March 25, 2010

Not Just Snacks


Not Just Snacks
833 Hope St
Providence, RI 02906
(401) 831-1150

"Food is a very personal thing. You want to eat somewhere that someone you know well has told you about," Mohammad Islam, owner of Not Just Snacks told me recently. To Islam having a meal is about trust-though customers may not know him personally, when they walk into his restaurant they are putting their stomachs in his hands-and trusting that they won't wake up the next day with a bellyache. Or heartburn.

Islam came to Rhode Island in 1998 from Bangladesh. A year later he opened his store, Not Just Spices, located on upper Hope Street on the East Side of Providence. The shop catered (and still does) to a largely South Asian community, carrying spices and prepared foods from the subcontinent. Two years later in 2001, when the restaurant across the street became vacant, Islam opened a second business, Not Just Snacks. Unlike the shop, Islam's restaurant Not Just Snacks is popular with the college hill community, many of whom return frequently hoping to enjoy tastes from past travels to South Asia.

Mr. Islam tries to create as "authentic an experience as possible", making sure he serves the same food to his customers as he eats in his own home. Meals are served on metal "thalis" simple plates and small bowls filled with chutneys, yogurt, and sauces-distinctively of the region. A traditional tandori oven in the kitchen helps ensure that Islam's Naan, a fluffy crisp bread, is baked to perfection.

I arrived for the first time to Not Just Snacks overly hungry-and bordering on cranky. Luckily a fast arriving appetizer- the ever popular samosa (a fried triangle filled almost to bursting with potatoes, onions, peas, and coriander accompanied by spicy sweet chutneys for dipping) helped to tide me over until the rest of the meal arrived. And arrive it did. Turns out my eyes may have been bigger than my stomach, as the table filled with palak (spinach) paneer (a ricotta cheese/tofuish blend commonly found in Indian curries), a Mughal inspired chicken Biryani dish (a slow cooked rice and meat dish seasoned with chili, cardamom, cinnamon, garlic, onions, ginger and mint leaves), and baskets of Naan. Islam also made sure that I had a mango lassi (yogurt drink) to soothe my out-of-practice tongue. Honey ginger naan- a special creation of Not Just Snacks inspired by a traditional Indian dessert- also helped balance the spiciness of my meal. My one regret is that I didn't save room for the piles of milky, sugary, fried sweets that Not Just Snacks is known for. Guess I have an excuse for a return visit.


Not Just Snacks

March 23, 2010

La Lupita

La Lupita front

La Lupita
1950 Westminster Street
Providence, RI 02909

Neon signs entice passers-by with the promise of tortas, burritos, tacos, and other Mexican dishes. Just inside the door are shelves filled with Mexican food staples and spices for customers who want to make Mexican cuisine at home. For the rest of us, there are plenty of menu options, including several vegetarian dishes. I got the cheese quesadilla and vegetarian taco, both with “everything.” The flavor and texture of each of the ingredients—shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, refried beans, sliced avocado, mild cheese—are distinctive, yet complement the dish as a whole. To wash it all down, I bypass the American sodas in favor of a bottle of Jarritos. Jarritos is a Mexican brand of soft drinks, and La Lupita has a well-stocked refrigerator of the brightly colored beverages in flavors of tamarind, mandarin, mango or fruit punch.

Jarritos Tutifruti
{Jarritos Tutifruti}

Veggie Taco
{Veggie taco}

Simple, fresh ingredients are one of the trademarks for Jaime and Amelia Blancas, the husband and wife owners who opened the restaurant 7 years ago. Amelia prefers to let the freshness do the work rather than overwhelming the palate with too many spices. However, there are condiments— red salsa, green salsa, peppers, and limes— for those who prefer their food with more heat or adornment.

{Cheese quesadilla}

The Blancas focus on making the types of dishes that would be served in Mexican homes. During my visit, a Mexican transplant to Providence explained that La Lupita is one of the few places in Rhode Island where he can get food like he remembers from home. The restaurant is a regular stop for local Mexicans and other Providence residents who appreciate home-style Mexican cuisine.

La Lupita interior
{La Lupita interior}

La Lupita is proof that fast food can also be fresh and flavorful food.