Written by Jessica Hurst.
Food represents what we cannot otherwise express. Food is how our mothers and grandmothers (or fathers and grandfathers) show they love us. Food is how we comfort our friends and neighbors in times of distress. Food binds us to our past and helps us remember how we grew up and where we came from.
Some say Huntington is five to ten years behind the times. They’re the pessimists, always blabbing about catching up to some bigger and better city. But the Jewel City has always shined brighter in the area of food.
While Huntington has been a food Mecca for years (with a few popular establishments dating prior to World War II), the city’s culinary scene has recently exploded, drawing thousands of regular patrons that were absent just a decade ago.
Contrary to what Jamie Oliver of the Food Network might say, the tradition of good food goes back centuries. Before fast food existed, a farm-to-table meal was the only kind most West Virginians had experienced. Each ingredient was carefully cultivated, cleverly cooked, humbly presented, and most importantly, eaten in the company of friends and family.
When the Shawnee and Cherokee were stewards of the land, they foraged the forest floors for hazelnuts and ramps; stalking deer, bison, and elk through the creeks and hollows. Over the years, immigrants of German, Italian, Greek, Scots-Irish, and African descent settled in the Appalachian hills, each sowing their patches into the food tapestry of the area.
Like heirloom seeds passed down from generation to generation, food determines who we are. Whether they’re creasy greens or greasy beans, nothing says home like a freshly cooked meal.
Take the state food for example. Today, as ubiquitous as the state seal, the pepperoni roll started out as a favorite of Italian coal miners looking for an easy meal to take into the mines in early 20th century West Virginia. More than a hundred years later, throughout the state, gas stations and bakeries still sell the pepperoni roll to thousands of travelers and hungry people on short lunch breaks.
From slaw dogs to curry chicken, I’ll be your tour guide through the culture and history of Huntington’s food scene. Learn the recipes to your favorite dishes, separate the facts from the tall tales. Chat with trained chefs and home cooks. Dig up the deets with local farmers and community gardeners. And get the latest leads on the best restaurants in town here in my column.
I’m excited to learn and grow with my readers, and I hope you are too.