Padma Lakshmi on Hulu’s Hanukkah Edition of ‘Taste the Nation’

Padma Lakshmi’s “Taste the Nation,” the acclaimed food documentary series, returned to Hulu this week, featuring schmaltz and pickles.

In a special four-part Christmas edition, Lakshmi highlights traditional Christmas foods from places across the US: Visit Los Angeles to celebrate the Korean New Year, Miami to learn about Cuban Christmas, and Cape Cod to learn about culinary traditions. of the Wampanoag nation. and deconstructing the Thanksgiving Christmas narrative.

To learn about Hanukkah? Lakshmi just needed to travel around the corner from her East Village apartment. In the episode, titled “Happy Challah Days,” visit the Lower East Side, where hundreds of thousands of Jews lived after emigrating from Eastern Europe in the early 1900s.

The episode is the dream of a Jewish food lover from New York. Lakshmi, the author, model and food mogul who has been nominated for 11 Emmy Awards for her work as a host / judge on Bravo’s “Top Chef” (her Jewish co-host Gail Simmons has been nominated for two), makes her first stop at Russ and Daughters appetizing store on Houston Street, a Lower East Side landmark since 1914. The store is run by Josh Russ Tupper and Niki Russ Federman, great-grandchildren of the store’s original owner, Joel Russ.

At Russ and Daughters, Lakshmi learns how to make latkes and tries many of the store’s signature Ashkenazi offerings: caviar, schmaltz, herring, and liver. Next, Lakshmi visits the Tenement Museum, the Pickle Guys, a mainstay of Essex Street since 2010, and New York’s Central Synagogue, where she discusses the Hanukkah story with Rabbi Ari Lorge.

After talking to Ruth Zimbler, a Holocaust survivor, she learns how to make holishkes (stuffed cabbage) from the creators of the artisanal gefilte fish brand Gefilteria. He also brings his daughter Krishna to share a brisket and kugel meal with Deb Perelman, the food blogger behind Smitten Kitchen.

The episode tells viewers the Yiddish name of each of the foods Lakshmi tastes and celebrates the freedom Jewish communities have to practice their religion in America. Throughout, Lakshmi compares the Jewish immigrant and family experience to her own experience of immigrating to the United States from India as a child.

Lakshmi is also charged with downplaying the role Hanukkah has traditionally played in Jewish culture – she knows the holiday is not as religiously important as Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and even Passover. She tells members of her non-Jewish audience that, contrary to popular Gentile belief, the holiday is not “Jewish Christmas.”

Indian cookbook model, actress and author Padma Lakshmi (credit: VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

Instead, Lakshmi uses Hanukkah as a way to explore how Jewish-American culture came into being: its resistance, its community, its assimilation, its struggle, with food at the center of it all. He also explores his own relationship with the oil-soaked foods that play an important symbolic role during Hanukkah.

“Personally,” he said, “I’ve never needed an excuse to eat something fried.”

The “Taste the Nation” episode, “Happy Challah Days,” is now airing on Hulu.

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