There is a lot going on in this Hulu network food show. Padma Lakshmi, food writer and fixture on the show Top Chef, hosts this ten episode show in which she examines American food from an immigrant perspective. This, to me, sounded a lot like Marcus Samuelsson’s show No Passport Required (tinyurl.com/zubmarcus). Quite quickly, however, the differences appear. Marcus’ show is produced by foodie site Eater and concentrates on the restaurateurs, while Padma’s show is backed by the ACLU and truly deals with the colonialism in American food assimilation.
Padma is originally from India and understands the immigrant experience, a key point in the series. Immigrants come to the US, bring their own food, and that food gets thrown in the American culinary ‘melting pot.’ Episode one deals with El Paso Texas, and there is a lot to unpack, focusing on a car wash that has also served as a burrito joint since the 1950’s. The owner himself is a Trump supporting Syrian immigrant who is happy to use Mexican workers that cross the border every day to work. These are the loyal, hardworking employees and the implication is that they also work for less money. Making burritos, it’s noticed that they use flour tortillas, an item that didn’t exist in Mexican corn-centric cuisine. Wheat was unknown in Mexico until the Spanish arrived, so that the burritos really are a symbol of colonialism.
In episode four Padma visits The Gullah areas of the South Carolina coast and makes red beans, a recipe so popular nowadays that even Martha Stewart has a version. This is not so much a tale of immigration but of slavery, as the Gullah cook much as they did in slave times. The people she visits have a restaurant when they teach children how to cook their Gullah recipes. Quickly losing their pigeon language, the Gullah people are shown trying hard to hold on to their culture.
In a totally different approach, Padma visits Los Angeles, which is a hotbed of Persian (Iranian) immigrants and their food. The Persian diaspora came to Los Angeles in the 1970’s when the Shah was deposed and the Ayatollahs took over. These Iranians that left tended to have money, and love the freedom in the US. It’s made clear that most Iranians are not radicals, and who doesn’t love kabobs! Episode seven is the saddest episode, all about Native Americans in Arizona. These are people who literally suffered genocide and forced resettlement. Given rations of cooking oil, flour, and lard by the government, they came up with Fry bread, which turns out to be a shameful symbol of conquest. Going through the desert, Padma and her Native companion forage for a meal, flowers, seeds, succulents, and even meat (a type of rodent). Padma visits a healer that uses all manner of plants to treat health issues. To see the pride and patience of these people after all they’ve been through is astounding.
This is a great series. It sneaks up on you until you realize it’s not just about food. Like Marcus Samuelsson, Padma is beautiful (she was a model) and interested in the subjects. She is a good interviewer who is not confrontational. The visuals on the show are top-notch, and I learned a lot about how food and assimilation work in the USA. The show has its own voice and makes and earns a place in the increasingly crowded streaming food show world. I am glad I made room for it and think you will be too.
Thanks for dropping by. This blog is part of zubrecords.com, an indie label run by people who make and love music! Check out Alert for blogs on music, films, books, and more! Our podcast, Singles Going Steady, is on all major podcatchers and at tinyurl.com/SGSPodcast Lots of cool things to read and listen to at zubrecords.com