Friday, April 19, 2019

Top ten breakfasts

1. Full English
2. Eggs Benedict
3. Pancakes with bacon and maple syrup
4. Continental breakfast
5. Scrambled eggs on toast
6. Porridge
7. Toast (with marmalade and Marmite)

8. Shakshuka (Tunisian; eggs in tomato sauce)
9. Boiled egg with soldiers
10. Crunchy Nut Cornflakes

Seeing as Barnflakes is a pun on a breakfast cereal, and my unofficial motto is 'Barnflakes: Breakfast for the soul', it’s hard to believe it’s taken me so long to write a top ten. Especially because I like breakfast so much I could have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And sometimes do (for as W. Somerset Maugham famously said, “To eat well in England you should have breakfast three times a day.”)

Breakfast was always said to the the most important meal of the day*, but with a third of Britons skipping the meal altogether (despite evidence of a link between obesity and not eating it) and one academic labelling it "dangerous", breakfast's dominance may be waning.

But not for me; I wouldn't be able to leave the house without it. Usually just tea and toast but sometimes – usually at the weekend – pancakes, porridge, scrambled eggs, a boiled egg or a fry up. There's nothing like the morning smell of coffee brewing and bacon and eggs frying.

But breakfast is probably best when you're out – in a cafe or restaurant, in a hotel, preferably in a foreign country. When abroad, a good breakfast is an essential start to the day, a great way to ingratiate yourself in local customs and culture and see how and what the locals eat. Eating is as much a ritual as any religious activity, and breakfast is, I think, the most ceremonial of meals**.

Take the humble yet iconic and versatile egg. Cracking it open encompasses birth, rebirth and death. It's a vital part of a breakfast and a great source of protein. The egg can be scrambled, boiled, fried and poached, as well as being integral to French toast (a.k.a. eggy bread), pancakes, omelettes and eggs Benedict.

On holiday, tea and toast is not acceptable for breakfast. Coffee is preferred over tea. For a start, coffee feels more sophisticated and cosmopolitan (well, it did, honest, at least before Costa and Starbucks came along and the masses started guzzling down buckets of hot milk with a splash of coffee) though also it tastes better abroad but mainly because tea tastes so bad everywhere except in the UK.

A hotel buffet is okay but it's nicer to go out to a local's cafe. The hotel buffet has its advantages, of course. Mainly, it's free. Also, it's easy to find – it's usually, you know, downstairs, unlike trying to locate a cafe or restaurant in a new, foreign city (I tend to follow my misleading nose, rather than use guidebooks or apps).

It's no doubt a lot to do with the feeling of waking up in a foreign country, but there's something about the simplicity and freshness of a French or Italian or Slovenian breakfast that's so delicious, even if it's just the taste of the orange juice or the bread.

I can remember breakfasts abroad from fifteen years ago whereas most lunches and dinners are instantly forgettable (partly, perhaps, because lunch abroad is mostly a rushed baguette on the way to another gallery or church or ruin; dinner is trying not to get overcharged, which usually translates as pizza or pasta). Lovely pasteis de nata, otherwise known as Portuguese custard tarts, with coffee and orange juice, in a cafe in Lisbon. Or a terrible breakfast of a brick-hard pastry in Barcelona along Las Ramblas; the horrible German-themed buffet in Sousse, Tunisia (I never said all breakfast memories had to be good ones). But whether good or bad, breakfasts are more memorable.

I had some of my best-ever breakfasts in the United States, where I was introduced to the concept of mixing sweet and savoury, something the British have never really done. Pancakes with bacon and maple syrup is a classic example.

Whilst in New Orleans, I remember trying grits, biscuits and gravy ('soft dough biscuits covered in either sawmill or meat gravy, made from the drippings of cooked pork sausage, white flour, milk, and often bits of sausage, bacon, ground beef, or other meat'), mainly because I'd heard about the classic southern dish from American films and novels (probably the likes of Steinbeck, Kerouac and Bukowski). Coffee in the States is just like in the movies: waitresses come by and fill it up for free.

It's worth remembering that most of the planet probably eats rice for breakfast; and after six months in South East Asia I never got used to eating rice three times a day.

Of course in recent years breakfasts have gone healthy and hipster. And while fruit, nuts, granola, chia seeds, yogurts and smoothies are okay if you're at the buffet waiting for your full English to be cooked, I generally don’t approve of really healthy stuff for breakfast, though I'm better than I was: my breakfast used to consist of four cigarettes and a mug of tea (food came later).

*Like the myth that Coca-Cola invented Santa Claus or the big con with mineral water companies telling us we need to drink two litres of water a day (I would literally drown if I drank that much), there's a possibility that breakfast cereal makers conjured up the maxim of breakfast being the most important meal of the day.

**An exception to this was when I was in Morocco, eating in the evening after Ramadam and it involved, yup, the cracking of a hard-boiled egg (mentioned here). Egg, bread, soup: tasted incredible after a day of not being able to eat.

Previously on Barnflakes:  
Not for all the tea in China

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