‘Taste the Nation with Padma Lakshmi’ Returns for Another Season of Exploring American Food

We spoke with host Padma Lakshmi ahead of the premiere to talk about how season two is bringing more cities, more storytelling, and even some banjo-playing.

Taste the Nation poster with Padma Lakshmi and American flag


In the first season of Hulu’s Taste the Nation, food writer and Top Chef host (and Sports Illustrated’s newest model) Padma Lakshmi tasted her way from the Arizonian desert to Honolulu beaches—and now she’s back for seconds. Season two comes out May 5, and Lakshmi is traveling from city to city, exploring vibrant communities, and continuing to investigate: What is American food?

The idea for the show, which first premiered in 2020, was born out of Lakshmi’s personal experience of immigrating to America when she was four years old, along with her advocacy work. She wanted to put a creative, artistic spin on it and tell stories through the medium she knows best. 

“I thought, ‘If people really knew what immigrants go through, if people really met a refugee, they wouldn’t be saying these things,’” she tells Better Homes & Gardens. “And so it was really out of frustration to say, ‘Hey, we’re all human. We all want the same things, and we’re all Americans.’ Let’s be a little kinder to each other and to get to know each other through each other’s foods, but also, through so much more through culture through dance, music, literature, all of it.”

In the latest season, Lakshmi once again visits a diverse collection of cities to interview immigrant chefs, restaurateurs, writers, and more. 

In Washington D.C., she talks with four generations of Afghan immigrants and refugees, including the chef of Lapis—an eatery that features halal family recipes passed down from generation to generation. In that episode, Lakshmi learns how to make Kabuli pulao, which she calls a beautiful “feast of a rice dish.” The show is about much more than learning to cook new recipes though—in another interview during the same episode, she hears the story of Jamil Jan Kochai, an award-winning writer and first-generation Afghan-American immigrant who describes his experience of growing up playing video games where the bad guy always looked like him.

“Every day I learned something new about what it means to be human, and I learned something new about another person's culture, and I find just listening—that’s all you have to do,” she says. “I personally believe that everybody has an interesting story, if you just learn to listen to what that is. And that’s what I love about the show, is that you get to meet so many different kinds of people.”

Padma Lakshmi judging on Top Chef

Bravo / Getty Images

Although she’s been part of the food world in a multitude of ways for years, Lakshmi constantly finds herself unearthing something new about this country during filming. While in Appalachia visiting with members of the Cherokee Nation (which only about 300 people are still part of), she discovered how many types of heritages make up the region.

“Appalachia is wonderful because it’s got this confluence of different cultures,” she explains. “There’s English and Irish and Scottish immigrants that came to Appalachia. So there’s Western European or white people, then there’s the Cherokee, but there’s also a lot of Black culture and fish fries and churches.”

And that’s what Taste the Nation is all about—delving firsthand into the different backgrounds that make up this country and how it sets American food apart—plus, everyone can relate to the importance of food.

“We all have very dear and precious memories attached to the foods we eat,” Lakshmi says. “When we get married, the biggest thing we spend time on, other than the dress, is the dinner. When someone dies, you bring a casserole or you bring food to your neighbor when they’ve had a loss. Even when we’re courting people, we say, ‘Can I take you to dinner?’ Food becomes the backdrop for so many important rituals of our lives that everybody has really strong opinions about. And you don’t have to be a food writer like me or a filmmaker; you don’t have to be a professional chef to have fully-formed passionate views on food.”

From debating ketchup on pasteles in Puerto Rico to indulging in ube in the Filipino neighborhoods of Daly City, California, Lakshmi introduces fascinating cuisines and groups of people that you may have never heard of in each episode. She was surprised by the large Cambodian presence in Lowell, Massachusetts (which isn’t far from where she went to college), and even the food, which she described as subtly spicy and delicate, was new to her.

While the series is an exploration of identity, Lakshmi also wants viewers to enjoy watching the show as much as she did making it—and the entertainment is not just limited to cooking. She got to learn how to play the banjo, went flat footing, drove a Gator, fished in the river, and even butchered a pig’s head.

“I hope [people] connect with how fun it is to get to know other cultures,” she says. “I hope it’s infectious, because I’m naturally curious about other people, food, music, customs, language, rituals, and art. All of that, you know, and I hope that other people are seeing it because we have such a rich culture in America, and we shouldn’t be afraid of it. We should embrace it and just understand that it’s such a part of who we are as a nation, and that’s a good thing.”

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