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Travel Photography Subjects: Food

Nepali Food Ahhh, food.  Wonderful, scrumptious, tasty food.  Or, if you’re not familiar with the local cuisine, maybe it’s more like odd, greasy and down right horrid.  No matter your experience, food will be another integral part of your travels and a strong hallmark of a given location.

I am admittedly not a ‘foodie’, someone who lusts over their meal and seeks new and exciting tastes to wow their senses.  While I enjoy a good meal, I don’t travel to eat, so I thought it best to bring in someone who’s more of an expert on this topic.  Jodi Ettenberg quit her job as a corporate lawyer three years ago and began traveling the world with a passion for all things culinary, chronically her adventures at Legal Nomads.com.  She plans her day around meals.  She seeks out back alley, hole-in-the-wall restaurants just for the thrill of new food.  I asked her for some advice on seeking out the flavors the spice up a foreign land and how best to represent them through photography.

“When traveling [internationally], I ask taxi or tuktuks or the hostels where they’d eat instead of asking for a more Western restaurant. I care about local food because I care so much about taste, and because it’s an incredible way to meet local people and usually get invited in their homes to eat with them. To get invited in and then to learn how to MAKE it? Even better.

In Thailand, so many food customs are bad luck – you’re not supposed to pile plates on top of each other and then eat off of them because it bodes badly for the luck of your family. I was also chastised for picking up a plate to hand it to an older Thai man at our table, because one is supposed to only slide the plate when offering food to an elder, not pick it up. In addition, monks eat first – you won’t get to eat unless the monks have all received their food, which fits into the cultural landscape of the country but is of course entirely foreign to us tourists. Learning about these quirks provides a deeper insight into Thailand as a whole, which is why I find them each so important.

People should care about food because (1) It tastes good, and for many North Americans we think ‘complicated, spices and taste does equal ‘good’, but that’s a fallacy. Caring about food means finding out what really does taste good elsewhere, not just by throwing spices into a pot. (2) Because it’s a great way to meet local people and find out about culture. (3) Because most places in the world have their culture revolve around food, and it’s a terrific way to get a crash course in that new culture.”

As you may have seen in other posts in this series, Jodi repeats my advice to ask locals where they prefer to go.  Sure it’s fine to have a few ‘safe’ meals in the hotel restaurant when you arrive in a foreign land, but then start looking outside your comfort zone.  If you’re looking for tips on how to take better food photos while on the road, check out DPS’s 7 Tips for Aspiring Food Pornographers.

If you have some great traveling food photos and stories, please share them in the comments section below!


Previous articles in the Travel Photography Subjects series include Water, Old People, Young People, Religion, Sports, Socializing, Icons, Rich, Poor, Transportation and Economy. These posts are not intent on telling you everything you need to do, step by step, to capture perfect, cookie-cutter pictures while traveling.  Instead, they are intent on pointing out some vital elements to capture when on the road and highlight thought provoking questions you may want to ask yourself.  My hope is they help guide you to find your own means to better expressing what your travels have meant to you and present that in the best light possible.  Be sure to subscribe to this site to receive the other nine subjects as they are posted!

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Peter West Carey
Peter West Carey

leads photo tours and workshops in Nepal, Bhutan, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and beyond. He is also the creator of Photography Basics – A 43 Day Adventure & 40 Photography Experiments, web-based tutorials taking curious photographers on a fun ride through the basics of learning photography.

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