Forget the melting pot… reach for the wok

Remember the grade school-era mantra, “We are all the same inside”? It was a well-intentioned platitude designed to encourage us to accept people regardless of the color of their skin, their religious affiliation or country of origin. The sentiment seemed to echo “the melting pot” metaphor from the old days so it was easy to swallow. There is only one problem with such truisms: They aren’t true. At least, they aren’t relevant today. Our community has become a colorful and complex fabric woven from many threads, each dramatically different from the next. This diversity is what gives our region strength and hope for future growth. It should be celebrated. We are not all the same on the outside or on the inside. Thank goodness for that!

It is well documented that Pittsburgh’s lack of population growth has suppressed our economic development. It is also well documented that cities that create hospitable environments for immigrants are able to achieve greater rates of growth. In fact, Pittsburgh’s civic leaders have studied this complex issue and tried to learn from other regions that have been successful in attracting new populations. And there is evidence that something is happening here.

Perhaps there is no more delicious way to explore the burgeoning cultures that are finding a home in Pittsburgh than visiting some of the eateries they have spawned. A Vietnamese restaurant in Garfield. A Mexican butcher shop in Brookline. A Polish deli in the Strip District. Happily, many of these new options are very inexpensive and so don’t require a big financial commitment to explore. That’s why Food Editor Kate Chynoweth focused on ethnic offerings in our first “Cheap Eats” issue. Consider it a travelogue of restaurants you may never have visited but may soon become favorites. We hope you enjoy the trip. Along the way, try to remember a better and more accurate cliché for these times: “Variety is the spice of life. “