Still hunting and gathering (best food photos of the year so far)

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Thank Buddha for my high metabolism. I think about food all the time and eat 4-5 times a day but still struggle to gain weight. Excessive hyperspazziness no doubt.

I usually take a photo or two of what I eat. As I mentioned in my “best food photos of 2016 post”, no matter how good a street food or restaurant dish tastes getting a good photo is a completely different matter. To start, the light needs to be right (not too harsh, not too dark) or the food won’t look good at all. Dark and moody restaurants may be good for dates but they’re a disaster for food photos (see the typical food photos on TripAdvisor, for example). (Problems with lighting can be fixed to some extent with editing software and I’ve been using Photoshop Elements more and more since I started this blog.)

Attractive presentation is also important. With most of my food photos that doesn’t mean something fussy or high class though; most of what I eat here in Vietnam and in my travels could be called street food – popular, tasty and inexpensive local dishes served simply. Some of these places present their food more attractively than others though and I think this is a critical element of good food photos – after all I got to actually eat all of this delicious food but with this blog all I can offer you are the photos.

I can and generally do try to compliment the original presentation by arranging the items for my photo. When I take food photos there’s often a funny moment when the staff and other customers watch curiously while I rearrange the entire table, and then get out my big DSLR camera for the shot. After all, most of the food in my photos is extremely ordinary in the place where I took the photo. It’s probably impossible for the shopkeeper and other patrons to imagine how hard it is to get a great bowl of Vietnamese pho or a tasty masala dosa in Tokyo or New York City (or how expensive it will be if you find them).

Here are my favorite food photos from the first half of this year. As I live here in Saigon and the food is fabulous, naturally there’s lots of Vietnamese cuisine. A second section of photos is from some of my favorite international restaurants in Saigon (and one photo from my trip to the US this month). A final section of photos is from my trip to India in Feb.

Vietnamese Cuisine

This photo is from a restaurant called The Secret Garden, which is in a little alley off Pasteur St. in Saigon. I think it’s “secret” because you need to climb five flights of stairs in a rickety old building to get to it. At regular points along the long, winding stairway up to the restaurant there are signs urging hungry potential patrons to keep going – “Just a little more!”, “Only 30 more steps!” etc. Apparently lots of people give up along the long climb or get lost in the old, labyrinthine building. The restaurant is very much worth the hike.

 

Banh xeo (savory crepe stuffed with pork, shrimp and bean sprouts) at the local market near my new apartment. Cost 25,000 VND (about 1 USD).
This is from a great Chinese style wonton soup cart I found at another local market in Saigon
Bun cha, a famous dish from Hanoi. This is the dish that President Obama and food journalist Anthony Bourdain famously ate when they met in Hanoi.
Bun thit nuong (grilled pork and vegetables with rice vermicelli), another famous Vietnamese noodle dish. This one is in the Hue style (the peanut based sauce in the upper right of the photo instead of the more traditional fish sauce based condiment).
Hu tieu, a common noodle dish from the south of Vietnam
Lunch this Lunar New Year’s day. Many practicing Buddhists eat vegetarian on the 1st and 15th day of each lunar month and many restaurants offer extra vegetarian options on these days.
A great bowl of Pho Ga (chicken noodle soup) from a very surprising place. To supplement their main business, an iPhone and iPad accessories shop near my new apartment serves beef and chicken pho on Sat and Sun mornings.

(Above two photos) Chicken and pork with sticky rice.
Fried rice in clay pot from an excellent and super cheap shop near my new apartment
This probably isn’t what you think of Vietnamese food but the south of Vietnam has a bountiful variety of fresh fruits and most restaurants have a large selection of fruit juices and smoothies on their menus. This is from Hum, easily the best vegetarian restaurant in Saigon, and one of my favorite local restaurants of any kind.

 

International Cuisine

Sushi-ko, my favorite Japanese restaurant in Saigon
Ichiba, another Japanese restaurant in Saigon. Japanese I’ve met here say it’s not very authentic but I like this place and it has stellar reviews on TripAdvisor. After all, this world of ours has been changing ever since it started spinning. What does it even mean to be “authentic”? Personally, if the food and service are good that’s all I need to know.

(Above two photos) From Ciao Bella, an excellent but somewhat pricey Italian restaurant in Saigon.
From Pizza 4 Ps, easily the best pizza place in Saigon (and my favorite Italian restaurant in the city). It didn’t surprise me at all when I learned the owners are Japanese. Japanese tend to be really, really good at food (of all varieties), which I think is a reflection of the high standards and attention to detail valued in that culture.
Grilled vegetable tacos from Taco Loco, a popular Mexican restaurant in Saigon. Until recently it was called Khoi Thom. At about $5 (or $6-7 for the dishes with meat) a place like this is a bit of a splurge for most locals.
Fish tacos at a hot spot on Martha’s Vineyard my aunt took me to when I visited earlier this month. At $24 (with tip) this was by far the most expensive item in this post, a reflection of the high cost of living in that area. The Vietnamese dishes in the top section of this post were all $1-2 each, as was the Indian food in the section below.

 

India

(Above two photos) A masala dosa street food stand in Mumbai.
A fruit vendor in Dharavi, the large Mumbai slum I visited during my travels there
In India a fixed selection of dishes served on a platter is called a thali. Many restaurants offer a number of thalis at lunch time, including veg and non-veg options. This is from a very local restaurant in the biggest town in Goa. I was probably the only foreigner they had seen in a very long time. While strolling around the town and taking photos I met an interesting young local entrepreneur with his own sailing business and he took me here for lunch.
A street food style snack in Mumbai
This is from a tourist oriented but excellent restaurant I discovered near a beach in Goa. I usually don’t go for this sort of He-Man style breakfast but that morning I’d set off on my motorbike without eating breakfast. After more than two hours of riding I was famished when I finally reached my destination, a beach in the southern part of the state that I’d read good things about. This breakfast and the great coffee this place had really hit the spot.
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