American cuisine

Hulu’s Taste The Nation breaks down American cuisine

Image for article titled Padma Lakshmi unpacks American food through immigration in Hulu's affecting Taste The Nation

Photo: Dominique Valente (Hulu)

It’s no wonder that the best American cooking shows are those that take hosts to other countries. It is there, and not in the United States, that they can truly investigate the culinary traditions that form the amorphous patchwork of American cuisine, which is defined primarily by how it has adopted recipes and cooking techniques. other cultures. Without the contributions of immigrants, what remains? Donald Trump may have summed it up best when he served the Clemson University football team a buffet of Big Macs, calling it “good American food”.

taste the nation, a new food travel show from Hulu, engages directly with this notion, asking point-blank what exactly is American food. By focusing specifically on immigrant groups who have seen their native dishes appropriated, as well as how they seek to preserve these original traditions, it approaches a more complex response than “fast food”. “. Episodes explore the evolutions of Japanese cuisine in Honolulu, Persian cuisine in Los Angeles and burritos in the border town of El Paso, and while some ancient traditions see a back-to-basics resurgence in the United States, d Others, like those of the Gullah Geechee of Charleston, South Carolina, strive to keep them alive in their own communities.

Excellent chef Judge Padma Lakshmi, a first-generation immigrant from India, is a smart and proper hostess, her love for her native food having been shaped as much by her upbringing in New York as her mother’s cooking. This dynamic results in one of the taste the nationThe best episodes of ‘Don’t Mind If I Dosa,’ which delves into the Indian cuisine of Queens’ Jackson Heights neighborhood as Lakshmi shares a kitchen with her childhood hero, the cooking show host Indian Madhur Jaffrey, and her daughter, whom she is trying to raise with a balanced knowledge of American and Indian culture. It’s a lot for half an hour maybe, but it situates taste the nation as a show that is as much about cultural identity as it is about food.

This mode of culinary narration is not new, that of Anthony Bourdain Unknown parts, by Samin Nosrat Acid Fatty Salt Heat, and David Chang Ugly Delicious all questioned what food and cuisine can tell us about culture and our own view of the world. But at the same time taste the nation is a bit smoother in presentation than those shows, it benefits from its hyper-focus. As Lakshmi chats and cooks with the locals, she is often confronted with stories of how American and European ingredients have fundamentally changed the diets of these communities. In a moving episode about indigenous people, a local helps unpack the painful history of fried bread, a traditional Native American dish that was born from ingredients that were “essentially forced” on them by the US government. In many instances throughout the series, food is both a collective comfort and a gateway to the more painful aspects of assimilation.

Image for article titled Padma Lakshmi unpacks American food through immigration in Hulu's affecting Taste The Nation

Photo: Dominique Valente (Hulu)

Lakshmi proves a gracious guide through the episodes, though her years of hosting have shaved off some of her rough edges – her post-bite reactions are often best described as “Food Network-y.” And your mileage may vary from episode to episode, because the Germanic origins of hot dogs and lagers don’t stir the soul as much as Lakshmi’s own connection to Indian dosas or the complex relationship of a Mexican cook with the owner of their El Paso Diner.

But there’s something vital about the show’s approach nonetheless. The premiere opens with a supercut of Lakshmi’s interviews interrupted by helicopters patrolling the southern border – one local describes it as the “constant noise of the border of a community under surveillance”. It’s a sobering reminder of our xenophobic government, the relentless dithering over “caravans” and the simple fact that much of America still lives in fear of immigrants, despite our tables being at never changed by their influence.