On an ever-expanding menu of podcasts, WAMU 88.5’s Dish City, which explores DC history and culture through its iconic foods, is, quite literally, the chef’s choice.
In June, the series—hosted by Ruth Tam and Patrick Fort—received a prestigious 2022 Media Award from the James Beard Foundation, the culinary arts nonprofit named for the pioneering American chef. The duo, who met as producers on the Kojo Nnamdi Show, won in the audio programming category for an episode from their third season: “How American Chinese Food Became Delivery Food.”
Like Dish City as a whole, the episode is breezy and light, even as it delves into some weighty subjects, weaving the Americanization of Chinese food—from chop suey to General Tso’s chicken—with America’s history of xenophobia. “The earliest Chinese restaurants were born out of struggle,” Tam says, and the cuisine “went through its biggest transformations when being Chinese was intensely politicized.”
Since its 2019 launch, Dish City has taken listeners on a food crawl of such regional staples as Mambo sauce, Old Bay, half smokes, and Maryland blue crabs. Tam and Fort have examined the impact of immigrant communities on the food scene and how restaurateurs pivoted during the pandemic. And the fourth season wrapped with a look at the only meal Washingtonians love more than a power lunch: a bottomless, boozy brunch.
With Tam heading to Harvard this fall on a yearlong Nieman Fellowship to study the rise in first-person reporting, the podcast’s future is like a tipsy bruncher navigating the Georgetown cobblestones: a little uncertain. “We’re still figuring it out,” she says. “There are lots of stories still left on the table.”