American cuisine

Padma Lakshmi’s ‘Taste the Nation’ Show Shows How Immigrants Shaped American Cuisine

When we spoke with Padma Lakshmi in March, the United States was only a week into quarantine – a time spent adjusting to life at home and, if you were Lakshmi, cooking big pots of lentils and decadent slices of chocolate cake. A lot has happened since then. And while the concept for his show that just came out, taste the nationwas hugely relevant three months ago, watching Lakshmi dismantle American food down to its immigrant roots feels even more essential now, especially as the conversations around who can claim those foods continue to swirl.

But as much as taste the nation is a food show, it’s also a travel show, taking Lakshmi around the country to eat with the Gullah Geechee community in South Carolina, comedian Ali Wong in San Francisco, and spear fisherman Kimi Werner in Honolulu. We caught up with Lakshmi to hear about what she learned while filming and the El Paso cheese-laden taco she can’t stop thinking about.

taste the nation takes you all over the country. How did you choose the places you visited?

I wanted to cover [as many] different parts of the country as I could. I knew, for example, that I wanted to do an African-American episode, because we don’t often see African-American food as distinct from white American food in the history of this country. Yet this food has roots in other continents that go back centuries. Understanding your food story – and also just understanding your story – is key, and so this was a very important episode for me. I’ve always been interested in immigration issues, too, because I’m an immigrant, and immigration is integral to why America exists.

One of my favorite scenes from “Taste the Nation” is when you’re shopping with your mom in New York. Why did it seem important to film?