitamin K and folate from the collards, plus more folate and manganese from the peanuts.

Cacio e Pepe (with gluten-free pasta), or “Cheese and Pepper”

The last one is sure to be the most controversial. What gives, Sisson? A pasta dish?

Yes. Bear with  me.

First, you can get gluten-free pasta. It’s getting better all the time, and most Italian places have it by now.

Second, it’s delicious. A ton of black pepper, pecorino romano cheese (which I prefer to parmigiano reggiano), some butter, and pasta. Consider cacio e pepe a better, faster mac and cheese. Your kids will love it. Anthony Bourdain is all about it. He isn’t a Primal eater, but I trust his instincts.

Third, it’s loaded with pecorino romano, one of the greatest and oldest Italian cheeses. “Pecorino romano” is no generic name you can slap onto any old cheese. For pecorino romano to earn the name pecorino romano, it must be made from raw sheep’s milk raised on pasture land, using real sheep rennet. So when you come across pecorino romano in the store (not just “romano,” which is made with cow’s milk under far less stringent conditions), you know you’re getting the real thing.

A study from 2010 found that pecorino romano is naturally rich in conjugated linoleic acid and that eating 200 grams a week improves markers of inflammation and atherosclerosis.

If you can’t find a restaurant willing to serve you gluten-free cecio e pepe, you can make this at home (check the Bourdain link above for a recipe; my secret tip: use reduced bone broth instead of the reserved cooking water to finish the pasta). You want to really get crazy, you can grab a box of pasta made from bean flour. Trader Joe’s has a black bean fusilli that’s quite good if you can adapt to the black bean flavor. For “traditional” gluten-free pasta I usually like Trader Joe’s quinoa/brown rice spaghetti.

Nutrient highlights: CLA, calcium, protein.

Those are my top 8 picks for international dishes you probably haven’t tried but absolutely should. They’re all nutrient-dense and delicious. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

Okay. Now I’m hungry. What have you got for me? What Primal-friendly international dishes (or cuisines) do I have to try?

Thanks for reading, everyone. Take care, and have a good time eating new things!

TAGS:  cooking tips

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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26 thoughts on “My 8 Favorite International Dishes to Expand Your Primal Palate”

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  1. Great dishes! When I first went primal I loaded up on vegetarian cookbooks and just added meat to the grain-free recipes. African kale and yam is still a favorite. Here’s one to try: cabbage and eggplant stir fried in a light sauce of chicken broth and aminos with anchovies mashed into the sauce. I think the recipe I adapted it from is called “Golden Temple Eggplant”. In the summer we’ll add summer squash and load a pile next to some grilled meat.

    1. Excellent idea regarding the vegetarian cookbooks since you can add meat to anything, either as a stew or a side dish. Also +1 regarding the use of anchovies. Those little guys are highly underrated. Mashing a bit of anchovy (canned) into almost any sauce will add depth of flavor without giving it a fishy taste. Anchovy paste (comes in a tube) is handy for this purpose, although it might contain components that aren’t quite Primal.

  2. The Indonesian dish Rendang, from the ethnic group Minangkabau, is to die for. Several exotic spices are used like ginger, galangal, chili, coconut milk, lemongrass, turmeric leaves and shallots marinated for days. In 2011, an online poll of 35,000 people by CNN International chose rendang as the #1 dish of their “world’s 50 most delicious foods, readers pick list”. It’s my all time favorite.

  3. I just ate but reading this totally made me hungry. No interest in the mutton, but other than that everything sounds pretty amazing. Especially the seaweed soup and the marinated beef heart. I’ve been so curious to try heart, but not ready to prepare it myself. So now I just need to find a Peruvian restaurant.

    1. If you have a meat grinder or a good butcher, get heart ground. Replace half of your hamburger meat and grill that. Or use ground heart for chili or beef stew.

      The rest of these recipes look great. I’ve had lamb stew with insufficient hot pepper at our regional Indian place. Nobody in the area sells mutton, and you have to take out a second mortgage to buy lamb at the stores.

    2. My husband prepares beef heart jerky that is amazing- just like regular jerky but a little richer. We recently had lamb heart and stir fried it with some Ethiopian herbs from our local spice shop with tomatoes and green beans. Hearts are a great intro to offal, imo, because they prepare so easily like more common meats.

  4. No good … today is fasting day for me … and now I am hungry!
    Will re-read on the weekend 🙂

  5. Aaargh! I just threw out an unopened bag of gluten-free pasta I found at the back of a shelf. Now you tell me…

    Could we have recipes for these yummy dishes, please? Then I can justify re-buying gluten-free pasta.

  6. if you’re gonna make cacio e pepe, save it for cheat day and make it my way! grind the pepper as finely as you can by twisting the knob on the bottom of your mill until it’s locked and then backing off a bit. add pasta to finely grated cheese and pepper, and stir while spooning in pasta water until it just barely comes together… it should coat the noodles and glisten, but seem a little bit dry and clumpy at the same time. eat immediately, it dies quickly. limit the portion to the size of your fist, and don’t beat yourself up over it! it’s so much better this way than w/ added fat. you can really taste the two separate flavors of cheese and pepper instead of the flavors melding together in the creaminess that results from using butter or oil. extra points if you use the authentic square spaghetti instead of the round: you will end up with more clump action and a slightly more toothsome texture. look for tonnarelli or spaghetti alla chitarra on the label. for something different, try tracking down caciocavallo cheese. it is similar to pecorino but made from cow instead of sheep, it’s a bit more complex IMO and slightly stinkier.

  7. There is an amazing Thai place near us, and I always get their beef larp. I highly recommend it.

  8. Former Peace Corps Togo volunteer here. I can attest to the deliciousness of peanut stew. Try to eat it with fufu; mashed West African yams, like very dry potatoes.

  9. Make and enjoy cacio e pepe at home. Every Italian restaurant I’ve ordered GF pasta in has glutened me. Severely. Misery out of all proportion to pleasure.
    Must have thrown it in the regular pasta water. 🙁

    1. For make-at-home gluten-free pasta, I’ve found the Tinkyada brand to be about the best.

  10. Taking a cue from Indian foods, you can make dosas, Idilis, Dhokra/Dhloka or any one of the many other fermented legume (and sometimes rice) breads or pancakes/crepes. Since the legumes are fermented, they are better for you. And I sprout and dry them after I buy them. They are our “bread.” I don’t always stick to the traditional, but use the legumes (and sometimes sprouted grains) I have available or plantains. I’ve also found they are all fluffier and have more protein when egg is added, and better still if you throw in some collagen powder. They even work in a waffle maker and can be used to make sweet things like cupcakes. Toast to reheat and they won’t be dry.

  11. One I love is Peruvian–Lomo Saltado, made without the French fries!

  12. We make larb almost once a week but a simplified version – brown ground beef, add a couple of limes worth of lime juice, pour in some good quality fish sauce, serve over cabbage. A complete dinner ready in like 10 minutes.

  13. Oh lots of delicious food. We eat lamb a lot, I’m in the UK, but usually buy it on offer, it’s usually very naturally reared. Also, I thought mutton was from an adult sheep. I am going to look out for pecorino Romano now, I had no idea it’s so nutritious.

  14. CHICKEN SHAWARMA is hands down my favorite international dish! I am obsessed with Japanese (handrolls without rice and sashimi) but…. Shawarma and/or chicken gyro meat, oh man! I could eat pounds of it in one sitting and want more!

  15. Does anyone know what the dish in the picture is? I really want to look up a recipe to prepare.

  16. Yakitori, grilled chicken-and-veggie skewers (chicken livers are one possible variation), are a very popular street food in Japan. They’re also served in upscale restaurants, but they’re not automatically eaten with rice. In fact Japanese bar food (from an izakaya) is all around sensational: small dishes of mostly meats, fish and vegetables.

  17. Hey! Why no recipes? Also we tried the black bean pasta from TJ’s recently, horrible!