What's Really Behind The Great Ketchup Debate In Puerto Rico, According To Padma Lakshmi - Exclusive

The whole point of "Taste the Nation with Padma Lakshmi" is not simply to taste the nation. It's to learn about America, share the stories that make up the fabric of our culture, and teach people about the different viewpoints and backgrounds that together define our melting pot of a country. Of course, food is a perfect vessel to share those stories and teach those lessons while introducing people to tasty new ways to expand their palettes. So it's no surprise that Lakshmi is back with another season of the hit Hulu show, visiting 10 more destinations across the nation, highlighting poignant issues we currently face.

"One of my favorite episodes is when we go to Puerto Rico and demystify the whole connection between Puerto Ricans and Americans," Padma Lakshmi told Mashed during an exclusive interview. And she does it by exploring one of the most perpetual and deep-rooted questions in Puerto Rico's culinary history: Should you put ketchup on pasteles?

Lakshmi explained to Mashed how the episode digs into what is really behind this culinary controversy: "That [issue of] ketchup [versus] no ketchup became a great metaphor for so much else that is way deeper and political." While you won't get a direct answer about the condiment itself by the end of the episode, you will get a better understanding of Puerto Rico's rich history and its colonial relationship with the U.S.

Pasteles and ketchup represent the ultimate political question in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico's culture draws on a range of influences, from Indigenous to Spanish to African, and more. In that sense, it's like a microcosm of the U.S. This mix of backgrounds is embodied in one of the most popular dishes of Puerto Rico, pasteles. They are made with a seasoned pork and adobo mixture that is stuffed inside a green plantain masa dough and then wrapped in banana leaves before being boiled. While they are often served with hot sauce, many people like to slather ketchup on pasteles.

It's no doubt an Americanized way to eat these traditional snacks, and that's precisely why it's so controversial. Much of this has to do with the rocky relationship between the U.S. and Puerto Rico. "A lot of people think Puerto Ricans are immigrants — they're not," Lakshmi points out. "They are American citizens. Puerto Rico is a territory, but things in Puerto Rico aren't that great, and that's because it's an American territory."

And for many, ketchup represents "colonialism on a plate," as one citizen tells Lakshmi in the episode. "Even Puerto Ricans will fight amongst themselves," Lakshmi explained, "just like they fight about whether they should become a state so they have all of the rights of the mainland states, or whether they should stay the same, or whether they should be independent and be their own country."

Season 2 of "Taste the Nation with Padma Lakshmi" is now available on Hulu.