Photographers' Blog

The bun myth

Cheung Chau, Hong Kong
By Bobby Yip

A baker poses with a bun with the Chinese characters "Ping An", meaning peaceful and safe, inside a bakery at Hong Kong's Cheung Chau island April 30, 2014, six days before the Bun Festival. Each bun is sold for HK$8 (US$1.02). The annual festival celebrates the islanders' deliverance from famine many centuries ago and is meant to placate ghosts and restless spirits.  REUTERS/Bobby Yip

Cheung Chau, or “Long Island”, with a population of around 30,000, is famous not only for its seafood and snacks, and as a small resort for local tourists, but most of all for its buns.

A couple walks along a beach at Hong Kong's Cheung Chau, or "Long Island", where the annual Bun Festival is held, April 28, 2014. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

The Bun Festival is the annual highlight of this former fishing village. Tens of thousands of visitors flock to attend the ritual, jamming the narrow streets of this quiet island.

What makes Cheung Chau’s bun special? The two Chinese characters stamped on it says it all: “Ping An”, meaning “peaceful” and “safe”. The $1 USD bun is in great demand not just during the festival but throughout the year. Initially, villagers made them to pray for safety from plague and pirates, who were active in the 18th century.

Residents string buns together to be put on a tower for a "bun-scrambling" competition outside a temple at Hong Kong's Cheung Chau island April 30, 2014, six days before the annual Bun Festival. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

“Put them in a cool and dry place or store them in the refrigerator, and they can be kept for a year. Steam the buns again and they will still taste good,” a baker said. Like other market driven businesses, the original pure flour buns are now available with different paste fillings. About 7,000 buns each day are made by one of the two main bakeries, a couple of weeks ahead of the festival, for the festival and for retail.

A worker eats a bun while building one of the three 50-feet-tall (15 meter) towers for a "bun scrambling" competition at Hong Kong's Cheung Chau island May 1, 2014, five days before the annual Bun Festival. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

Even the organizers have no exact figure on the number of buns used during the four-day festival. There are three 50-foot-tall “bun mountains”, with buns to be distributed among residents at the end of the festival. There are several more mid-sized ones, and there are dozens of smaller ones made by local communities, with their names marked on the buns. I have counted the smaller ones, which have more than 200 buns each. On the cone-shaped bun mountains, the base is surrounded by more than 100 buns, and it goes up to nearly 100 rows of buns!

A taste for music

Haguenau, France

By Vincent Kessler

I love cooking and I have a passion for music. What then could please me more than an orchestra that plays music with instruments made out of vegetables?

I cannot remember when I first heard about the Vegetable Orchestra. But when I realized that they were planning to hold a concert some 40 kilometers from my home, I got in touch and was given the opportunity to watch them prepare for a performance.

Based in Vienna, Austria, the orchestra was created in 1998 by artists from a range of backgrounds, from musicians to people in visual fields like painting and design. Their website describes their sound as: “influenced by experimental contemporary, electronic music, musique concrete, noise, improvised music [and] pop music”.

Circle of life at Greece’s fish farms

Sofiko village, Greece

By Yorgos Karahalis

Fish farming was a business that a few decades ago was completely alien in Greece, where eating fish was strictly related to the local fisherman, the weather conditions and the phase of the moon.

These days, regardless of the moon and the weather, we can all buy fresh fish at extremely low prices, every day. And from my experience of the industry during the days I photographed its fish farms and hatcheries, I realized there is more to the process than I thought – it’s a production line that resembles the circle of life itself.

The first step in the journey is at the hatchery. There you’ll find the broodstock, a group of fish held in the facility for breeding purposes. Once the eggs are chosen, they’re transferred to different tanks where they start growing up. At the same time, ichthyologists, the scientists who study fish, carry out regular checks on the newborns to make sure they’re healthy.

Bacon, beans and tea to go

Along Britain’s highways

By Stefan Wermuth

In a mug or take away? That’s the decision you have to make when you order a tea through the hatch in the side of a burger van, snack van, mobile kitchen, roadside cafe or tea stop – all different names for food vendors scattered around the main roads that wind across Britain.

Your first answer might be “excuse me?” because you can’t hear the question over the sound of the food van’s generator buzzing too loudly or a heavy-goods truck passing by, honking his horn five inches away from your ear. When you do manage to answer properly, “in a mug” means you will get your tea in a giant cup, often branded with the logo of a local business, along with a metal spoon shared with other travelers. Otherwise you get the tea in a polystyrene cup to take away.

Snack vans are usually located roadside in areas known locally as “lay-bys” along so-called “A-routes” – main roads not quite as big as motorways, which run all over the country. They can be trailers, little vans, caravans or even converted double-decker buses. They don’t offer a panoramic view – or let’s say that the only possible panoramic view ends at the next hedge – but every van is unique.

Fresh food on Paris rooftops

Paris, France

By Philippe Wojazer

Have you ever eaten vegetables grown in central Paris? I have.

“What about growing some carrots in our house’s courtyard or radishes on the balcony?” asked one of my daughters. She said she had heard engineer Nicolas Bel’s interview on the subject. So I called him. As with all those with passions, he could speak about his studies for hours and make you suddenly feel part of it.

“Many Parisians who have a flat roof or a large balcony are thinking to produce their own vegetables. There are many technical constraints to build a rooftop vegetable garden such as weight, depth for the substrate (a minimum of 20 centimeters), wind, sun, water. We are now at the live study stage. We want to be able to build a vegetable garden capable of self-sufficient production. We are recuperating biological waste from people, companies and are growing vegetable in trays. We are testing different combinations, all with no fertilizers or any kind of chemicals. Our fertilizers are produced by worms. The project is: Are we able to grow vegetables on a base of organic waste we can find in urban and peri-urban environments such as wood, compost or cardboard,” Bel explained. “My dream is to have a rooftop garden capable on being financially sufficient. I even work with a chef who is growing some vegetables he uses in his kitchen on the rooftop of his restaurant”. “We are conducting pollution tests on our production and the results are really good”, added Bel, who is in charge of the roof of the AgroParistech institute in Paris and is the founder of Topager company where he uses his knowledge to install rooftop vegetable gardens in schools, restaurants, companies and individuals.

That was my link between this new bio-city agriculture and a story to tell.

So we went in the early morning to the 6th floor of the Mutualite building in central Paris to meet Sibylle, a bio-agronomy student who is in charge of this vegetable garden. She was collecting yellow zucchinis from Orgeval, beans, parsley and chives to give to chef Eric Castandet who cooks in the “Terroir Parisien” on the ground-floor of the same building. Today’s special was: Stuffed yellow zucchinis. Sous-chef Nicolas Bouchard started cutting the zucchinis and the rest of vegetables to prepare the recipe. At noon, the restaurant opened. Thirty reservations to start and after an hour, the daily specials were gone. Castandet had put one aside for me and said I had to leave my cameras in the kitchen and taste his cooking. Resisting would have been impossible. The zucchinis were absolutely delicious. Chef Castandet told me that the taste of the tomatoes he grows, like all the vegetables on his roof top, with no chemicals is incomparable to what you could find elsewhere. After the bees on the rooftop of the famous Tour d’Argent restaurant, sheep in a green space owned by the French capital archives service, what will the future hold and what will be the impact of this phenomenon of urban agriculture in France? Is it just a trend or a new way to learn about food production?

How would you like your doner, with or without a gas mask?

Istanbul, Turkey

By Marko Djurica

Everyone who has ever been to Istanbul knows their famed Turkish fast food restaurants, especially in Taksim Square. Doners, kebabs and other delicacies are on offer 24/7. The competition is vast and every vendor fights to lure customers. You can’t really go wrong: most of the places have friendly staff and tasty morsels of food. But in one restaurant I experienced a kind of service I could never have dreamed of.

Namely, on June 22 I was in Taksim Square covering the protests that had begun 20 days earlier when the government of Prime Minister Erdogan announced it would build a new shopping mall on Gezi Park, the last large green space in the city. A large number of protesters faced down a line of riot police armed with water cannons. No one needed to tell me what was going to happen; I have been in similar situations many times. The demonstrators shouted anti-government slogans, the police asked them to disperse because rallies are forbidden. Naturally, after a few hours, tensions rose and the police began to use water cannons and tear gas to evict the masses – now a common sight at Taksim.

Even though at first glance it was frightening, it seemed that both sides could get used to this. Tear gas rained down on all sides and so many canisters landed in front of the mass of kebab stands, the open kind which lack windows and doors to hide from the gas burning your eyes and throat. I decided to go inside and take photos, expecting empty tables, chairs flung pell-mell and charred food abandoned on the grill. But what I saw instead stunned me.

Scraping by as a French pensioner

Nice, France

By Eric Gaillard

One evening while returning home I came upon a scene that I had never imagined in a country as rich as France – people rummaging through supermarket trash bins looking for food.

In spite of the difficulties I would encounter, I decided to go ahead and meet these people head-on. That day I saw an elderly man waiting on a public bench. Quickly I understood that he was waiting for the trash container from a nearby neighborhood supermarket. I approached him, with my camera on my shoulder, and started a conversation, which stopped abruptly with a curt, “Leave me alone, don’t take my photo”.

I sat down beside him, changed the direction of our conversation, in the hopes of building trust. I knew that what I was asking him was difficult to accept. We spoke of other things when suddenly he opened up giving me his name, Eugene and his age, 87, and that he first rummaged for food during the war when he was twelve. “Times were difficult,” he told me, sighing. Eugene revealed that the money he saved from rummaging for food allowed him to pay for a flight to Thailand once a year to see his “girlfriend”.

Food Bank SOS

Bronisze, Poland

By Kacper Pempel

When I started working on a story about food waste, I was shocked by the estimates provided by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization that 1.3 billion tonnes of food – equivalent to the amount produced by the whole of sub-Saharan Africa – is wasted every year.

That is why I started thinking of ways to prevent such waste and it’s what led me to a food bank organization and to a volunteer who works for them in Bronisze agricultural market, not far from Warsaw.

Wanda is a 71-year-old volunteer who collects food, mostly vegetables, for Food Bank SOS, which then distributes it to charity organizations. I’d met her twice at Bronisze market, where she was walking around and pushing her cart between farmers, asking them if they had any goods for charity.

What an Olympian eats

By Umit Bektas

I have always wondered how athletes, who must exert incredible amounts of energy in whichever sports discipline they compete in, handle the issue of nutrition. As the London Olympics approached us, we Reuters photographers began to make our photo stories. I decided to create a photography project stemming from this curiosity of mine. I planned to interview some of the Turkish athletes preparing to compete in the Games and take pictures of what they ate. Sometimes you think a project that sounds good will also be easy to carry out and this is very exciting but when you actually become involved that euphoria is replaced by anxiety. This is exactly what happened to me.

SLIDESHOW: AN OLYMPIC DIET

The hardest part was to persuade the athletes to spare a few hours in the studio which meant taking a break from their exercise program. I wanted to take photos of six athletes but I was rejected by at least three times that number of other athletes. Some said they were training abroad, or in other cities. For others, their trainers rejected my request saying their charges would “lose their concentration”.

I had to get permission from the sports federation involved, then from the coaches or trainers of the athletes I wanted to photograph and finally from the athlete themselves.

Taste of England

By Suzanne Plunkett

Jellied eels. Toad in the hole. Bangers and mash. The Full English. An Eton mess. Trifle. Crumble. Yorkshire pudding. Scotch eggs. A menu of oddly named and sometimes oddly tasting traditional British dishes awaits adventurous diners visiting London for the Olympic Games this summer.

To an American like me, the names of English foods take some getting used to. Take the term “pudding”. In the States, a pudding is specifically a runny, milk-based desert. In England it refers to anything sweet served after the main course– unless it is from Yorkshire, and then it is savory, resembles a popover, and is served with roast beef. The closest thing the English have to American pudding is custard — a luminous yellow sweet sauce which they insist on drowning their deserts in. They consider it a comfort food but I find it revolting, even when my English husband tries to pass it off under the exotic French title of “crème anglais”.

I discovered my favorite English desert after I had been touring the country on a bus for four days. My taste buds had been numbed by a steady diet of egg salad sandwiches and salt and vinegar crisps (or chips, as we Americans call them) so the first time I tried an Eton mess, I swooned. The simple combination of crumbled meringue, vanilla ice cream, strawberries and whipped cream was heavenly. The name of the desert refers to Eton college, a posh school in Queen Elizabeth’s hometown. I imagine mess comes from the appearance of the dish. Recently I made one with my three-year-old daughter and she now shares my passion and nightly begs me to “make the mess again”. I admit, my taste buds might not be the most sophisticated.