Food & Drink

Cancer stole Columbus woman’s appetite but inspired an Indian restaurant ‘for my soul’

Order Up!: Learn to prepare fresh Chicken Tikka Masala from Ria’s

Anuradha Rewatkar, founder and chef at Ria's Ethnic Foods, takes you step-by-step in the preparation of Chicken Tikka Masala, a favorite at her small Indian restaurant at 4848 Warm Springs Road. Plus tips on cooking with Indian spices and pastes.
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Anuradha Rewatkar, founder and chef at Ria's Ethnic Foods, takes you step-by-step in the preparation of Chicken Tikka Masala, a favorite at her small Indian restaurant at 4848 Warm Springs Road. Plus tips on cooking with Indian spices and pastes.

Drive too fast down Warm Springs Road past the Miller Road intersection and you might miss a little white house just off the street.

There sits Ria’s Ethnic Foods, an Indian grocery store and restaurant started by Anuradha Rewatkar four years after a battle with lymphoma.

Robin Trimarchi, a Ledger-Enquirer visual journalist, and I recently spent time with Rewatkar in her kitchen after 230 readers voted to get a closer look at her Chicken Tikka Masala.

This is not a typical restaurant. For one, there’s no set menu. Rewatkar updates the Ria’s Facebook Page each day with what she’s serving — and that’s it. Favorites include chicken biryani, potato curry, paneer bhurji and butter chicken.

She never received formal training or classes. The first time she remembers cooking is with her father at 11 years old, Rewatkar said. She grew up in Hinganghat, India, where they cooked food grown on their 9-acre farm over a wood stove. As she grew older, she collected recipes and became fascinated by dishes made in other countries, like Russia.

Many of those recipes and techniques learned under her father have followed her through the years.

“At Ria’s that’s the way we roll,” Rewatkar said. “Fresh, flavorful but at the same time it’s healthy, as healthy as it can be.”

Health is extremely important to Rewatkar because she was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2013. A stomach tumor stole her appetite for over a year and she watched Food Network “all day long” in hopes of it returning, Rewatkar said.

Once her treatment was over in 2014, she told her family she needed to be around food.

“This is not only a business for me, it’s for my soul,” Rewatkar said. “I am really, really blessed than I can actually cook so much, provide to somebody and cook for somebody who’s sick, somebody who walks in hungry and goes (away) really happy.”

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Until recently, Rewatkar only had a couple of tables for customers to come and enjoy a meal. Those wanting a taste of her homemade Indian food would often find themselves standing and waiting until a spot opened up, Rewatkar said.

Now she has an expanded seating area right across from the kitchen that can accommodate about 20 people at a time.

Everything is made each day from scratch by Rewatkar. She believes in comforting, healthy food that isn’t weighed down by traditional fats like butter and cream. In the time we were there, she used less than a tablespoon of butter throughout her cooking.

The shop itself isn’t very big, but is filled to the brim with spices like cumin, mustard seed and garam masala, over 10 varieties of rice and grains, Indian meal kits and fresh vegetables. Those who need some advisement on stocking their pantry can get personalized help from Rewatkar in the store or in one of her cooking classes, offered to groups of four or more on Sunday nights.

Rewatkar treats her customers like family because oftentimes it’s the same food she serves her own family.

“I feel grateful I can (personalize dishes for diners). It’s just like at home how you would treat your family members,” Rewatkar said. “That’s the way I treat my customers.”

She only makes enough food for each day, so diners know the food they are getting is fresh, Rewatkar said. But if someone calls ahead and asks for something off that day’s menu, she’ll accommodate them as long as time and the ingredients are available.

If You Go

Address: 4848 Warm Springs Road, Columbus, Ga.

Hours: 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, noon to 6 p.m. Sunday

Try this: The new lunch buffet launches Oct. 19 for $12.99. But don’t wait too long to grab a bite — Rewatkar makes just enough for the day

Anuradha Rewatkar strives to make every dish special for her customers, and will even make changes on-the-fly based on the diner's request or preference. She never went to cooking school -- she's trained and worked as a physical therapist.

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