In Season 2 of Lucky Chow, we wander up, down, and across America to discover how deeply Asian culture and cuisine are rooted in our everyday lives. Our appetite for everything Asian leads us to bowls of noodles and skewers of barbecued meats, to heaping Japanese okonomiyaki and velvety Indian duck curry. And along the way we were lucky enough to step into the lives of sumo wrestlers, Buddhist monks, seriously hip Korean-American farmers and a pair of Chinese newlyweds raucously merging old and new world traditions. Now we’re hungrier than ever.
Episode 1: “Japan: Food As an Obsession”
Episode 2: “Farm to Table, Asian Style”
Episode 3: “Food of the Gods”
At Asian places of worship across America, visitors are welcomed in the same way: through the simple, generous gesture of offering food. At the Hsi Lai temple in southern California, a visual marvel and one of the largest Buddhist temples in America, saffron-robed nuns are our hosts at a restaurant serving Chinese-style vegetarian cuisine, including dishes shaped and flavored to resemble meat. In Hollywood, the Sikh temple welcomes everyone – from its own members to the local homeless population to visiting film crews – for a rich buffet of lentil curries, hot chai tea and parathas made on the spot by the congregation. And at New York’s first Indonesian mosque, a bustling food fair offers halal dishes deeply saturated with the spices and flavors of a vast, melting-pot archipelago that’s home to the world’s largest Muslim population.
Episode 4: “Big Business in Little Saigon”
From neighborhood restaurants to global powerhouses, the hunt is always on for the next big trend in the food world. With ethnic cuisine driving the industry’s growth, and Vietnamese businesspeople increasingly at the forefront, we visit three entrepreneurs who are bringing rice noodles, fish sauce and fiery curries into the mainstream. In the strip malls of Orange County’s Little Saigon, a glamorous songstress parlays her image as the Vietnamese Madonna into a thriving trade in banh mi and pho, while a young veteran of the fast-casual giant Chipotle leads the company into a new, nationwide venture based on spicy Southeast Asian grub. And the godfather of Vietnamese cooking in America, Charles Phan, raises the cuisine to James Beard Award-winning heights.
Episode 5: “Made in Chinese America”
China’s rise is not just washing billions of renminbi onto our shores. It’s also introducing us to the vast diversity of Chinese food and the powerful hold of Chinese traditions that have nothing to do with fortune cookies and take-out chow mein. On San Francisco’s storied Grant Avenue, we drop in on a wedding where a second-generation American and his fresh-off-the-boat northern Chinese bride offer a festive fusion: lion dancers gyrating to traditional music and dyed-blonde guests gyrating to a hip-hop D.J., in between the highly symbolic lucky-eight courses of a Chinatown banquet. Then we visit the kitchen of a young entrepreneur who prepares and delivers “confinement” meals, a strict diet based on ancient principles of “heating” and “cooling” to promote healing after childbirth, to both new immigrants and Chinese-American women reclaiming the heritage of their great-grandmothers. Our chaser: a nocturnal visit to a cocktail den in Manhattan’s Soho that specializes in drinks made with baijiu, the fiery Chinese brew that is the world’s most heavily consumed spirit.
Episode 6: “Indian Cuisine Arrives”
Every year trend watchers predict that Indian cooking will finally take off in America the way that Chinese and Japanese did long ago. And every year Americans don’t venture beyond chicken tikka masala and a chai latte at Starbucks. But thanks to a new generation of chefs and entrepreneurs finding inventive ways to present pungent Indian flavors to American palates, the time may have finally arrived. A former private-equity banker shoots for the big time with a fast-casual concept that channels Chipotle in a zen-like space more like a gallery than a quick-service restaurant. On the streets of San Francisco, a Silicon Valley refugee tackles Starbucks head-on, selling chai made the way she remembers it from her childhood in India. And at one of New York’s hottest new restaurants, a husband-and-wife team from Australia present fresh interpretations of their grandmothers’ dishes in a bright room with a Bollywood vibe.
Episode 7: “Taiwan’s True Flavor”
When I tell people I was born in Taiwan, they no longer innocently regale me with stories of their vacations in Thailand. But Taiwanese food, a distinctive blend of rustic aboriginal fare and the refined cooking of the Chinese master chefs who arrived with Chiang Kai-shek in the 1940s, continues to live in the shadow of better-known regional cuisines like Cantonese, Shanghainese and Fujianese. After a shopping trip to a Chinatown market with Cathy Erway, author of “Foods of Taiwan,” we make what is perhaps the most famous Taiwanese dish, beef noodle soup, the ultimate late-night craving in a late-night food culture. At Taiwan Bear House, started by young, homesick expats, we sample a New York take on the Taiwanese bento boxes known as biandang. In Orange County, we visit the closest American version of the signature Taiwanese night market, where Hugo, a proud son of Taiwan, hawks his wares like a carnival barker and feeds me oyster pancakes and fish balls stuffed with cod roe. Finally we drop in on the Boba Guys, who serve an all-natural iteration of Taiwan’s most ubiquitous export, bubble tea, at hipsterized cafes across America.