West Virginia, otherwise known as Appalachia, has had a long history with food that's quite different than that across the rest of the U.S. It's a food history that's rich with tradition and, in some cases, rich with survival skills and the notion of using what one has. At one point in time, it was a challenge to live in this region of the country and its remote nature has allowed locals to continue upholding some of these same dishes that saved the day so long ago.
For generations, these recipes have been passed down and many have rarely been changed over the years. Appalachia has an incredible habit of being able to create homestyle, simple dishes with the most local ingredients which make its cuisine unique to this region only. As a result, the dishes one will find in West Virginia and the surrounding area are truly one of a kind; so much so that the state even has festivals in honor of many of them!
Biscuits And Gravy
As the story goes, biscuits and gravy actually originated in Appalachia so it makes sense that this original dish would still be held in high regard today. While the dish has gravitated all throughout the southern states, some would argue that there's still no better place to have it than West Virginia. According to Only In Your State, the best place to have biscuits and gravy is at the one and only Tudor's Biscuit World, which is a restaurant entirely devoted to the dish.
These are celebrated every year at the West Virginia Italian Heritage Festival and when you try them for the first time, you'll understand why. They're a delicious cross between a fluffy bread loaf and a pepperoni hero. The pepperoni roll has a younger history than that of biscuits and gravy but it's no less of a West Virginia staple, and it's considered to be the official state food. It was created in 1930 by an Italian baker with the intention of coal miners carrying it easily in their packs, and it was a success.
Guess what? There's a festival devoted to this dish, too. While it's not devoted to buckwheat pancakes, specifically, it is devoted to buckwheat, which is a popular ingredient in West Virginia. The Preston Buckwheat Festival happens on the last Thursday in September and celebrates the use of the ingredient and its history with the region and, of course, buckwheat pancakes are all part of that. These pancakes don't contain wheat so they're gluten-free but they're also super tasty for breakfast.
Hunting is a big part of life in West Virginia so it's only natural that venison is also a big part of life there. This meat, when cooked correctly, is tender and gamey, with a flavor that's so distinct compared to beef and bison. It's most commonly eaten as-is in the form of a steak but can also be used in stews and chili.
Soup beans are exactly what they sound like - soup with beans! Specifically, pinto beans. The process of making this soup couldn't be easier and while it's full of very simple flavors, it's a good, hardy meal for those chilly West Virginia days. Pinto beans are cooked together with water, salt, and diced ham, and when it's all said and done, the beans will be plump and meaty while the broth will have thickened slightly, with the ham giving a nice salty bite. The only natural side to accompany this dish is cornbread and with its subtly sweet flavor, it makes for a perfect pairing.
West Virginia Slaw Dogs
If you hadn't guessed it already, West Virginia has plenty of food festivals and the West Virginia Hot Dog Festival is one of them. This is where visitors will find the famous West Virginia Slaw Dog which isn't different from any other in terms of the actual hot dog, and the toppings are what sets this dog apart from the others around the country. Traditionally, a hot dog in West Virginia is topped with a healthy heaping of homestyle chili, and then on top of that, fresh, tangy coleslaw is added. It's a unique combination that echos true BBQ but without the slow-roasting or smoking that other dishes call for.
We're rounding out the list with one more food-inspired festival: the Apple Butter Festival. Every year, West Virginia celebrates the orchards in the Eastern Panhandle by throwing this festival over Columbus Day Weekend, and it's where visitors can find all things apples from apple butter to pie. Apple butter, specifically, is an Appalachian specialty and this sweet, creamy spread is delicious on everything from toast to roasted pork.