Columbus, Ohio, has a diverse range of restaurants, festivals and sites thanks to its foreign-born population. The state’s capital city boasts that foreign-born residents make up nearly 10% of the city’s population, according to data published from the city’s Convention and Visitors Bureau in 2018. Below are the most unique things to do in Columbus to feel and experience its multicultural community.
Columbus is home to approximately 60,000 Somalis, making it the second-largest concentration of Somali immigrants in the United States. To help showcase the culture, an annual festival was created to highlight the food, art and history of Somalia. The event features historical artifacts, traditional Dhaanto folk dances inspired by the movements of camels, contemporary Goobile music which most closely sounds like modern rap, dramatic Riwaayad skits and a fashion show. The festival occurs in late fall.
Located in the Short North Arts District, a towering mural of Hodan Mohammed is seen on the side of a building. Wearing a guntiino (traditional Somali outfit), the mural represents the journey of new residents to Columbus. There are two other murals in Columbus that complement the one depicting Hodan Mohammed. Deemed The Journey, the collection of three murals was created by two Californian artists inspired by the city’s multiculturalism.
The mural’s subject, Hodan Mohammed, is an integral part of Columbus’s multicultural community. A Somali refugee who came to the US as a teen, it was Mohammed who was one of the founders of the Somali Cultural Fest. After becoming an advocate for local immigrant community members and a go-to person for helping prepare newcomers for their lives in Columbus, Hodan Mohammed founded Our Helpers in 2012. Since its founding, Mohammed and others have helped 4,000 individuals in Columbus overcome social and economic obstacles through advocacy, job placement and connection to community resources.
Meaning “mom’s” in the Somali language, Hoyo’s Kitchen is family owned and operated, and serves some of Columbus’s best Somali cuisine. With two locations, visitors and residents alike can indulge in tasty dishes that include wraps, bowls and meats as well as sabayad (Somali flatbread.) Somali cuisine features a variety of influences – from spices to techniques from different locations like the Arabian Peninsula and India. The restaurant serves the food through an easy-to-understand menu, making it a go-to spot for those trying Somali cuisine for the first time.
With approximately 600 people praying each Friday and 250 children attending weekend classes, the Abubakar Assidiq Islamic Center is one of the largest mosques in the region. Although it welcomes visitors all year round, in recent years, the Center has been one of several Islamic centers that have taken part in “Ohio Open Mosque Day,” which encourages community members to ask questions and learn more about mosques and Islam. Visitors coming at any time of the year can schedule individual tours of Abubakar Assidiq Islamic Center to learn a bit more about its history and admire its architecture.
Saraga International Grocery Store was started by two brothers in a small town in Indiana but has since expanded to Columbus. Saraga means “living” in Korean, and its founders have made it their mission to provide foods and goods that are necessary to people trying to continue their home country’s culinary traditions or to those who simply want to try a new recipe. The store carries food from a variety of cuisines, including Korean, Japanese, Chinese, South Asian, Indian, European, Mexican and Middle Eastern. The brothers plan to expand to other locations in the future to meet growing interest.
Columbus is also home to a large Nepalese community, and the restaurant Momo Ghar showcases the food of Nepal. The original location is in the Saraga International Grocery, but a second location is now open in North Market. Although founder Phuntso Lama didn’t really have visions of opening up a restaurant, Momo Ghar – which translates to Dumpling House – has quickly become one of the go-to spots for food lovers in Columbus. Guests can watch as cooks prepare homemade Himalayan dumplings, filled with meat or vegetables, right before their eyes. Lama’s concoctions have even gotten national attention – Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives took notice and filmed a segment at the popular restaurant.
For those visiting Columbus and looking for a couple of unique souvenirs, head to the Global Mall. Here, shoppers can find various housewares, traditional Somali clothing and other one-of-a-kind cultural gifts from Somalia. Around the mall, there are several restaurants highlighting foods from Somalia as well.