Two women stand facing the camera holding a tray of food.
Rukmani Srinivasan and Purnima Arunsankar, co-owners of Saapaaduu in San Jose, with mango and chia seed dosas. Photo by Robert Eliason.

If all you know about Indian food is butter chicken or chicken tikka masala, the training wheels of the cuisine, a trip to Saapaaduu is in order. Specializing in the dishes of southern India, the San Jose restaurant offers diners a unique rotating menu prepared with no food dyes, MSG or seed oils — homestyle cooking at its best.

“I started as a child, cooking with my mom and trying out new things,” co-owner Rukmani Srinivasan told San José Spotlight. “That passion has stayed with me all these years, and the satisfaction you get when you see people happy after a meal cannot be matched.”

The interior of an Indian restaurant in San Jose.
Saapaaduu is located at 5968 Silver Creek Valley Road in San Jose. Photo by Robert Eliason.

An engineer by trade, Srinivasan opened the Well Bowlls cloud kitchen at the height of the pandemic, serving vegetarian and gluten-free foods. Wanting to better interact with her customers, she teamed up with Purnima Arunsankar, co-owner and food manager, and opened Saapaaduu in the last month.

“We choose items to feature that you can’t find anywhere else, authentic cuisine influenced by the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala in India,” Arunsankar told San José Spotlight.

You will still find butter chicken on the menu, but why opt for that when you can have dhaniya masala, a surprising and delightful alternative to traditional saag. The spinach is swapped with creamed cilantro for a more warm, citrusy curry that has earthy herbal notes and can be served with chicken or paneer, an Indian cheese.

A bowl of dhaniya masala
Dhaniya masala, a surprising and delightful alternative to traditional saag. Photo by Robert Eliason.

Or you can try the kizhi parota, which you can think of as a particularly compelling Indian tamale. A flaky, ribbony pancake is layered with paneer — optionally, chicken or goat — in an onion and tomato masala curry, then rolled up in a sweet-smelling banana leaf and pan-fried. It’s instantly recognizable, but deliciously different.

One of Srinivasan’s childhood favorites is Saapaaduu’s version of classic street food, roattukadai kalan, which translates as “roadside mushrooms:” a thick, almost meaty ragu of chopped mushrooms, tomatoes and onions with a black pepper-based spice profile.

Roattukadai Kalan. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Roattukadai kalan, which translates as ‘roadside mushrooms.’ Photo by Robert Eliason.

Topped with raw onion for a little crunch, it’s served as an appetizer to share, but makes for a nice vegetarian lunch choice. As with most dishes on the menu, it’s served at medium heat for authenticity’s sake — some dishes can be scaled down, and all can be kicked up a notch on request.

“The spices we use in our cuisine are very different,” Srinivasan said. “We heavily rely on pepper, coconut and other native spices, which most of North India does not use.”

The chatti choru platter offers a chance to sample several house specialties at once.

The version served on Valentine’s Day included poriyal, a chopped green bean dish sprinkled with coconut flakes, kootu and sambar, two vegetable stews to pour over the rice, a spicy rasam soup and mango thogayal chutney served over rice. Served in a bowl covered by a crispy pappadum or flatbread, the rich aroma greets you before you even see the food.

The platter also comes with vegetable curry and falafel-like chickpea-based masal vadai, but can be ordered with chicken in the form of black pepper chicken curry and battered and spiced chicken 65 or mutton curry and mutton meatballs. Tasting the various parts of the dish in different combinations is half the fun.

There are no fixed components to this dish — the types of chutney, sambar, poriyal and all the rest are rotated at the chef’s discretion.

A sampler of dishes at an Indian restaurant in San Jose.
The chatti choru platter offers a chance to sample several house specialties at once. Photo by Robert Eliason.

This ever-changing item was the first thing Sydney Chen tried, and it was enough to turn him into a regular customer.

“I liked the representation of the different flavors they offer,” he told San José Spotlight. “I’ve had different Indian foods, and I thought this place has just the right touch. I came with five co-workers, everyone ordered something slightly different, and everything was pretty on point.”

Srinivasan is grateful for the almost immediate standing-in-line success of Saapaaduu, but remains true to her original mission of sharing the food of her childhood with her customers.

“I am hoping people will learn about our cuisine when they come here,” she said. “I understand that not all flavors are something that everyone would like and come back to, but at least they are open to trying something new. At the end of the day, food is all about nourishment.”

Contact Robert Eliason at [email protected].

Editor’s Note: The Biz Beat is a series highlighting local small businesses and restaurants in Silicon Valley. Know a business you’d like to see featured? Let us know at [email protected].


Located at 5968 Silver Creek Valley Road in San Jose

Open Tuesday-Sunday 11:30 am to 2:30 p.m., 5-9 p.m.

Closed Monday

(408) 622-8268




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