There’s always a surprise waiting to spring out of Providence’s restaurant scene. Recently, my favorite surprise has been Jahunger Restaurant, which quietly appeared on Wickenden Street in March. It may look unassuming, but it serves up a cuisine that you can’t find easily, even in larger cities like Boston: Uyghur (pronounced wee-gur). The Uyghur are a mostly Muslim Chinese ethnic minority, many of whom live in the Xinjiang region in northwestern China.
Uyghur cuisine will be different than other Chinese food you’ve tried, but aspects of it may be familiar. A lot of the flavors loosely match cuisines along the Silk Road, which ran from China to the Mediterranean Ocean. The restaurant’s decor also reflects Uyghur culture, with skullcaps hanging above the register and colorful silk pillows at each table.
We visited Jahunger as a party of four, but eagerly ordered what felt like the entire menu. We started with four appetizers. The six Potstickers, first to come out of the kitchen, disappeared almost instantly. These vegetarian dumplings were hand-formed, stuffed with egg and chives, and panfried. Our Beef Dumplings also came six to an order, but were steamed instead of fried. The dipping sauce that accompanied both dumpling orders was spicy, with a vinegary tang and pepper flakes floating on the surface.
The Scallion Pancake was cut into eight wedges, a relief when you’re a table of four that just finished fighting over the last dumpling. The dough was handmade and it was crisply fried, crunchy and bubbly around the edges. My favorite appetizer was the Cold Chicken – slowly cooked until it fell off the bones, then tossed with vinegary red chilies and what the menu called a “tongue numbing bell pepper sauce.” For me, it was just the right amount of spice, and I loved its unusual and addictive flavor profile. A few days after our visit, I was still thinking about it.
Some, though not all, of Jahunger’s dishes are spicy. I’m a spice fiend, but I still armed myself with a can of Asian Coconut Milk, a sweet, milky drink that will cut through any pepper’s heat. My husband had a can of Wang Lao Ji, a sweet iced tea drink.
The rest of dinner was like a game of Tetris as we rearranged the table every time a new dish arrived. The larger dishes on Jahunger’s menu are divided into Entrées and Wok selections. Though some of the Wok dishes may read like vegetable sides, they are actually full dishes that are served with rice.
We tried three of the Wok dishes. The Stir Fry Shredded Potato was nothing like I expected, and the surprise was pleasant. The potato was julienned so thinly that the pieces were translucent; I found it surprising that they could be cooked through and still maintain their shape and texture instead of turning into mush. The moderately spicy, vinegary, orange sauce evoked Frank’s RedHot.
The Stir Fry String Beans showcased my favorite preparation of the vegetable: dry frying. These were long, fresh and deep green beans, stir-fried with dried chilies until blistering. The Spicy Tiger, our third Wok selection, was deeply satisfying, a saucy dish with green peppers and eggplant cooked until it was almost falling apart.
In the Entrées section of the menu, the restaurant’s signature Jahunger Noodles are a must-try. The thick, chewy noodles were hand-pulled in the kitchen and cooked with thinly sliced beef and chives, the slightly uneven noodles absorbing the rich sauce and flavor. Polo, a delicate rice pilaf, is served with small pieces of lamb. The rice, dotted with grated carrot and plump raisins, was sweet and fragrant.
Lamb on Dry Land surprised our palates. The thinly sliced meat, tender and heavily spiced with cumin, was served with fried croutons of naan-like bread sprinkled with sesame seeds. It was different than anything we’d had before, and the plate didn’t touch the table until every last bite was claimed.
Jahunger has a limited dessert menu. The Milk Hazelnut Cake was available on the night of our visit. The desserts are the only part of the menu not made in-house, but the cake was delightful anyway. At least six layers of soft, spongy cake alternate with a creamy filling, and dark chocolate glazes the top. If your mouth is still burning by the end of the meal, this dessert will provide a creamy respite.
333 Wickenden Street