Since I’ve lived full-time in Europe, friends often ask me if I miss anything about the US. The answer is: no. Well, nothing big, nothing important. There are some things I do miss, but most of them are silly and are related to breakfast.
For example, I love bagels. I’m waiting for a hipster bagel café to open in Ljubljana. Coffees here are about half the size that I like (they would be smaller than size “small” at American cafes). I also miss American-style pancakes and breakfast sandwiches. Every Sunday, I would eat a giant sausage, fried egg and melted cheese sandwich, the size of a plate.
So I miss going out for breakfast, a beloved American ritual, especially among students. We roll out of bed, still in our pajamas, and go straight out to local diners – it is considered fashionable among students to make no effort to look good whatsoever, and to look as if you just got out of bed.
This got me wondering about breakfast traditions around the world, so I thought I’d take a look…
Full English Breakfast
Let’s start at the top of the breakfast food chain, at least calorically speaking. The full English breakfast is a smorgasbord of fried goodness. Fried egg, fried sausage, fried tomato, baked beans, fried mushrooms, possibly fried bacon and toast (which, at this point, might as well also be fried).
French and Italian Pastry
The French and Italians have similar habits for breakfast: both love bread with jam (in France it's a baguette with confiture), a croissant or a pain au chocolat – pick your favorite buttery pastry, alongside a cappuccino or café au lait.
Though traditions vary in a country the size of India, a good base is a flatbread, like roti, flanked by various dipping sauces.
You either love it or you hate it. That was the brilliantly divisive and intriguing slogan for the yeasty, acquired taste that is Vegemite, but I’m told that you cannot apply for Australian citizenship unless you love it, on buttered toast for breakfast.
You’d be forgiven for mistaking ackee for scrambled eggs. In fact, it’s a local fruit that crumbles into a semblance of scrambled egg-ness when sautéed. Add salted fish, fried plantains, and you’ve got a meal.
Spanish Pan con Tomate
In a country that offers fried, cinnamon-sprinkled churros dipped in hot chocolate as a breakfast option, it’s tough to opt for the more ubiquitous (and of course delicious) toasted bread with a tomato and garlic grated on top of it (the technique is to rub half a tomato onto the bread, the rough, toasted edges catching the tomato’s flesh). Plus, olive oil. I mean, it’s good, but come on people. Warm churros dipped in hot chocolate is just around the corner!
As long as we’re onto tomatoes, the Levant offers a nice option that is like a spicy tomato sauce into which eggs are cracked and cooked. Then the whole shebang is eaten by dipping bread into it.
When it’s minus-a-lot outside, you need calories to keep you warm. And until the Full English gains in popularity there, over in Russia they’ll take sautéed syrniki, which are like blintzes, stuffed with kefir and browned.
Scandinavians like open-faced sandwiches, rye bread topped with smoked fish and other goodies. But how about this sour yogurt-like concoction hailing from Sweden, prepared by introducing bacteria (tactically) to cow’s milk?
South African Putu Pap
A corn-derived version of oatmeal, served in milk and possibly with golden syrup starts the day for many South Africans. That sounds fine, but I’m still fantasising about churros…
Variations on pancakes, as in flour and liquid fried in a pan, can be found all over, and a fine example is the Colombian stape, a corn cake that is served with butter or a platform on which to perch eggs.
A perfectly-formed omelette is the centerpiece for a luxurious Japanese breakfast that might also include miso soup, rice, pickled veggies and fish.
Most Slovenes seem to eat bread with butter and jam or pate (especially popular is the old Yugoslav brand, Gavrilović), but when going out to a café, they like a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, which for some reason is called “toast.” Order toast elsewhere and you’d just get toast, toasted bread, but here you get a whole meal!
My Mexican buddy, renowned writer and actor Carlos Pascual, who also lives in Slovenia, says that his house guests most often crave chilaquiles, quartered and fried tortillas (totopos), which can then be topped with salsa or mole. Throw on some pulled chicken, and you’ve got a hearty breakfast that warms the hearts of all those Mexicans visiting the sunny side of the Alps.
Chinese You Tiao
Who doesn’t love dipping something fried into something saucy? Fried sticks of dough plunged into warm soy milk start the day for millions of Chinese. Sounds good to me.
This all makes me hungry. I wonder if there’s any place with churros in Ljubljana?
Dal is one of those recipes that goes all the way back to the Indus Valley Civilisation. Unlike dishes such as biryani, brought to India by the Moghuls, it is one of those foods that has always been there. It is therefore a building block of Indian culture.