Journalist Lisa Ling knows there are a lot of food shows out there. But she also knows people always have an appetite for more.
"I've always believed that food can play the most incredible diplomatic role, and really allow entree into things that you might not have thought you'd be interested in," she told NBC News about her new show "Take Out With Lisa Ling," a six-episode docu-series which debuts on HBO Max on Jan. 27.
For the series, Ling said she wanted to specifically focus on the lives of those who run some of America’s Asian restaurants, so she could share unique stories of restaurateurs across the Asian American and Pacific Islander diaspora.
“Despite the fact that Asian history isn’t told, there are so many Asian restaurants all over this country,” she said. “Somehow, the food has been the one thing that’s been able to transcend ignorance in some ways. So we thought this [show] could be the perfect opportunity to tell these buried histories through something that most Americans have come to really love and cherish, which is Asian food.”
So we thought this [show] could be the perfect opportunity to tell these buried histories through something that most Americans have come to really love and cherish, which is Asian food."
That meant going to places like Otomisan, the only remaining Japanese restaurant in Boyle Heights, California.
“It has become not only a symbol of resilience, but a symbol of unity,” Ling said.
"I do think that with the six restaurants we chose, every episode will introduce you to an aspect of American history that you have probably never heard about through this incredible lens of food. Those hidden stories."
The project is also a personal one, as Ling said it helped her connect with her Chinese culture.
Ling said her grandfather, who had a bachelor’s degree and MBA from NYU and the University of Colorado, couldn’t get hired for a job in finance because he was Chinese. Her grandma, who had a music degree from Cambridge in England, taught piano while the family lived in a converted chicken coop in Sacramento. They eventually saved enough money to open a Chinese restaurant in Folsom, California, called Hop Sing Eat Shop.
“I think for the first time, for me, I really got connected to my Asian American roots,” she said of making the show. “It really was the first time I felt connected to those roots in my life.”
While most Americans are unfamiliar with Asian American history, Ling added, most are very familiar with and fans of Asian food.
"I've learned so much about Asian American history and aspects of American history," she said of creating the show. "It's been fascinating and really filled me with a source of pride."
See an exclusive trailer for the show below.