“I’m eating rice and dal as we speak,” Padma Lakshmi tells me. As the longtime host and executive producer of Top Chef, Lakshmi has become accustomed to divulging what she’s eating. But today’s recitation of her lunch seems particularly serendipitous. What follows from her admission is a lengthy chat about the food both of us, as South Indian immigrants, grew up eating: rasam (a tamarind-based soup), dosas (a thin rice pancake), yogurt rice (like savory rice pudding). It’s the exact type of conversation—one about families and traditions and homes—Lakshmi hoped would be spurred by her new show, Taste the Nation.
In the 10-part Hulu series, Lakshmi travels the country shining a spotlight on the foods and immigrant communities that so-called “American” cuisine is built on. In Charleston, she explores the culture of the Gullah Geechee people, who influenced Southern dining, and in