By Paula J. Bretz
There are many advantages to living in Morgantown if you like to eat, especially if you crave an occasional break from traditional fare. Of course, traditional fare varies as we are from diverse backgrounds in this busy city, but herein lays the beauty.
No matter where your roots, what your preferences, there is a culinary sweet, or spicy, spot for you. In addition to numerous Italian food options, I found approximately 13 Chinese restaurants, 12 Mexican, three Japanese, two Indian, and one to two Near Eastern, Thai, Vietnamese, Egyptian, and Kenyan eateries in and around Morgantown. I did count Taco Bell, which some may disparage, but when one is gluten intolerant, those beef tacos are quick and nontoxic.
I had the privilege of traveling internationally during my latter years of employment. In many cases I remember less about the work I did than one or two extraordinary meals I enjoyed in each country.
Authentic ethnic dishes are hard to come by in most of the United States. A journalist with the Washington Post wrote that Americans expect ethnic meals to be less expensive, so fewer resources, including time and the best ingredients, can be invested in making these dishes and authenticity is often compromised. It would be nice if once a month a restaurant with a chef would offer a full, true to its origin meal for customers who agree to support the venture and experience.
One show I enjoyed for years was the Travel Channel’s “No Reservations” and later, “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown.” Tuning in weekly was a great way to experience other cultures and cuisines.
Bourdain pulled us remote observers to his side, illuminated historical and political perspectives in different societies without prejudice or fear, and exposed us to the ingenuity and creativity of people around the world. Food was always the focal point, but was experienced and explained in the broader context of real people and their sometimes difficult lives.
When Bourdain came to West Virginia in fall of 2017 to film one of the episodes, I was beside myself with anticipation to see the finished program. I watched it for a second time before writing this piece and shed a few tears for this man who always sought to understand, but was weighed down by a sadness we will never understand.
He expressed respect for today’s West Virginians and appreciated seeing heritage honored by its families through recipes passed down for generations, traditions kept and songs passed on about the land, and the hardships and joys of making a life on it.
He saw in the close-knit community of Welch a sample of the spirit of West Virginians, and it was good. The foods shared with him were familiar to most of us, but I realized we have some pretty exotic dishes that I would love to try.
When was the last time you had paw-paw pudding or turtle patties? I remember desperation pie from long ago, but it sounds appropriate right now. Perhaps we do need another restaurant in Morgantown.
Paula J. Bretz is a member of The Dominion Post’s Community Advisory Board.