US photographer documents Dubai’s street food

Penny De Los Santos explored the city’s culinary underbelly as part of the second Dubai Food Festival, with her images set to be displayed at Dubai Airport from February 6

Few things are more enjoyable for long-term Dubai residents than shattering vistors’ perceptions about our home. As a food writer, much of that delight comes from showing people that there’s so much more to the city’s dining scene than imported chains and five-star hotel buffets. Thankfully, new tours and a trend for comfort food means that the less glamorous side of our food culture is becoming far more apparent.

Now, a US-based National Geographic contributing photographer, Penny De Los Santos, is doing her bit to showcase Dubai street food with a 30-work exhibition, commissioned by the Dubai Food Festival (February 6-28) and on show this month at Dubai Airport.

De Los Santos, a food and travel photographer who has travelled the world taking pictures of food cultures, explored over 75 places in the city with a guide, documenting the likes of Bu Qtair, Al Ijaza Cafeteria and the fish market. “Of all the places I’ve travelled to around the world, I can honestly say that very few cities offer the same diversity and range of food as Dubai, ” she said. “If I’m speaking honestly, the exhibition really only scratches the surface of Dubai’s incredible food scene. ”

How did your trip to Dubai come about?

I was approached by Dubai Tourism and commerce Marketing (DTCM). The team there had seen some of my previous work and felt it was well-aligned with the key themes of this year’s Dubai Food Festival.

How did you prepare for the trip – did you research places in advance or seek out a guide?

I didn’t do any research beforehand, but upon arrival I was greeted by a local guide. We were given an extensive list of must-try restaurants and foodie areas in both newly popular and more traditional spots. During my stay we must have visited well over 75 restaurants, which ran across the entire culinary gauntlet.

How would you describe the exhibition – is there a particular angle?

The aim of the exhibition was to capture the ‘heart of Dubai’ – the real city. Food is one of those things that really embodies the soul of a city, so it was a perfect avenue to capture how Dubai really ticks. Dubai is well known for its five-star hotels and restaurants, which are truly spectacular, but I wanted to showcase the elements of the city that go beyond the glamour. I was amazed and awed at what I discovered during my visit. I couldn’t believe the amount and diversity of scenes, flavours and nationalities on offer in a single city. I think my photographs represent a side of Dubai that most people are unaware of, and I hope this exhibition brings to light what amazing culinary diversity the Emirate has to offer.

Which places did you photograph while in Dubai, and why those places?

While we were given overall guidance initially, it was really up to my guide and I to seek out the best places. As the aim was to capture the true essence of the city through its food, we wanted to see not where the tourists were eating, but where the locals and residents enjoyed their meals.

I went to Pakistani, Indian, Iraqi, Lebanese and Palestinian restaurants, Bu Qtair and Al Ijaza Cafeteria. Al Ijaza Cafeteria particularly stood out to me because it felt so authentic – you pull up outside and your order is taken straight away before unique sandwich mixtures are delivered to your car. The fish market was another stand out. We got there at about 4. 30am when the auctioneers were selling the day’s freshest fish. The colours, the light, the vibrancy of the scene and the composition could not have been more perfect; the combination of all of the elements not only defined the feel of the place, but also allowed me to capture the scene amazingly well on camera.

Did you go to any places that didn’t end up in the exhibition, and if so, why?

There were tons! It wasn’t really until the third day of my trip that I realised that many of these places don’t come alive until well after the sun goes down, but we had to keep on moving. I can’t wait to go back and delve further into the culture, returning to those same scenes and places I wasn’t able to best capture on my initial trip.

You’ve photographed many food scenes and cultures around the world. How does Dubai’s food scene compare?

In New York for example, you’ll see various quarters assigned to different nationalities of food. In Dubai, it’s all intertwined. Dubai seems to celebrate the multitude of its residents’ nationalities through its food.

What have been your favourite places to photograph food around the world?

All of the places I’ve been are so different, so that’s a tricky question to answer. I love Moscow – the people living there are so interesting. Food photography is just as much about the people in a place as it is about the food. For diversity, however, Dubai really stands out above all the rest. And I must say, Dubai has some of the best Iraqi and Pakistani food I’ve ever eaten in my life!

© Al Nisr Publishing LLC 2015. All rights reserved. Provided by SyndiGate Media Inc. (Syndigate. info).


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Penny De Los Santos explored the city’s culinary underbelly as part of the second Dubai Food Festival, with her images set to be displayed at Dubai Airport from February 6

Few things are more enjoyable for long-term Dubai residents than shattering vistors’ perceptions about our home. As a food writer, much of that delight comes from showing people that there’s so much more to the city’s dining scene than imported chains and five-star hotel buffets. Thankfully, new tours and a trend for comfort food means that the less glamorous side of our food culture is becoming far more apparent.

Now, a US-based National Geographic contributing photographer, Penny De Los Santos, is doing her bit to showcase Dubai street food with a 30-work exhibition, commissioned by the Dubai Food Festival (February 6-28) and on show this month at Dubai Airport.

De Los Santos, a food and travel photographer who has travelled the world taking pictures of food cultures, explored over 75 places in the city with a guide, documenting the likes of Bu Qtair, Al Ijaza Cafeteria and the fish market. “Of all the places I’ve travelled to around the world, I can honestly say that very few cities offer the same diversity and range of food as Dubai, ” she said. “If I’m speaking honestly, the exhibition really only scratches the surface of Dubai’s incredible food scene. ”

How did your trip to Dubai come about?

I was approached by Dubai Tourism and commerce Marketing (DTCM). The team there had seen some of my previous work and felt it was well-aligned with the key themes of this year’s Dubai Food Festival.

How did you prepare for the trip – did you research places in advance or seek out a guide?

I didn’t do any research beforehand, but upon arrival I was greeted by a local guide. We were given an extensive list of must-try restaurants and foodie areas in both newly popular and more traditional spots. During my stay we must have visited well over 75 restaurants, which ran across the entire culinary gauntlet.

How would you describe the exhibition – is there a particular angle?

The aim of the exhibition was to capture the ‘heart of Dubai’ – the real city. Food is one of those things that really embodies the soul of a city, so it was a perfect avenue to capture how Dubai really ticks. Dubai is well known for its five-star hotels and restaurants, which are truly spectacular, but I wanted to showcase the elements of the city that go beyond the glamour. I was amazed and awed at what I discovered during my visit. I couldn’t believe the amount and diversity of scenes, flavours and nationalities on offer in a single city. I think my photographs represent a side of Dubai that most people are unaware of, and I hope this exhibition brings to light what amazing culinary diversity the Emirate has to offer.

Which places did you photograph while in Dubai, and why those places?

While we were given overall guidance initially, it was really up to my guide and I to seek out the best places. As the aim was to capture the true essence of the city through its food, we wanted to see not where the tourists were eating, but where the locals and residents enjoyed their meals.

I went to Pakistani, Indian, Iraqi, Lebanese and Palestinian restaurants, Bu Qtair and Al Ijaza Cafeteria. Al Ijaza Cafeteria particularly stood out to me because it felt so authentic – you pull up outside and your order is taken straight away before unique sandwich combinations are delivered to your car. The fish market was another stand out. We got there at about 4. 30am when the auctioneers were selling the day’s freshest fish. The colours, the light, the vibrancy of the scene and the composition could not have been more perfect; the combination of all of the elements not only defined the feel of the place, but also allowed me to capture the scene amazingly well on camera.

Did you go to any places that didn’t end up in the exhibition, and if so, why?

There were tons! It wasn’t really until the third day of my trip that I realised that many of these places don’t come alive until well after the sun goes down, but we had to keep on moving. I can’t wait to go back and delve further into the culture, returning to those same scenes and places I wasn’t able to best capture on our initial trip.

You could have photographed many food scenes plus cultures around the world. How does Dubai’s food scene compare?

In New York for example, you’ll see various quarters assigned to different nationalities of food. In Dubai, it’s all intertwined. Dubai seems to celebrate the multitude of its residents’ nationalities through its food.

What have been your favourite places to photograph food around the world?

All of the places I’ve been are so different, so that’s a tricky question to answer. I love Moscow – the people living there are so interesting. Food photography is just as much about the people in a place as it is about the food. For diversity, however, Dubai really stands out above all the rest. And I must say, Dubai has some of the best Iraqi and Pakistani food I’ve ever eaten in my life!

© Al Nisr Publishing LLC 2015. All rights reserved. Provided by SyndiGate Media Inc. (Syndigate. info).

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