By Louis Kleynhans
Food is always a problem on field assignments. I have worked with people that organise a buffet on the shoot. While it’s wonderful to eat good food, this just doesn’t fit into my budget. As South Africans, our first instinct is to take all the food we’ll need with us on assignment. But, as I’ve already explained, luggage weight is already a problem for travelling photographers. Food is the last thing I have space for! Sometimes I can manage a putting a piece of biltong in, but that’s all.
Find the local flavour
It’s not in the big towns that food is a real problem – you usually have a choice of restaurants, and they’ll usually be within walking distance of my hotel. I always try not to eat in the hotel itself, and rather venture out to mix with the local people. It helps if you can build a relationship with them, as you’ll probably need help on your assignment. You’ll also find that the best quality food is where the local people eat, as opposed to the mass produced food made for tourism. Local cuisine is a regional issue, and I always try to find out what the region I am in is known for. In a country like Tanzania, you can eat the most amazing food, or the most boring food, dependent on where you are.
A lot of people that go to Zanzibar try not to spend a night in Stone Town – they always rush out to the beaches. Very few people know, however, that Stone Town has a food market in the evening, on the beach! Forodhani Night Food Market is world famous for their freshly prepared seafood.
Food on the go
The fun and games begin when you’ve gotten onto a bus and there wasn’t any time for breakfast. You can always buy fresh food at taxi ranks, bus stops, ferry or train terminals and so on. It may sound dodgy but you you’d be amazed at the choices that you have. One of my personal favourites is a sandwich made from two thick slices of bread, egg, polony and cheese. You will also always find freshly bakes scones in some form or other. The ultimate, however, as to be Makoenas (pronounced Makwenja). This is a kind of vetkoek – be warned, it’s addictive and bad news for your diet! I’ve seen it disagree with people on numerous occasions.
There are, of course, a few things that I won’t even try. I don’t eat fish as a rule, and if something doesn’t look fresh, I steer clear of it. In India I learnt that some of their stews are made over years – they just add a few new ingredients every day. They never empty the pot or wash it. Just imagine how sick you can get! The funny thing, though, is that the local people are used to it. They eat it every day and it’s perfect for them!
When you travel on public transport, the driver will always stop for lunch at some restaurant under a tree with a fresh meal. It varies from goat and chicken stew with pap to beans, sosaties or even grilled chicken.
You can also always bargain on finding fresh bread, fruit and soft drinks wherever you go. Coke is the one I come across most often, but there are areas in Asia where they prefer Pepsi or have local brands.
Water, superglue and taps
The availability of water has changed greatly over the last few years. You’ll easily get bottled water nearly everywhere in the world nowadays. In the old days we had to boil the water, wait for it to cool down and then bottle it. It was a big problem and it was time consuming. There are a few tricks, however, to keep in mind when it comes to water. For one, look out for ice. The ice used to keep your water cool is most likely made from local water. So, check your bottle when this ice is not kept properly cool. If water got into the screw top, your going to come into contact with it when you open your bottle to drink the water. I always wipe my bottle top before and after I have unscrewed the top.
The big thing to watch out for, however, is the refill con. Some people pick up empty bottles, fill them at the local tap and then sell it to you as bottled water. You have to make sure that you check the seal properly. Superglue is very cheap, and a few drops will fool you easily! I don’t mind drinking water from the tap in most countries, but you do have to be careful, else you might spend your trip in the hospital!
As a rule, I don’t have massive problems with food on trips – with India being the exception. You may not always know what you’re eating – it could be beef, sheep, goat, donkey, camel or horse meat! If it tastes good, there is likely no problem, as we’ve all found out with the mixed-bag meat scandal here in SA.