The Chinese idiom, 麻雀虽小, 五脏俱全, Má què suī xiǎo, wǔ zàng jù quán, translates to: Despite its small size, a sparrow still has all the vital organs, Jahunger owner and founder Nadia Parhat explained. The traditional saying, she said, shows that despite being small, places like Parhat’s hometown, Urumqi, Xinjiang and the Ocean State that she now lives in, still encompass richness, completeness and convenience.
Jahunger, the Uighur restaurant Parhat co-owns on Wickenden Street in Providence with her husband Dilmurat Subat, also embodies the idiom. Despite its modest size, Jahunger boasts a full range of carefully-crafted, authentic Uighur dishes. Parhat and Subat opened Jahunger in March 2017, making it New England’s first Uighur restaurant, she said.
Before opening, she worried that customers’ palates might not be used to the spices and tastes of Uighur cuisine, but the reception to the opening was very warm and many customers enjoyed the food, Parhat said.
Subat’s family — which has been in the restaurant business for almost 25 years — owns three Jahungers in Xinjiang, and they inspired him and Parhat to start their own restaurant in the U.S., she added.
The name Jahunger was coined by Subat, and is an easier-to-pronounce iteration of the Persian word jahangir. Subat’s family learned the word, meaning empire, while doing business in Dubai thirty years ago, and adopted it for their restaurants, said Parhat.
The couple arrived in Rhode Island about 10 years ago, and after living in many different places around the country, found their way back to the Ocean State in 2013, she said.
The couple rent the entire navy-blue building on Wickenden Street that houses the restaurant. In July 2018, an electrical shortage fire sparked on the third floor, which is used as storage and as a break room. Firefighters poured water on the roof to stop the fire, in the process causing extensive water damage and prompting the restaurant to close, Parhat said. The restaurant recently reopened for takeout and delivery Feb. 3.
Repairing the damage and installing a new sprinkler system took over a year to complete. After they brought the building up to code, Parhat and Subat planned to reopen last year, but the COVID-19 pandemic presented yet another challenge, she said.
“Honestly, actually, we almost gave up the restaurant,” Parhat said, but widespread community support, and outreach on Facebook and Instagram, encouraged her to bring Jahunger back.
The restaurant stayed closed while Parhat searched for a potential new location on Park Avenue in Cranston last fall. When the deal fell through, the couple decided to wait out the final repairs to their original location, Parhat said.
After the restaurant closed, Parhat said her kitchen staff were also eager to reopen. One chef, who found work in Boston and New York in the interim, was more than happy to return to Jahunger, she said.
Although they have other occupations — Parhat is a loan officer and Subat is a realtor — community feedback, and the desire to spread awareness about their culture, compelled them to reopen.
“We just want more people to know our food and our culture,” Parhat said.
The restaurant’s menu includes classic Uighur and northwestern Chinese fare, including spiced chicken stew, kavaap lamb skewers, hand-pulled laghman noodles and polo, a slow-cooked carrot, lamb, raisin and rice dish. Parhat emphasized the importance of authenticity and an accessible menu, and said that she flew in a head chef from Xinjiang, China to train her kitchen staff on the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of cooking Uighur food.
Most of her staff was unfamiliar with Uighur food when they were first hired. “It’s a lot of work, it’s not like typical Chinese food,” Parhat said. “Everything is made from scratch.”
“So whatever you’re eating here, it will taste the same, like you are eating in China, in Xinjiang,” she said.
Ethan Pan ’22 said he first tried Jahunger days after it reopened last month and “enjoyed it a lot.”
“I ordered the ‘lamb on dry land’ because I thought, this looks like something I’ve never tried before,” Pan said. “I thought it was really good and personally interesting… I think it provides a very new perspective of a general region of food that I want to eat from.”
Kavya Gopinath ’22, who recently tried Jahunger’s stir-fried green beans, said, “It was well cooked and kind of spicy — but not too spicy — and very flavorful… I’m definitely going to go back.”
Parhat and Subat are planning on opening a second location of Jahunger in the future, possibly even next year, she said. “We believe that this is not going to be the last one.”
Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled Jahunger on third reference. The Herald regrets the error.
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