Ria's Indian Cafe / Ethnic Foods Mike venable goes 'out of town' in Columbus, georgia

What a Saturday! Jill had a Christmas gathering at her cousin Jane Pitts Bayer's home at 11 a.m., so we slept until we awakened sans alarm. Nice way to start a Saturday during the holiday season. I took a hot, slow bath, gave myself a tight shave, fed and watered the animals, cleaned Garth and Bernie's litter boxes and checked my watch. Over two and a half hours before I was scheduled to meet Jill at Wal-Mart on the 280 Bypass to ring the Salvation Army bell for St. Matthews in-the-Pines Episcopal Church.

I am a downtown Columbus guy. I spend most of my time in downtown, I write about downtown and we do a lot of events in the downtown area not more than three blocks from our magazine offices on 10th Street and 3rd Avenue. This is my third trip "out of town" in my own home town in the past few weeks. One Friday night a couple of weeks ago Jill and I headed off to the north end of town after work. There is a lot of road construction going on up there and when you add significant traffic, I didn't enjoy the experience.

the other thing we discovered is robust patronage at restaurants and retail establishments. This city is booming. If you don't believe me, take your family out to ride one night and go exploring like we did. Columbus, Georgia is a happening place.

This morning, I had a propane tank refilled, filled up the truck with fuel and started thinking about someplace new and interesting for lunch.

Look what I found:

Ria's Ethnic Foods

And, look at this:

Commercial range covered with great food being cooked. No butter. No cream. Very fresh ingredients and flavor profiles that were given away by the incredible aromas that met me as I walked in the door.

And this:

This display of fresh vegetables, peppers and ingredients get my tastebuds revved up for the meal to come.

And this:

Fresh vegetables and Indian food packaged goods adorn shelves in the small retail space.
Ria's proprietor Anuradha "Anu" Rewatkar.

I walked in and the smell of spices and the warmth of home met me at the door.

We discovered within a few moments that we had something in common: Cancer. Lunch started with a hug. Anu invited me into her kitchen and I followed her voice and the incredible smells coming out of that tiny space. We chatted about our battles with a seeming lifetime of scans and pharmaceutical drugs. All the while, she was moving, a steady stream of words with customers, a woman and her two daughters were there to conduct the business of a catering project Anu was doing for them and the three young women swapped stories of medical schools and universities.

I met a man who has been in Columbus for only three weeks, a new Aflac hire. He was finishing his breakfast there at Ria's and while he was answering a steady stream of questions from me about his first impressions of Columbus, Hina was in the kitchen preparing what would be his dinner later on Saturday afternoon. He's finding community in the form of food he's familiar with back in India and it makes him feel more welcome here. My wish for him is that this community will wrap its arms around him and help him be able to call here home.

"When I opened this business I had no hair"

Anu's daughter Ishani is a junior at UAB, a former Brookstone student who is home from school for the holidays.

Anu, herself a medical professional, decided to open her business after she finished the difficult chemotherapy treatments that robbed her of her hair and all but 56 pounds of flesh. She says that during her toughest days, her daughter could pick her up and carry her, the wasting she was experiencing during her chemotherapy treatments were very hard on her caregivers and family. Anu says that her husband and two daughters bared the brunt of caring for her during her sick days.

The small dishes, none of which I know names for, and these simple but incredible breads were delivered by Anu and Hina and described to me by Ishani were filling and the spices and textures were a warm welcome for someone who isn't familiar with their food culture.

There is a 6-top rectangular table just outside the kitchen, so if you've got a lot of mouths to feed, you could get Anu to cater. I'm planning to go there many more times. I left there feeling like I'd met some new friends and I'm planning on going back soon!

You can see what Anu's serving each day by checking out her Facebook page.

People like Anu, Ishani and Hina and places like Ria's Ethnic Foods add to our city's coolness. When I walked through her doors I felt like I was out of town, in a new place. I'm inviting my readers to go out of town here in Columbus and Phenix City to a place you've never been before and come back here and tell us what you found.
Created By
Mike Venable
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