Sunday, 24 May 2009

Around The World On Breakfast

When I was a child, breakfast was scrambled eggs with toasted wholemeal bread and reconstituted orange juice. The eggs were cooked until they were hard and dry and the orange juice was always a little on the watery side; my mother hated cooking and loved economizing. My father only had eggs on the weekends. His breakfast was something so hideous I could hardly stand to look at it: a huge bowl full of oats, bran, wheat germ, and dried fruit swimming in soy milk. It looked like something straight out of a trough and was genuinely gag-worthy. By the time I was twelve, I could no longer stomach scrambled eggs and the thought of health food made me bilious. I'd discovered I was a food snob: I liked my orange juice fresh and full strength.

When I first moved away from home, I treated myself to huge, exotic breakfasts: blintzes with blackberry jam and sour cream, huevos rancheros with jalapeno sauce, lightly poached eggs on poppy seed toast, cornmeal muffins with Monterrey jack cheese.

As a student, I didn't have much time for breakfast. Before I left my apartment, I stuffed hard-boiled eggs and apples into my pockets. On weekends, I went to a local diner and had the kind of big, greasy breakfasts my mother never cooked, washed down with enough coffee to keep me awake for three days.

In Japan, I learned that breakfast was often rice, grilled fish, soup, and pickles, washed down by a lot of green tea. I found out that the egg served in a small bowl was actually raw; you mixed it with soy sauce, poured it over the rice, and ate the resulting mixture with nori, compressed seaweed. It took me a year to get used to this, but once I did, I couldn't get enough of it.

In Holland, breakfast was bread, cheese and coffee. The bread was never toasted and none of my Dutch housemates could understand why it should be. Some of them ate peanut butter for breakfast. At first I scorned this, silly me. Peanut butter for breakfast is perfectly delicious and I can heartily recommend it.

When we were first married, my husband liked to occasionally serve the breakfasts he remembered from Sudan: foul, or Egyptian red beans, with unleavened bread, chopped onion, tomato, and goat's cheese, washed down with sweetened black tea. But Egyptian red beans weren't easy to come by in Tokyo and we both had busy jobs that we spent hours commuting to and from. On the weekends, I sometimes made Japanese breakfast. After a while, my husband could eat raw egg over rice too, and we never once got salmonella. When I wanted a western-style treat, I went to a small hotel near my office that served omelettes, toast, fresh fruit, and limitless coffee.

Our first baby was born in Wales. At first, my husband outdid himself making beautiful well-balanced breakfasts: poached eggs, vegetarian sausages, lightly fried tomatoes, wholemeal bread, fresh-squeezed orange juice. Then we moved back to Japan and resumed full-time jobs. Breakfast for our baby was organic brown rice cereal, mashed fruit, and lentil soup. For us it was a banana on the way to the station. On my way to work, I passed the elegant little hotel where I'd once enjoyed my leisurely omelettes and coffee. The thought of my double-income-no-kids self sitting there never failed to amaze me: I felt like a completely different person.

In Scotland, I helped run a small hotel where we cooked and served up to 20 breakfasts a day. I baked my own bread, muffins, and rolls on a daily basis. We offered a full British breakfast: eggs poached, fried, scrambled, or hard-boiled, grilled tomatoes, sauteed mushrooms, sausages, bacon, baked beans, stewed fruit, and fresh fruit salad. I also made oatmeal, Indian-style, boiled with milk, raisins, and spices and served with fresh fruit and cashew nuts. This wasn't popular with our elderly guests: they wanted their oatmeal, which they called porridge, boiled the traditional way with water and salt. One woman asked me to make it the previous night and serve it cold. Watching her eat her salty, stone-cold porridge the next day, I marveled that I could ever have found pickles, grilled fish, and raw egg exotic.

A typical Turkish breakfast consists of white cheese, cucumbers, tomatoes, olives and bread, served with a tulip-shaped glass of sweet black tea. I have this almost every day now, and I can vouch for its tastiness. Some people might think that cucumbers and tomatoes make strange breakfast foods, but it's amazing how refreshing they are in the summer. The olives and salty cheese help replenish all the salt you tend to sweat out, too.

Some years ago, I found the exact same cereal my father used to eat in a health food shop in Tokyo. I bought it for purely nostalgic reasons, but to my amazement it was delicious. I found it in Holland and Scotland too, and I know where they sell it here. It makes a great default breakfast when you run out of other things. And it's handy for houseguests too. I don't put soy milk on it, though. And I still like my orange juice neat.

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28 comments:

Bish Denham said...

How wonderful that you've had all these experiences with food. When I was a kid my Puerto Rican Uncle had to have beans with every meal, even breakfast. But the most revolting thing to me was every morning he had glass of tomato juice with a raw egg in it. All that red with a floating glob of yellow...

Carolie said...

Lovely, Mary, and fascinating!! I have to admit, I was prepared for new and different foods here in Japan, but for some reason, finding out that Japanese breakfast was rice, miso soup, fish and pickles just blew me away! I love all those things, but it took my brain a while to wrap itself around such unusual (to me!) breakfast foods.

I remember being very surprised to find out that a Chinese friend used to add the tomatoes I brought her from my garden to her morning fruit smoothie. Where V-8 and tomato juice sounded appropriate to my ears, an I adore sweet tomato preserves on toast, adding tomato to a sweet fruit concotion seemed odd.

Our next two "US/Japan Ladies' Cooking Classes" will be breakfast foods...one class for an American menu, one for a Japanese menu. I can't wait!

(Got your note, thanks...will reply properly soon. Just returned home after a trip to the US, and a delayed flight meant we were in transit, sans luggage, for 52 hours. Am still recovering!)

Kit said...

Breakfasts seem to be far more diverse culturally than main meals, now that exotic cuisines are spread all over the world. The thought of pickles for breakfast is far stranger to me than sushi!

We only had cooked breakfasts occasionally growing up - cereal was the standard breakfast, with toast to fill the gaps and a small glass of orange juice. And that is pretty much what my kids have now, except we have fresh oranges all winter here in SA and eat them with spoons from the skin.

planetnomad said...

Thanks. Now I'm starving. It all sounds good. When I was a kid, I only liked "normal" English or American breakfasts, but that Turkish one sounds especially tasty! I do like coffee in the mornings though; that's my only constant.

Also please post (or send me) the recipe for the Indian-style oatmeal. Or do you just improvise?

debra said...

My mother used to make cream of rice. With butter and milk. I am gagging as I type this. My sister used to prepare tuna melt sandwiches and vegetable soup for breakfast. I can still smell it.

I used to love going out for breakfast more than going out for lunch or dinner. Having someone cook me breakfast to order and pour my coffee was the quintessential treat. Now I have fresh fruit and a up of tea. With milk. And, if I am really hungry, I might add a slice of whole wheat toast.

Thanks for sharing your breakfast history and letting me remember mine.

Mary Witzl said...

Bish -- I had beans and tortillas for breakfast when I traveled around Mexico and Guatemala and they were great. But a glass of tomato juice with a raw egg in it? I've got to agree with you. I wonder how long it would take me to start slugging them down myself?

Carolie -- It's just a matter of convention, isn't it? Tomatoes are, after all, a kind of fruit, and while they aren't as sweet as oranges, say, there's no reason why we shouldn't put them in smoothies. But I'll still have mine with bananas, strawberries, and peaches, thank you. And I don't even want to think of what my kids would do, confronted with a tomato-mix smoothie!

Teach your Ladies' Cooking Class how to make muffins! I taught my Japanese friends muffin recipes and they were eternally grateful. Or eggs Benedict, in honor of your ancestor? (smile)

Wow -- you've just gotten back to Japan from the States? I hope you didn't get caught up in swine flu hysteria -- though I've heard they've let up on that a little after the spread in Kansai. Hope you're okay in Kyushu!

Kit -- You are right: breakfast is probably the one meal where we all become our most conservative. We're all used to having more exotic things for lunch or dinner, but many people struggle to feel adventurous over breakfast, when they've just gotten up.

It seems strange now that we had reconstituted orange juice, growing up in California, but we did. We had oranges all year around too -- it's wonderful, isn't it?

PN -- When I was a kid, I was big on 'normal' too, when it came to breakfast. The older I got, the more adventurous I got, though.

I improvise on the Indian-style oatmeal, but it's easy: for every cup of oatmeal, you use 2-3 cups of milk (you can water it down). Add crushed cardamom pods, cinnamon, cloves (warn people about them!), allspice, and ginger, to taste, plus dried raisins, mango, apricots (or whatever). Keep stirring it as you would an Indian sweet, adding more milk or water as necessary, and when it's cooked, ladle it into a bowl and top it with banana slices, toasted cashews, jaggery or brown sugar, and a little more cinnamon. It's a HUGE improvement on plain old oatmeal -- my kids won't eat it any other way.

Debra -- Tuna sandwiches with vegetable soup? That's a fantastic breakfast! But I'm with you on cream of rice: the blandness of that just defeats me.

I also LOVE going out for breakfast and would rather have a decent breakfast out than any other meal. But if we ever meet, I promise to make you breakfast to order -- honest. I've had plenty of practice...

Charles Gramlich said...

What an interesting story about breakfast around the world. Eggs, bacon and toast were my favorite breakfasts growing up. My dad fixed 'em for me before school and they were always fresh from our own farm and delicious.

Anne Spollen said...

I love food posts! Was I the only one who ate cold pizza for breakfast when I was in college?

I make fruit breads and muffins every night for my kids -- all whole grain, soy milk -- and they are crazy for McSausages at McDonalds.

I wonder if they will have any food epiphanies like you did with your Dad's cereal...

angryparsnip said...

What a interesting and tasty post. Just reading it has made me so HUNGRY!
I'm not a big cereal or egg eater but I love Japanese Breakfast the best and I am crazy about pickled plums !

One of my children's favorites is Bisquick pancakes add more milk and they come out really fluffy...

AnneB said...

I'm with Planet Nomad: Must have that recipe for Indian oatmeal! We make ours a la Jane Brody (half milk, half apple juice, two peeled chopped apples, raisins, a couple tablespoons of toasted sunflower seeds) but I'm ready to try Indian spices! Probably not curry in oatmeal but maybe cardamon?

Oh, hungry, hungry....

AnneB said...

oops! Just saw you posted the recipe! Sorry!
Dried mango, dried apricots -- yum.

Angela said...

Mary, reading your blog is such a treat. I get to travel the world and experience amazing things without ever leaving my seat.

I would love to come have breakfast with you, no matter where it was from!

(My favorite breakfast is a warmed tortilla brushed with peanut butter and then filled with scrambled eggs. Mmm, delicious!)

Robert the Skeptic said...

Most of my life has been cold cereal for breakfast. When I was a kid, the first word in the name of most cereals was" "sugar..."

The quintessential breakfast for me, though, has always been a steaming pile of hot pancakes, with melted butter and REAL maple syrup. Throw in blueberries and I am in heaven.

Chris Eldin said...

Wow!! You can learn a lot about the culture from the foods they eat, but I guess everyone already knows that...
We eat a lot of Egyptian foul for breakfast. We have to drive an hour to the Arabic store, then we come back with a couple of cases of the stuff. My oldest son is a vegetarian, and he loves foul, which is loaded with protein.

Kim Ayres said...

Your father's breakfast sounds awfully like the muesli I enjoy every morning with soya milk...

Robin said...

That is so interesting! I want to eat all those breakfasts at once! Right now!

I have the day off today, and I made myself a whole wheat tortilla with peanut butter, grapes, and green tea. That's a good ol' Pennsylvania breakfast, (minus the Scrapple).

Mary Witzl said...

Charles -- Nothing is nicer than freshly laid eggs -- no comparison between them and the factory farm variety. We used to have them delivered every morning, and not only were the yolks yellower, but the shells were thicker and they poached and fried beautifully. Lucky you, and good for your father.

Anne -- You're not alone: I love cold pizza for breakfast and consider it a very healthy breakfast food. I never complain when my kids have that; it's a lot better for them than Sugar Pops.

I'm betting your kids will have food epiphanies. Our youngest has recently taken to eating vegetables -- even going so far as to wash and cut them up herself. I never thought this would happen, and I'll bet my parents' eyes would pop if they saw what I eat on a daily basis now.

AngryParsnip -- I LOVE umeboshi (AKA pickled plums) and always have a jar somewhere, though they're far too expensive for me to eat many of right now.

I used to love Bisquick pancakes, but now I make my own because I can add wheatgerm. Plus, it gives me a chance to use up all the sour milk or yogurt we inevitably end up with.

AnneB -- Your recipe sounds great, especially the apple juice -- next time I will try that. (Isn't Jane Brody the NYT food writer who also wrote a good fish cookbook...?) You're right about the cardamom. It's much better if you use fresh pods; I've done oatmeal with pre-ground stuff and it's never as nice.

Angela -- Thank you for those kind words. Scrambled eggs and tortillas are great together and I'll have to try combining them with peanut butter! Peanut butter works in just about everything Indonesian, so why not with tortillas?

You're welcome to come to breakfast here -- seriously!

Robert -- My kids hate me because I read the ingredients on the cereal packets. Their friends' parents don't do this -- or so they claim -- and they can't get over their bad luck that I do. But if 'sugar' isn't the first ingredient, then it's some other sugar-in-disguise ingredient. Yeah: I know them all -- my kids hate that too.

I make blueberry pancakes (great way to use up milk when it sours) and because I'm a food snob, I only use REAL maple syrup.

Chris -- Yay -- another foul fan, and good for your son! We had them for breakfast this morning, drizzled with olive oil and with feta crumbled over them. And they're a great way to get protein without a lot of extra fat.

Kim -- It's a lot like MY breakfast too, though when I was a kid, I'd have fainted at the thought. I don't do soy milk, though. I love tofu and soybeans, so I figure I don't have to like soy milk...

Robin -- That doesn't sound like any kind of Pennsylvania breakfast I've ever heard of (nowhere near enough saturated fat, salt, and sugar), but you could hardly get more anti-oxidants in there if you tried! I love green tea. Isn't it great that it's actually good for you?

adrienne said...

Now I'm hungry! It all sounds delicious, except maybe the Japanese breakfast - I'm not a fan of raw egg or seaweed.
Thanks for sharing these - I might have to adopt some of these customs...

Charlie said...

I'm least adventurous with breakfast, so it's still OJ and Tony the Tiger for me. (Interesting comment.)

Miss Footloose said...

What a fun post, Mary! In Indonesia I've eaten nasi goreng (fried rice) for breakfast, which is what people eat for dinner and lunch as well. Hailing from Holland, I do love my bread and cheese, but I enjoy lots of other breakfast foods as well, such as the soupy noodle dishes in the Far East and in the Middle East I'm happy dipping bread in olive oil mixed with za'atar, white cheese, olives ... Oh, and I love foul but haven't tried if for breakfast, but why not. The world is a fun place!

Eryl Shields said...

The only time I've ever eaten breakfast consistently was when I spent a week in a Turkish Gullet (sp?) and there was a chef who provided the whole Turkish breakfast banquet which was too delicious to turn down. The tomatoes were stupendous with the salty cheeses and olives. Here I just drink coffee till I pop, though I do occasionally make pancakes with bacon and maple syrup or muffins, if I'm feeling motherly, on the weekends.

My son will eat whatever is leftover from the previous night's supper for breakfast, cold, as long as it's not stew.

Lily Cate said...

Full. Strength. Orange. Juice.
I think I was 28 before I realized I was an adult, and I could get whatever kind of juice I wanted from the store, and there was no requirement that it be concentrate.
I love orange juice.

All the talk of breakfast reminded me of my brother, Mr. Banana and a Glass of Milk everyday for years.

Nora MacFarlane said...

Wow - I'm impressed! Bowl of Cheerios and milk for me. Saturdays we splurge with cherry turnovers.

kara said...

you have no idea how much i want to send voodoo doughnuts right now:

http://lh4.ggpht.com/j.prufrock/RmgvlgphxTI/AAAAAAAAAqU/4zJBfGF0hpc/s288/IMG_16531.JPG

yes, even this one:
http://s-ec-sm.buzzfeed.com/static/imagebuzz/web02/2008/10/28/15/ad4c3565e70d25e7a8c920bc7896b22c_5.jpg

Kanani said...

I love the occasional big farmer's breakfast --as long as someone else cooks it!

angryparsnip said...

I love when you or anyone talks about food everyone has something to say. This was so much fun to read. I enjoy reading your Blog...

I have just started my very own blog, need to change the header and add a few things but almost done.
Unlike all the great writer blogs I follow. . . no way I can match up, mine will be pictures of where I live, my travels and of course who the Blog was named for.
twosquaredogs.blogspot.com

Mary Witzl said...

Adrienne -- I won't try to convince you about the raw egg: I know how I felt the first time I encountered one at breakfast, and there's always the salmonella worry, too. But nori is delicious...

Charlie -- It's been ages since I even thought of Tony the Tiger! I'd say he's ready for retirement, wouldn't you? And wasn't he supposed to make people who consumed his products brave?

Miss Footloose -- Thank you for commenting, and yes, when it comes to food, the world is a lot of fun. I got to really enjoy having bread and cheese for breakfast in Holland, though for the first month I longed to toast my bread. Now I want to try some of those noodle dishes...

Eryl -- The tomatoes here are absolutely fantastic, ruby red and sun-drenched, very juicy and sweet. It makes me feel so frustrated that I don't have the time to grow them.

I'll eat leftovers for breakfast too, unless they've got too much garlic in them. I love garlic for breakfast, but worry that my students won't appreciate the fumes, second-hand.

Lily -- I'd rather drink fresh orange juice than wine. I can't get over people who could drink the real thing but make do with reconstituted stuff. Real orange juice s worth the extra money!

Bananas and milk for breakfast are a great combination. Without them, my kids would never have made it through early adolescence.

Nora -- Cherry turnovers? Did someone say cherry turnovers?

Kara -- I take it you're in a donut mood? Don't tell my kids. They think that everyone else in the world eats nothing but donuts for breakfast. They long to prove their point and convert me.

Kanani -- If you're ever in Scotland, I'll cook you one. I mean it.

AP -- I'll visit your blog!

It's funny about the food posts, isn't it? I wrote this post because I'd skipped breakfast and I couldn't bear to write about my students during exam week. Everybody has something to say about food, I guess...

Barbara Martin said...

This post reminded me my oldest brother used to make himself mashed banana and peanut butter toasted sandwiches in the morning, which I thought at the time were gross.