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Breakfast

Eating the World Every Morning

A Close Encounter With a Monk and a Chocolate Muffin

May.12.17

A Close Encounter With a Monk and a Chocolate Muffin

by Jessica Allen

A muffin in Laos

We woke to the bang-clang of metal against metal. The tak bat had begun.

My husband and I slipped out of bed and into shoes. We left the hotel room door open, just so, to the street, but prayed our small son would continue to sleep as the meditative procession of monks started to move through Luang Prabang.

Dawn after dawn, the faithful feed the faithful. Orange-robed monks walk barefoot and single file. They receive handfuls of sticky rice, fruit, incense, and sweets from men and women who sit or kneel, shoeless and sashed, along the route. No one speaks.

The daily Buddhist ritual of almsgiving knits the community together, as it has for hundreds of years. Pots full of food let the receivers focus on spiritual concerns, rather than earthly ones. Generous deeds help givers earn merit for the next life.

Rules for observing are simple, if self-evident: no touching, no talking, no blocking the flow. No eye contact, no crop-tops, no crowding. No flash photography, no in-your-face photography. For the love of god, leave the selfie stick in your suitcase. In short, don’t be a fool. Or a toddler, a group not generally known for its dignity or decorum. So we watched, and waited, and stutter-stepped toward our room if we heard so much as a sigh.

When a murmur threatened to tip over to a wail, my husband jogged into our hotel and returned bearing our tuckered blond boy. Right away he reached for me. Tugging his airplane jammies over his belly, I put a finger to my lips. He put a finger to his lips, and popped in a thumb. We touched heads. The youngest monks were only a few years older than him.

“Are they holy men?” he whispered, echoing our explanation of the people who lived in the temples we’d visited the day before. He called the dollhouse-sized shrines outside of stores and restaurants “palaces,” and begged us to stop and admire each one.

In a heartbeat, an elderly monk appeared in front of us. He stuffed a chocolate muffin into my son’s hand, the plastic wrap crinkling. He stroked his cheek, and grinned a great big grin. Before we could do more than smile our thanks, he’d blurred back into line.

Later, in the hotel’s courtyard, we drank coffee and watermelon juice, and split the muffin three ways.

Order the Cheesy Carbs and Other Advice for Long Distance Relationships

Aug.23.17

Order the Cheesy Carbs and Other Advice for Long Distance Relationships

by Rituparna Roy

Cheese toast on the Deccan Queen Express

In 2007, I landed a job in Pune, in the western Indian state of Maharashtra. The city remains special to me in many ways. It was there that I got my first journalism break, made lifelong friends, and met my husband.

He was a Bombay boy, and ours was a long-distance relationship. We’d visit each other every other weekend. Since Pune-Mumbai road travel could take up to five hours, I’d take a fast train, with the hope of getting one precious extra hour. There were several trains carrying passengers between the two cities. But my favorite was the iconic Deccan Queen Express.

The Deccan Queen Express was introduced in 1930 to ferry the British from Bombay (now Mumbai) to Poona (now Pune) on weekends. It is also one of the first trains to have a sit-down dining car. The 120-mile distance took three hours. It has a loyal following among office-goers: it’s punctual, has clean coaches, and the best breakfast.

Minutes after the train pulled out of Pune at 7:15 a.m. sharp, the catering staff came to take orders, without any pen and paper. I would ask, “Breakfast main kya milega?”—What is there for breakfast? The uniformed man absent-mindedly blurted out the menu: baked beans on toast, chicken and vegetable cutlets, omelets and toast, fish and chips, sandwiches, sabudana vadas (sago fritters) and cheese toast. I would opt for the cheese toast, the most popular item on the menu. The same chap would come back 15-20 minutes later with several orders at a time, and returned just before we left the train to settle the bill.

Now, the cheese toast on the Deccan Queen is not two slices of bread slathered with cheese inside and toasted. You cannot even see the cheese until you take a bite. Once I couldn’t resist and asked for the recipe. But the waiter told me: “Woh toh chef ko malum hain.” Only the chef knows it.

The taste is consistent. The subtle flavor of Amul processed cheese (India’s oldest and favorite dairy brand). The chickpea flour gives it a good crunch. Dripping with oil, I let my arteries clog with every bite. Served hot with ketchup, I enjoyed this greasy cheese toast on my morning trips to Mumbai, as the landscape changed outside my window and the train chugged across the sun-kissed, lush green mountain ranges of the Western Ghats.

When the train pulled in at the majestic Victoria Terminus in Mumbai around 10:25 a.m., I looked for someone waiting in the crowd.

Maybe soon I’ll take a trip to Pune, only to travel back to Mumbai on the Deccan Queen. With my better half, of course.

The Coffee Stand With a Light That Never Goes Out

Aug.22.17

The Coffee Stand With a Light That Never Goes Out

by Wes Grover

Coffee in Saigon

A full moon hangs low over the city as I drive across the Saigon Bridge at 4:30 a.m. on a Monday, headed to an unnamed coffee shop in Phu Nhuan District. Neon lights flicker on along the road as the buzz of motorbikes builds in the air. Saigon is waking up. I will pass countless cafés and coffee vendors on my way, but at the one I am headed to, the lights have not yet gone out from the previous day. They’ve been burning for the past 50 years.

Pulling into the narrow alley at 330 Phan Dinh Phung, tiny plastic stools hug the walls outside of the hole-in-the-wall coffee shop. Old men amble around smoking cigarettes and reading the local paper, while a young, bleary-eyed couple sits propped up against each other, fighting off sleep with a couple of cà phê sữa đá: iced coffee with condensed milk.

Within the brightly lit shop, which contains two tables, a coffee grinder, and a stainless-steel stovetop over a charcoal fire, a man filters coffee through a stocking-like cloth amidst the soot-covered walls, the same way his parents have long been doing here and his grandparents before them.

In Vietnam, coffee is both a national pride and pastime. The ubiquitous method of preparation is through a metal filter that produces the liquid, drop by dawdling drop. At no other time in my year of living in and traveling throughout the country have I seen this method of brewing coffee in a pot over a fire before pouring it through a piece of cloth. This is, as it turns out, the remnant of a bygone era that draws devoted drinkers for its smooth, rich flavor.

Later in the day, I come back during Pham Ngoc Tuyet’s shift. She is the matriarch of the family, in her mid-60s, and the mother of the smiling man. A petit woman of pure, frenetic energy.

In between filtering and whisking condensed milk into cups, Tuyet shares that her parents started the business out of a street cart 60 years ago. Ten years later, they moved the operation into their current locale and haven’t closed for a day since then.

Out of a sense of obligation to customers, some of whom are fourth-generation patrons of her shop, Tuyet says they simply cannot close. Not for Tet Holiday, also known as the Lunar New Year, which brings Saigon to a standstill as millions flock to their families in the countryside. Not for rainy season floods. And not even during wartime.

With the latter in mind, I inquire about the Tet Offensive in 1968, one of the few occasions that brought fighting into the city. Tuyet’s husband, Con, perks up from the corner where he’s been diligently opening can after can of condensed milk for the better part of an hour.

“We were unaffected by it,” he says earnestly, and leaves it at that, returning his attention to the cans in front of him.

Everything That Powdered Chocolate Milk Toast Promises to Be

Aug.16.17

Everything That Powdered Chocolate Milk Toast Promises to Be

by Harini Sriram

Milo toast in Singapore

When I was a school kid, Milo was my favorite drink. The Australian malt-and-chocolate powder mix had somehow permeated the local market at the laid-back coastal town in India in which I grew up, and it was quite the rage among my friends.

But in my home, we were set in our ways; anything new was viewed with skepticism. We were not allowed to have coffee all through school, so I had to be content with other health drinks like Complan, Bournvita, Maltova, and Boost, all of which promised to turn kids into super tall, supremely intelligent creatures who could crack complex arithmetic problems in nanoseconds. Occasionally, I’d have a glass of chilled milk with Milo at home and feel like such a rebel.

I was in Singapore recently and discovered that Milo toast is a breakfast option. This was a revelation to me, and as someone who hadn’t had a sip of the drink for more than 10 years, the idea of biting into crunchy toast dusted with Milo seemed like fun. So, one morning, at Toast Box in Bugis Junction, we ordered two plates of Milo toast and two cups of steaming hot kopi (coffee). The perfectly buttered toast was cut into bite-sized squares with generous sprinklings of Milo, topped with condensed milk. It was everything Milo toast promised to be.

I used to love eating Milo straight out of the tin, and this simple breakfast brought back truckloads of memories: of school, home, family, friends I’d lost touch with, and flavors that linger. And of course, nostalgia. Sitting in a café, thousands of miles away from home, it made me crave a simpler life, filled with the flavors of my childhood. Yet I also felt at home, munching on Milo toast in one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities.

Who Needs Sausage and Eggs When There Are Fried-Milk Pancakes?

Aug.14.17

Who Needs Sausage and Eggs When There Are Fried-Milk Pancakes?

by Rituparna Roy

Malpuas in Pushkar

It is a cold December morning when we step out of our hostel in Pushkar to grab some breakfast. The Hindu temple town three hours from Jaipur is strictly vegetarian, so eggs and sausages are off the menu. In any case, after stuffing our faces with kachoris (deep-fried lentil pastry) and jalebis (Indian sweet pretzels) throughout our trip in Rajasthan, we weren’t missing omelets at all.

We walk through the lanes of Sadar Bazar, past shops selling colorful Rajasthani jewelery and leheriya dupattas (tie-dye stoles), dodging people and cows.

Stomachs growling, when we reach Laxmi Mishtan Bhandar near Gau Ghat it is bit past 9 a.m. “Two plates of kachoris, please,” we say, and dive into Rajasthan’s favorite breakfast. The kick from the spicy lentil filling, and the promise of a hot and sweet chutney that follows with every bite have us smiling.

A craving for something sweet keeps us going, and the sweet shops of Pushkar know how to satiate. A typical scene is that of a man sitting next to two huge iron woks—one with hot ghee or clarified butter to fry things and another with sugar syrup to soak those things fried. We were staring at Pushkar’s best-kept secret—its malpuas. These small pancakes are made with a batter comprised of rabdi (milk that has been reduced on low heat for hours), khoya (thickened and dried milk) and plain flour. After being deep-fried, they’re soaked in a cardamom-scented sugar syrup.

We have eaten malpuas all our lives. During Holi (the Indian festival of colors), at high-end restaurants, and during Ramadan on the streets of Mumbai. But nothing I had tasted so far came close to what I ate now. Deep-fried in the fattiest oil and soaked in the sweetest syrup, it was a recipe for death.

Aur ek khayenge? Kuch nahi hoga. Yeh desi ghee hain.” (Do you want to eat one more? Don’t worry, it’s made of homely clarified butter), says the bespectacled man. We oblige.

Over the next couple of days, we walk up and down the bazaar, past Laxmi Mishtan Bhandar and its happy sweet-maker. Each time all it takes is a wave of his hand, and we find ourselves polishing off Pushkar’s famous fried-milk malpuas, fingers dripping with syrup.

Don’t leave Pushkar without learning the recipe for malpua. And don’t forget to thank the cows for the milk.

Only a Formidable Breakfast Burrito Could Make Spam Seem Like a Good Idea

Aug.11.17

Only a Formidable Breakfast Burrito Could Make Spam Seem Like a Good Idea

by Sarah Morgan

Burrito in New Mexico

When your desk is often the dashboard of your truck as you head out into a 12-hour field day, you shouldn’t miss the last chance for food not procured from a gas station. As an archaeologist, I often just eat whatever goods are stashed in the bottom of my pack. Real food is glorious.

A few miles south of Farmington, New Mexico is a different kind of border. Where the view gives way from the greens and built shapes of the San Juan River valley to the browns and golds and reds of the mesas and rock. The border isn’t marked; there isn’t even a sign. Somewhere between dawn and the sunrise, you enter the Navajo Nation.

At a dusty four-way intersection, which multitasks as an asphalt depository, a school bus stop, and a gathering place for work crews, a 1970s travel trailer is hitched to an old Ford 150 that may once have been dark blue. And in that old trailer, there is a stove, and a counter, and a couple who make spectacular Navajo breakfast burritos.

They must get up pretty early to make the stacks of homemade tortillas every morning. The tortillas are thick, often slightly charred, unsalted, and have a faintly metallic baking powder aftertaste. These tortillas recall the Long Walk of 1864, when flour, lard, and baking powder became staples of the Navajo kitchen. The Navajo were forcibly relocated from their homeland where they herded sheep and grew beans, corn, and squash, to Bosque Redondo, where those items were no longer an option.

You can pick between ham, bacon, sausage, Spam. Into the thick tortilla it goes, with egg scrambled lightly on a griddle, layered over pork and smashed-up potatoes. Wrapped in a single sheet of yellow paper, a piece of scotch tape seals the cylinder. For $3.50, it comes with a salt packet and a whole raw jalapeño. Sometimes I get the sausage. Sometimes, the Spam. In fact, it’s the only time I like Spam.

I place the burrito on my dashboard and drive further. Past the border and into the landscape, into Navajo country, first through nothing and then past hogans—Navajo dwellings—horses, dogs, sage. I consult maps and consult the sky. My destination varies, depending on the project.

When I arrive, I open the yellow-clad parcel, and sprinkle the salt on just enough for two bites. I take one nibble of the jalapeño, and hold the wet green spice in a corner of my mouth before biting the burrito. The tortilla is slightly dry, and cracking a little. The contrast between that dryness and the wet crunch of the pepper, and the sprinkled-on salt with the soft filling, makes a perfect morning meal. Salt on the outside, salted pork on the inside, wrapped in the chewy dough, which tastes slightly of wood smoke. I inhale and watch the light play on the mesa edges.

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