Courtesy of HBO / Zack Hyman

In a food-filled episode, Padma Lakshmi hosts a "Top Chef"-esque competition and Elmo learns to cook.

Adam Campbell-Schmitt
March 02, 2018

I've you've been tuning in to the most recent season of Sesame Street on HBO the past few weeks, you've probably noticed the series has had a few notable guest stars (aside from its usual celebrity cameos, of course). For the first time ever, the American iteration of the children's program is hosting characters from the show's many international co-productions. They include Zuzu from South Africa's Takalani Sesame, Chamki from India's Galli Galli Sim Sim, and Lily, a tiger visiting from China's Zhima Jie. All three characters were introduced in their own episodes over the past month, and come Saturday all three will appear together when Sesame Street hosts its first-ever international street food fair.

Courtesy of HBO / Zack Hyman

Sesame Street executive producer Ben Lehmann, who began working on Sesame Workshop's international productions 17 years ago, says the four-episode arc fits into a broader curriculum for this season. "We wanted to do mutual respect and understanding and we feel like we came at it at a perfect time in this country. Over the course of the season, we've had a bunch of different episodes dealing with different aspects around that—cultural differences, class difference, and race," Lehmann tells Food & Wine. "Out of that, the idea came about that we have these international co-productions, we have these characters that are on Sesame Street versions around the world. Why don't we have the come and visit the U.S. show?"

Courtesy of HBO / Zack Hyman

The upcoming episode "Street Food" mirrors not only the prevalence of markets and food trucks in the, what you might call, adult world. The U.S. production worked closely with its international counterparts to determine which foods to showcase in each booth that are authentic but also that kids actually eat. It also provides an entry point into cultural awareness that's age-appropriate. "Food is a great window for kids to learn about other cultures, so that was kind of the guiding light. It's hard to explain the country of India and their political system or other issues that are way above their heads, but for kids, you can explain 'hey, this kid is just like you but they eat different food, and if you try it you might like it, too.'"

Courtesy of HBO / Zack Hyman

The episode focuses, in part, on Rudy, a resident Sesame Street monster who's afraid to try the many of the foods his friends are serving up asking if he can get a corn dog instead.

Meanwhile, Elmo, Abby, and Chris are eating everything up, from Rosita's Mexican tamales and flan to Lily's wontons to Alan's udon representing his great-grandparents home country of Japan, Zuzu's South African chakalaka and pap with tomato gravy, to Chamki's palak paneer and naan. Rudy does eventually try something, so you'll have to tune in to see how he reacts.

The entire episode is focused on food, as well. Padma Lakshmi hosts a local version of Top Chef called "Sesame Chef" in which Elmo, Cookie Monster, Prairie Dawn, and Oscar the Grouch face off in a cheese battle.

Courtesy of HBO / Zack Hyman

Speaking of Cookie Monster, his Foodie Truck, along with its resident chef Gonger, makes an appearance to explain how taco shells are made. And in Elmo’s World, everyone’s favorite furry red host learns all about cooking while Mr. Noodle has trouble with, well, noodles.

New episodes of "Sesame Street" air Saturday mornings at 9 a.m. on HBO.