Not Just Snacks
833 Hope St
Providence, RI 02906
"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.