I had written this article on breakfasts for BootsnAll in 2012 but they are going through a website reorganization and it seems my hard work has disappeared from their pages and found its way into shady sites which plagiarize stuff. Now that we are slowly emerging from the pandemic raring to eat and drink and travel, here’s a round-up of breakfasts from around the world. My favorite is Japan but Sweden is a close second. Who doesn’t love a cup of good strong kaffe?
Having avoided complete invasion until World War II, the island nation of Japan has a cuisine and culture that is as strikingly different from the West as it is from the rest of Asia. Breakfast in the “The Land of the Rising Sun” is a like a seven course dinner, where bite-sized portions are placed on their individual plates and presentation takes center stage. It is not called “designer cuisine” for nothing. Of course, the scale is trimmed down in most homes, especially on weekdays, and some households have given it up altogether in favor of time-saving Western staples like buttered toast (bread was introduced to the Japanese by the Portuguese in the 16th century), cereal and milk.
At a traditional Japanese breakfast, you will find a bowl of steaming white rice and miso soup (usually made with seaweed, tofu, green onions and seasonal vegetables), with sides of grilled fish, strips of nori (flavored dried seaweed), natto (slimy, stringy, strong-smelling, fermented soybeans packed with protein), pickled fruits or vegetables (popular choices are sour plums and radishes) and tamagoyaki (rolled omelet). For dipping you have the ubiquitous soy sauce, and depending on which part of Japan you are in, mustard. For sipping, there is green tea. Sometimes, you may be served a raw egg, and if that happens, don’t go looking for a skillet. Just break it into a bowl, pour it over the hot rice, wrap the nori around it and enjoy!
Who wouldn’t want to wake up to a steaming mug of rich, dark chocolate and crispy sticks of spirally dough or chocolate con churros as they say in Spain? If you have been out doing the tapas crawl the night before, then you are going to love it even more. Forget the eggs, this is a breakfast made in heaven for hangovers. The churros are deep-fried in sizzling olive oil and if that’s making your health-conscious self guilty, think of all the antioxidant-rich chocolate you are drinking on the side.
With all the excitement surrounding Swiss chocolate, few people know that it was Spain where the “elixir of life” first arrived in Europe, and that the Spaniards kept it to themselves for almost a century. A novelty from the New World, the enjoyment of chocolate was initially confined to the royals and the rich, as they were the only ones who could afford the pricey beans.
To get your morning chocolate fix, step into a Churrería, which are cafes specializing in this delicacy. Some prefer a dusting of sugar on their churros, which come in various shapes and sizes – chunky, thin, straight or knotted. Seat yourself comfortably, pick up a golden-brown churro, swirl it in the hot chocolate (often it has a pudding-like consistency in which case replace the swirl with the more forgiving dip) and go for the crunch!
Serving as a link between Europe, Middle East and North Africa, Morocco is a mishmash of varied influences in everything from cuisine to language to culture. It constantly finds itself straddling the conservative with the modern, the new with the old. But in doing so, the country has found a character and voice that is distinctly its own.
Leading importer of green tea worldwide, Moroccans drink a lot of this refreshing beverage, and not just at breakfast. Their teapots are not your average short and stout type. Instead, the spouts are long and curved to aid the ritualistic pouring of tea from a height. Preferably flavored with mint, sweet green tea is a fitting accompaniment to every form of Moroccan breakfast, especially one which involves a soft and spongy baghrir (sort of a pancake) slathered with amlou (sweet spread). Pockets of air crowd the surface of the baghrir, and the more the merrier. Unlike pancakes, you do not flip them while cooking, so the top retains its honeycomb-like texture, ready to soak up spoonfuls of amlou.
Roasted almond, pure honey and argan oil are blended together to produce the rich, aromatic paste known as amlou. Native to southwestern Morocco, and a boon for the local economy, the kernels of the gnarled Argan trees are used to produce this rare oil, known as much for its bold and nutty flavor, as for its restorative properties. Often called liquid gold, argan oil is exclusive to this part of the world, and adding a generous dose of it to your morning meal makes perfect sense.
Located far, far up in Northern Europe, Sweden conjures up images of pickled herrings, meatballs in light-brown gravy, whipped potatoes, and red, tart lingonberries. The Swedes also like their fika paus (coffee break) and according to the International Coffee Organization (ICO), they are 2nd only to the Finns when it comes to coffee consumption per person. So it does not come as a surprise that they would begin their day with a cup of coffee, or kaffe as they call it. Their coffee is strong and contrary to popular belief, they do not plop an egg into it, not anymore at least. No egg shell crumbling is required either.
Breakfast is usually served cold, with the smorgas (open-faced sandwich) reigning supreme. Back in the European Middle Ages, thick slices of stale bread (trenchers) were used in lieu of plates, which were then thrown away at the end of the meal. Eventually people began to notice that the bread wasn’t all that bad, on account of retaining some of the goodness and flavors of the food. And so began the trend of eating a piece of bread with everything piled on top aka the open-faced sandwich.
Essentially a slice of buttered bread topped with cheese, gurka (cucumber), tomat (tomato), and cold cuts, the “smorgas toppings” have endless possibilities. Anything from smoked salmon to fruit is fair game. Always eaten with a fork and knife, this dish represents the Swedish way of life – elegant and understated. Bon appétit, or as they say in Swedish, smaklig måltid!
After almost two centuries of colonial influence, India may have adopted many things British, including the English language, but when it comes to food, they have remained true to their roots. Bacon and eggs are confined to restaurants specializing in continental fare, and most households relish a variety of Indian breads or crepes with curried vegetables, pickles and dipping sauces.
Hailing from the eastern part of India, the Bengalis (community native to the state of West Bengal) are known to be passionate about two things – food and football. Ranking high on their list of favored breakfast dishes is luchi (pronounced as in Gucci) and aloor dum (potato curry). Puffed up like a ball when piping hot, luchi is a kind of deep-fried bread made of maida, a form of highly refined wheat flour. For the side, big chunks of potatoes are sautéed in ghee (clarified butter) or vegetable oil with onion, garlic and spices such as turmeric, cumin and coriander. Pureed tomatoes are a welcome addition as is cilantro for garnishing. For drinking, there’s hot tea with milk and sugar.
Kids may not be a fan of the spicy side, so you will often find them sprinkling large crystals of sugar on the luchi and rolling it up like a sweetened wrap. Speaking of sweet, rosogollas (syrupy dumplings made from Indian cottage cheese) are almost always served at the end of the meal to balance all the savory deliciousness.
Like every classic dish, each region has its own interpretation of Huevos Motulenos, a robust, layered breakfast staple from the Mexican town of Motul, in the Yucatan Peninsula. Felipe Carrillo Puerto, a progressive governor who served the state of Yucatan in the 1920s for a couple of years, is believed to have played a pivotal role in putting this dish on the menu. Apparently, on one of his customary visits to the La Sin Rival restaurant in Motul, he had arrived with a large group of people leading to a shortage of tableware. Instead of providing individual plates for the sides, the head chef heaped all the accompaniments over a bed of tortilla, and thereby created the very first Huevos Motulenos or Motul-style eggs.
The likeliest version will have you eating fried eggs and black beans atop a bed of crisp corn tortilla (tostada), soused with roasted tomato sauce, and topped with crumbled cheese (queso fresco), diced smoked ham and a generous smattering of peas. Slices of sweet, fried plantains maybe served on the side. A dash of minced cilantro is used for garnishing, as is a wedge of lime for added zing. The tomato sauce, also referred to as Yucatan-style salsa, is often laced with fiery habanero peppers and best prepared in advance.
A tropical island off the Caribbean Sea, Jamaica is known for reggae, rum and the piquant flavors of Jerk Chicken. Its economy is driven by tourism and mining, followed closely by agriculture and economy. With a plethora of plants being brought from far off lands by the colonizers, it is of little surprise that farming is a big part of life here, and the national fruit is one of the main components of a traditional breakfast, which doubles up as the national dish – “Ackee and Saltfish.”
Often mistaken for buttery scrambled eggs when boiled, ackee was brought to Jamaica in the 18th century aboard a slave ship from West Africa. Unripe or inedible portions of this nutritious fruit may lead to poisoning, so it’s best to let experienced hands take care of the picking and preparation. Once boiled, this squishy, yellow-ish fruit is cooked with saltfish, onions, tomatoes, sweet peppers, scotch bonnet peppers and thyme. Any meaty, white fish can be cured and dried to make saltfish, although cod remains a popular choice.The fork-tender, mellow ackee is the perfect foil to the flaky bits of salty cod, and often accompanied with fried plantains, dumplings and bammy (flatbread made from cassava).
If you visit “The Aloha State”, you will know that the islanders like waking up to a starchy protein-fest smothered in brown gravy, or loco moco, as much as they love their surfboards. The dish is said to have originated in 1949 at a local dig in Hilo on the Big Island when a party of famished teens wanted to have something which would be deeply satisfying yet easy on the pocket.
It really doesn’t take much to fix a classic loco moco. All you need is a scoop of rice, on which you embed a juicy beef patty and a fried over-easy egg, and then drown the entire mound in thick, rich gravy. Voted one of the “50 Fattiest Foods in the States” by Health Magazine, this traditional breakfast is now being interpreted in gourmand circles with enough variants to fill a book. Fried rice, fish, mushrooms, green onions, streaky bacon, Spam, different types of sausages and fried chicken are some of the more common items which have been introduced to the humble loco moco with great success.
The best way to eat something this layered and comforting is by letting the runny, golden yolk and the beefy undertones in the sauce seep into the hamburger and rice, binding everything together, making one big mouthful of pure delight.
It is not that uncommon to start your day with a hearty bowl of soup in many parts of the world, particularly in parts of the Middle East, Latin America and Asia. You have pho in Vietnam, congee in China, miso soup in Japan, and changua in Colombia. A type of egg and milk soup, with variations found all over the country, changua is particularly favored in the Andean Mountains, including the capital city of Bogota.
Simply put, changua is poached egg in a milky broth, flavored with chopped scallions and sprigs of cilantro. Addition of potatoes (usually fried in butter) is an option, as is sautéed garlic. The soup may be ladled over toasted bread and then topped with a plump egg, or the bread may be served on the side. You can then use the crusty bread to sop up all the creaminess. Alternatively, there may be arepas (cornmeal patties) on the side.
Rarely has any herb had such staunch detractors and supporters as the aromatic cilantro, which is an essential ingredient in this soup. It adds just the right touch of zest and vibrancy to an otherwise bland dish. Great as a pick-me-up after a night out and fairly easy to put together, the origins of this soup maybe rustic but these days it is often served in high-end Colombian restaurants.
When you ask for the “Full English Breakfast” or a “Fry Up” or the “Full Monty” in UK, make sure you have enough time to indulge in a leisurely meal, and don’t even think of counting the calories. Mostly made up of a medley of greasy pork parts accompanied by a pot of strong English tea and jars of fruity marmalade, a fry-up is best served hot. If you like doing things the traditional way, even the thickly-buttered bread has to be fried in sizzling fat. The other must-haves in the pan include back bacon (Irish bacon), plain pork sausages, tomatoes, mushrooms and eggs. Baked beans, a squeeze of tomato ketchup or HP sauce (England’s much loved brown sauce) and black pudding complete the line-up.
Although “black pudding” may look like discs of moist chocolate cake, it is not anything like dessert. It is also known as “blood pudding” and “blood sausage”, which are more apt descriptions of this dark, rich breakfast meat. Called boudin noir in France, blutwurst in Germany and morcilla in Spain, blood pudding when prepared and spiced right should not have too much of a metallic aftertaste.
Now that you have the main parts of the fry-up down pat, here’s a look at some of the common additions to this already hefty dish – potatoes (in the form of chips, hash or patties) kippers, kidneys, muffins and crumpets. After all, the English breakfast has often been called a dish with a thousand variables. Nowadays relegated to weekends and holidays, the “Full English” is a Victorian tradition, and one that comes in handy when shaking off hangovers.
With more castles per square mile than anywhere else in the world, Wales conjures up images of grassy slopes, daffodils and Caerphilly cheese. Part of Great Britain and the United Kingdom, and roughly the same size as Massachusetts, this small country has a wide range of fresh produce and all the advantages of a long coastline.
A traditional Welsh breakfast may closely resemble a “Full English”, except for the presence of laverbread and cockles, or bara lawr a chocos as they say in Welsh. Laver is a type of edible seaweed found clinging to the rocks along the Welsh coast, which is thoroughly washed, cooked and converted to a greenish-black, salty-smelling, thick paste known as laverbread. You can skip the laborious process of preparing this slimy seaweed and buy it straight from stores. High in protein and minerals but low in calories, laverbread is used in many Welsh recipes, including sauces and pestos. For breakfast, it is rolled in oatmeal and fried in bacon fat till you get these crisp patties called laverbread cakes. The cakes are then served up with bacon and fresh, steamed cockles (saltwater clams). Depending on who you talk to, cockles are grainy or a delicacy par excellence, and their high mortality rate is a cause for concern for harvesters.
Beginning your day with shellfish and seaweed may not sound appetizing but if you can get past the pungency of taste and the off-putting gritty texture, this is a breakfast which will keep you going till dinner, especially if you complement it with bacon and eggs.
Note: The credits/links of all the pics used in the above article are mentioned in the captions. In some cases, as required by copyright laws, I have emailed the photographers individually and obtained permission for using their pics.