I am not one of those Americans for whom a familiar breakfast serves as a security blanket. You know what I mean. “I must have fresh ground coffee.” “I have to start the day with a three-minute egg. Don’t those people have an egg timer?”
I welcome that plunge into local culture, as, not quite full conscious, I am confronted with something on a plate or in a bowl that seems, well, foreign.
How to Eat Breakfast around the World
1. New Zealand
Baked beans. Okay, get over it. Beans are a good source of protein, have a touch of sweetness, and the fiber equivalent of stewed prunes. The milk for your tea will be down the hall in the hotel in a small fridge.
Loosen your belt. Several times a day, stop in a café for Austria’s favorite sport—piling schlag (whipped cream) on coffee mit chocolate mit maybe a slurp of rum. But that is not for breakfast. At breakfast time, stack your plate from the tidy buffet with meats, pink and brown rounds, cubes, rectangular slices marbled with white. Beside the meat, platters with neatly arranged stacks of cheeses—hard, soft, pale yellow to pumpkin orange, and hard boiled eggs in egg cups. Appel strudel and amazing breads. Try the sour pickles—honestly they go well with the meat. Be sure to walk a lot between castles and churches.
Same as Austria, but with more cheese. Stuff your pockets with Gruyere and break it out for lunch on a mountainside overlooking a lake.
Ireland cooks up the kind of breakfast that leaves you in a stupor. Three kinds of meat and four kinds of bread (including Irish soda bread and heavy country wheat bread) and butter so good it makes you wonder if calling that yellow stuff wrapped in foil that you eat at home should be prosecuted for false labeling. Pile on some fried potatoes, some eggs, and take a nap before lunch. Only a few cups of strong Irish tea will keep you alert.
If you fancy a breakfast in a real Irish pub, be warned. All they serve at any hour of the day is a sandwich made of white bread and a thin slice of ham. No mayo, no mustard, no sides. Of course, you can always have Guinness. That’s very nutritious.
Remember that honey or milk helps soothe the heat as you down a plate of chiliqilas, shredded tortilla stir fried with tomatoes, eggs and chiles. Wrap everything else in a tortilla. Yellow corn identifies you as a peasant, white flour as upper class.
Memorize the rules. No ham with your eggs. No cheese with your beef (mixing dairy and meat would not be Kosher.) Visit a vegetarian kibbutz and eat things like cucumber and olives and spinach for breakfast.
Sit at the sidewalk café and fiddle with your worry beads while you have the traditional Greek breakfast, a cup of coffee and a cigarette. Well, okay, even Greece has outlawed smoking in most public places—not that many people in Greece obey laws that are personally inconvenient—so you can skip the cancer stick. If they spot you as an American, you’ll be served powdered Nescafé. If you can pretend to be a native, you can get what they call Greek coffee-- because in Greece nothing Turkish is ever acknowledged as Turkish—sludgy stuff in a tiny cup. Even ordered glycko (sweet), I find it hard to swallow.
Nearly the same as Greece, except you take the capuccino standing up in a café/bar. Only extremely odd people pay extra to occupy a scarce chair. Some tasty cake and cookies are available, but sitting around nibbling on them is just not done. Wolf them down as you go out the door.
If you are on a diet, do as I did and take a stroll through the market of Siem Riep before breakfast. The section with bloody hunks of meat hanging from hooks and splayed on tables will definitely take away your appetite. And then you’ll starve anyhow, because the smiling small waitress will proudly present you with a platter of the most delicious looking slices of yellow and orange and red and green fruit you have ever seen. And you, being cautious, must follow the peel it, wash it, or forget it rule, and try to find a way to graciously refuse the most delicious breakfast you’ll never eat.
In Taiwan and in Hong Kong, I was trapped in hotels that served mostly English-style breakfasts. It was on the streets of Singapore that I found my favorite breakfast. 40,000 street vendors licensed (of course) and inspected (vigorously, no doubt—this is Singapore, remember) set up their stands throughout the country. Early each morning the aroma of simmering broths and sweet oils sucks you in to Chinatown from blocks away. I wandered in from my hotel and found a vendors selling “hawker food” next to a park with benches and tables.
Take your large bowl of simmering rice porridge called congee and add a handful of coriander, a spoonful of chiles, a scatter of scallions and even strips of fish. If you are hungry for something sweet, the neighboring stand may offer battered bananas. A little farther down you’ll find nutty-spicy-sauced Satay chicken. Mmmmm. Sit under the trees of the park, listening to the birds and inhale all the spicy, sweet salty, fishy, coconutty smells as you slurp the ultimate comfort-food, congee.
Vera Marie Badertscher travels whenever she can, reads constantly, writes about it all from her home in Tucson, Arizona, and blogs at A Traveler’s Library (atravelerslibrary.com ). Learn more about Vera atpen4hire.com.
photo by herrolm