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Taste The Nation

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In Taste the Nation, award winning cookbook author, host and executive producer Padma Lakshmi, takes audiences on a journey across America, exploring the rich and diverse food culture of various immigrant groups, seeking out the people who have so heavily shaped what American food is today. From indigenous communities to recent immigrant arrivals, Padma breaks bread with Americans across the nation to uncover the roots and relationship between our food, our humanity and our history - ultimately revealing stories that challenge notions of identity, belonging, and what it means to be American.

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Edited by ElectricBoogaloo
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S1.E1: Burritos at the Border

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El Paso was once part of Mexico. Its border location defines the region’s identity and the complexity of America’s political landscape. Padma eats her way through this border city while discovering the origins of one of America’s most beloved cuisines.

I am a California girl so I am always up for a burrito! I grew up in San Diego which has a similar relationship with Tijuana as El Paso does with Juarez. People cross the border every day for work, for food, for entertainment, for family, etc. (and of course teenagers/college kids cross the border to drink and party because the legal age to drink in Mexico is 18, not 21). I remember my parents took us to Tijuana when we were kids just to walk around and spend the day there.

For a half hour show, I felt like this covered a lot which was nice. The cafe/car wash reminded me of a place in San Diego (it's actually two separate businesses but it's a car wash and a Mexican place that off in their own odd little corner of a strip mall parking lot so everyone goes to get burritos while they wait for their cars). I could not understand the owner's logic though. He himself is a Syrian immigrant and he said that his employees are like family, yet when he's told that many of these people have to spend 1-2 hours at the border crossing each way (instead of 30 minutes as it used to be), all he says is that Trump is full of shit but he still supports him. Okay then. I am not going to try to understand the cognitive dissonance there.

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S1.E2: The All American Weiner

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Many think hot dogs, hamburgers and pretzels are quintessentially American, but their origins are actually German; in Milwaukee, Padma meets descendants of early German immigrants who hold onto their heritage by celebrating and reclaiming it.

That one pound pretzel looked freaking amazing.

I am not a beer drinker so I was surprised by how easy it is to make beer in your garage with a cooler and a pot. I like that Padma is up for helping out (I think people expect that more from travel hosts who are chefs).

Some of those sausages looked so good I could practically smell them through my screen. I'd never considered hollowing out part of my hot dog bun (although I've seen it done for sandwiches). It's probably a great way to keep the hot dog steady and keep some of the condiments from sliding out. And hey, low carb! Okay, maybe just lowER carb.

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S1.E3: Don't Mind if I Dosa

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Padma asks family, friends and those she admires how they hold onto Indian culture and pass it down to the next generation; In New York City, she cooks the dishes that remind her of her original home and tastes Indian foods near her current home.

It was obvious that this episode was very near and dear to Padma since she got to include her mom and daughter. I had to laugh when she said Krishna broke her heart when she said she hates lentils. Looking back, I wonder if I said anything like that to my mom and made her sad.

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S1.E4: The Gullah Way

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The Gullah Geechee people of South Carolina are fighting to preserve the traditions passed down from their ancestors, West Africans forced into slavery; Padma catches and cracks crab with friends, all working towards reclaiming their heritage.

FYI - Netflix has made this episode available for free on Youtube:

 

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I’m really enjoying this show so far. It’s very touching. I really like how Padma is a gracious guest everywhere she goes. She’s not there as a host, lecturer or show off, she’s a guest. I love that. 

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S1.E5: What Is Chop Suey Anyway?

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Chinese food is one of the most popular cuisines in the U.S. but the flavors of a vast country have been simplified over time. In San Francisco, Padma explores how Chinese immigrants and Chinese-Americans are broadening people's understanding of this cuisine.

I found this episode really interesting and I liked the guests she had in this episode. Side note: I remember Ali Wong said that when she went back to her favorite Chinese restaurant in San Francisco (where she's been going since she was a kid), she tried to talk the owners into letting her cut in line and they were like NOPE. They didn't care that she's been eating there her whole life or that she's famous now.

The farm in Marin looked pretty great (although as soon as I saw all that wide open spaces, I knew they weren't in San Francisco anymore). I'd always heard "chop suey" as a derogatory term used to describe food for non-Chinese people so it was interesting to see some people just make it into their own thing instead of rejecting it outright.

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I am really liking the show, its fun to explore the cultures behind so many types of food, and Padma is a great host. She seems so excited to meet new people and try new foods, she never tries to talk over the people she meets or humble brag about her own accomplishments, she just seems really happy to be finding so much great food. Plus, everything looks so delicious, I end every episode hungry!

I especially liked seeing the Gullah episode, as I lived in that area for a bit a few years ago and I learned a lot about the Gullah culture. Its really unique and its great to see it get represented. 

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I'm really enjoying this show. As an immigrant myself, I identify a lot with the stories told. Especially some of the chefs she talks to that learned cooking from their mother or their grandmother. Or when she visits the stores that sell the products from that country. I watched episode 8 last night which was about Peruvian food and I'm definitely planning on trying to make Lomo Saltado. 

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S1.E6: Where the Kebob Is Hot

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Padma tastes her way through Los Angeles, sampling one of her favorite cuisines: Persian food; the community opens up about the misconceptions some Americans have about Iranians, one kebab at a time.

Mmm, kebabs. I enjoyed seeing Padma shopping with one of her guests and just smelling spices.

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S1.E7: The Original Americans

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What is the original American cuisine? Padma travels to Arizona to eat food that is indigenous to this land. She tries some dishes and explores how Native Americans seek to reestablish a connection to the past to protect their future.

I know very little about Native American cuisine (I remember we briefly talked about things that they ate during our fifth grade segment on Native Americans but it was pretty basic information), so this was really interesting. I remember I watched a program where they talked about how Native American metabolism was geared toward being active hunters and gatherers, so eating processed food affects them differently which is why the rate of obesity is higher. I wished I could have asked one of the guests to talk more about the different kind of corn they used (I love corn).

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S1.E8: Dancing in Little Lima

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Peruvian cuisine hasn't quite had its moment on the American food scene, but Padma knows the power of a great bowl of ceviche; she visits Paterson, NJ, a Peruvian enclave, for a deeper look at this vibrant culture.

I love loma saltado and ceviche, but the only thing I knew about Paterson, New Jersey, before this episode is that gymnast Joyce Wilborn was from there. I had no idea there was such a large Peruvian community there! I love that so many of the kids are in that dance class. Often second generation kids really try to avoid their culture at that age so it was nice to see them embracing it.

Edited by ElectricBoogaloo

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I don't have Hulu, so I thought the only episode I'd be able to watch is the Gullah Geechee, but I found an unauthorized upload of the Las Vegas Thai community episode online.  I've been to Lotus of Siam (it's terrific!), but I had no idea the history of the Thai community there; what an interesting story about the war brides.

From the two episodes I saw, I agree with the poster who said Padma is a gracious guest.  It's the perfect tone for this series, and you can tell it's genuine. 

I don't really care to fuss with creating and canceling a free trial of Hulu in order to watch the other eight episodes, but temptation may win out.

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Padma has posted a few videos highlighting some of the dishes featured on the show. Here is the crab Fried rice dish from the Gullah Geechee ep.

 

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I've only seen the Gullah episode (thanks, Netflix) so far. I'm a Michael Twitty fan (highly recommend The Cooking Gene), so it was very much a treat. It's good to read that Padma's grace, curiosity and smarts are at work in the other episodes, too. Having long believed that food is the gateway to a culture and an understanding and appreciation of people, the more this important subject is explored, the better.

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Fresh Air interview with Padma. I linked to the full transcript, you can listen to the segment if you like. Mostly biographical questions, and she talks in some detail about being sexually assaulted.

I only saw the Gullah episode (thanks YouTube!), which I enjoyed but there were a couple of instances where Padma romanticizes the culture and really verges on the Noble Savage stereotype. First encountered Michael Twitty on an episode of Bizzarre Foods America and read about half his book before I had to return it to the library. I currently live in Vegas so I could go to LoS, but it's almost entirely seafood which I hate. There are usually a bunch of food festivals of different cultures in town throughout the year but of course that all got cancelled :(.

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I just started this series today and have watched the first two episodes. So far, I find it to be a very political show, even though that is handled with a deft and low-key hand, so how do we have a meaningful discussion if we are constrained from bringing that up? Episode One deals with the demonization of Mexicans by our current President. Then there's the smug compliance with that of the second generation Syrian immigrant whose father entered the US through Mexico and whose "Mexican" restaurant is greatly lauded, but that's thanks to his Mexican workers! No credit to him!  Oh yeah, now they have to get up two or three hours earlier to get to work (shrug). (WTF! and Padma handled that with such grace).

Episode Two - the internment of German immigrants/German-American citizens during WW1 and WW2. I have to admit that I had complete ignorance of that. I knew about the concentration camps our government put Japanese immigrants/Japanese-American Citizens during WW2 but I had no idea that the same atrocity had been committed by our government on German-Americans.

So yeah, we could talk about burritos and bratwurst, but this show is about so much more. Maybe the following episodes won't push my buttons so much.

Or maybe not: https://www.theatlantic.com/culture/archive/2020/07/padma-lakshmi-hulu-taste-nation-american-cuisine/613915/

 

Edited by Ashforth

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S1.E9 The Pad Thai Gamble

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Las Vegas is home to one of the largest groups of Thai immigrants in the country, many of whom were women who came here after marrying American soldiers during the Vietnam War. Padma hears their stories over delicious food - Pad Thai is just the start.

This episode was so interesting. I loved that the other two soldiers asked to be stationed in Las Vegas so all three of their wives could be close to each other. One thing that always annoys me/makes me sad is how immigrant food is expected to be cheap. People bitch if a taco costs more than $2 or if Chinese food is expensive. People claim to love these kinds of food but then balk at having to pay higher than fast food prices, yet they are totally willing to pay $20 for a bowl of pasta with sauce. That's why it's always surprising to me when restaurants like this one are able to charge higher prices and not only stay open but become very successful. More power to them!

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S1.E10: Zen and the Art of Poke

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Padma dives into Japanese culture, ubiquitous in Honolulu, to understand just how far their cultural footprint reaches. She slings fish and rolls sushi where a century and a half ago Japanese immigrants first docked on Hawaii’s shores.

One of the things I love about many Hawaiian foods is seeing the natural fusion of different cultures (as opposed to hipster chefs doing fusion for the sake of combining disparate things together). I love poke but I'm really picky about where I get it because if they don't use really fresh fish, it's not worth it.

Overall I enjoyed this season so I hope there's a second season.

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1 hour ago, ElectricBoogaloo said:

S1.E9 The Pad Thai Gamble

This episode was so interesting. I loved that the other two soldiers asked to be stationed in Las Vegas so all three of their wives could be close to each other. One thing that always annoys me/makes me sad is how immigrant food is expected to be cheap. People bitch if a taco costs more than $2 or if Chinese food is expensive. People claim to love these kinds of food but then balk at having to pay higher than fast food prices, yet they are totally willing to pay $20 for a bowl of pasta with sauce. That's why it's always surprising to me when restaurants like this one are able to charge higher prices and not only stay open but become very successful. More power to them!

I'm looking forward to watching this episode. Many years ago, having read about Lotus of Siam on the Chowhound message boards, on a business trip to Las Vegas I insisted to my co-worker that we go there (aside: the Chowhound forums used to be robust and a great source of information on restaurants to visit in any given city or region, but then they changed them and they became essentially useless. Why, Chowhound, why?).

Back to the story. It's Vegas, right? So I dressed up and we called a cab and when it pulled up to the, to put it kindly, decidedly not fancy strip center, we looked at each other with trepidation and my companion laughed at me. I said, let's go in. After a rather lengthy wait, we were shown to a table. The menu is large, and so even though we were familiar with Thai food, we asked the server to choose dishes for us. Thus began what is easily one of the best meals I've ever had. It's a great memory.

Edited by Ashforth
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6 minutes ago, Ashforth said:

aside: the Chowhound forums used to be robust and a great source of information on restaurants to visit in any given city or region, but then they changed them and they became essentially useless. Why, Chowhound, why?

Couldn't agree more. I was an avid reader, then they really fouled up the interaction mode. Every old-timer told them exactly why it was so misguided, but they stuck to it. And I think it's mostly dead now. I certainly quit going a long long time ago.

On topic-- I've heard Padma on a couple of NPR shows lately promoting the show (Wait Wait Don't tell me, and Splendid Table), and she comes across as so genuine and NICE! She hides a lot of that, seems to me, on Top Chef. Anyway, I have it on my watch list but haven't started yet. It seems to be getting awesome reviews.

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18 minutes ago, dleighg said:

she comes across as so genuine and NICE! She hides a lot of that, seems to me, on Top Chef.

 

On 6/29/2020 at 10:17 PM, LemonSoda said:

I’m really enjoying this show so far. It’s very touching. I really like how Padma is a gracious guest everywhere she goes. She’s not there as a host, lecturer or show off, she’s a guest. I love that. 

 

On 7/1/2020 at 11:49 AM, tennisgurl said:

I am really liking the show, its fun to explore the cultures behind so many types of food, and Padma is a great host. She seems so excited to meet new people and try new foods, she never tries to talk over the people she meets or humble brag about her own accomplishments, she just seems really happy to be finding so much great food. Plus, everything looks so delicious, I end every episode hungry!

I agree that Padma comes off as very laid back and relaxed as well as genuine and kind. I really appreciate that she is just there to listen to these people's stories, ask them questions, and eat their food. She isn't using the show as an excuse to talk about herself, brag about where she's been/famous people she's met/expensive restaurants where she's eaten, or otherwise hog the spotlight. I especially love that she doesn't interrupt which is a huge pet peeve of mine. I HATE when the host of a show asks a question and then cuts off the other person. Why bother asking if you don't want to let them answer?

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16 hours ago, ElectricBoogaloo said:

 I especially love that she doesn't interrupt which is a huge pet peeve of mine. I HATE when the host of a show asks a question and then cuts off the other person. Why bother asking if you don't want to let them answer?

That is something that ruins so much for me! So often I want to say Shut up! Let the other person finish! 

Edited by LemonSoda
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Quick update for those of you interested in Lotus of Siam, with the resurgence of infections in Nevada one location was closed entirely and the other closed the dining room, going back to pickup and delivery only.

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Another great interview where her and Francis Lam  talk a bit about her life in Queens and he talks about how awesome she is as an “active listener”. 
As someone who never thought Padma was cold I am delighted that others are seeing how warm and caring she is in “real” life.

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I'm working my way through it and have found it fascinating and it makes me want to go eat everything! I just watched the episode on Chinese food and was a little confused why she kept talking about chop suey as if it was A Current Thing. I absolutely know why it was brought up, since it was the food that allowed Chinese restaurants to make their way into American culture. But, I feel like it kept being treated as if that was still the main thing Americans ordered when they went to a Chinese restaurant and I didn't quite understand why she kept asking all these Chinese chefs and people she was interviewing it they ate. If you were interviewing my grandma, maybe...but now it seems like the question should be about anything you find on the Panda Express menu, something like orange chicken or General Tso chicken.

The Persian food one was so interesting to me, because I never thought of so many of them trying to learn, but potentially never being allowed to go back. With the other cultures, the Mexican cooks can go back to Mexico, the Chinese to China, Indigenous can seek out their elders. I hadn't really thought about the fact that they don't all have that option available to them.

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We watched her "holiday" special featuring the Wampanoag tribe in Massachusetts and how they celebrate/mourn Thanksgiving.

Interesting, but I'd read an article in the Washington Post on the same subject, interviewing many of the same people, just this week.

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