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Breakfast

Eating the World Every Morning

A Hailstorm of Chocolate in the Morning

Sep.29.15

A Hailstorm of Chocolate in the Morning

by Alexa van Sickle

Sprinkles on Toast in the Netherlands

Hagelslag.

It’s a Dutch word, so the ‘g’ sounds are akin to how the Scottish say Loch Ness, which makes the word deceptively aggressive to English-speaking ears. It means hailstorm, but in the Netherlands, it also means chocolate—or rainbow, or coconut, or aniseed—sprinkles. They’re a little larger and bolder than the sprinkles most people know as an ice cream-topper, and the Dutch eat a lot of them, especially for breakfast.

I grew up in Vienna’s vineyard-crossed northern reaches in the 1980s and 90s. One of my best friends lived on the same street. She was the second of three daughters, who, being Dutch, were all light-haired and not far off six feet tall by the first day of eighth grade. Breakfast in her house was a serious spread of breads, cheeses, Dutch peanut butter, and the staple: chocolate sprinkles on buttered toast. Her family lived in an old house, some kind of tavern in centuries past. I was once locked in their bathroom for three hours late at night because the old lock mechanism crumbled into the wall. Chocolate sprinkles for breakfast were very welcome after that ordeal.

Chocolate for breakfast wasn’t an alien concept. Like most kids in certain parts of Europe, I was reared on Nutella. (It was a simpler time, when Boris Becker’s endorsement was enough to make us believe it was sporty and wholesome, and a good decade before its Italian owner Ferrero was forced to reveal what exactly it was made of.) But hagelslag was a step further: it felt like getting away with something. But grown-ups eat them, too: in fact, the Dutch are said to consume more than 30 million pounds of hagelsag each year.

According to the Amsterdam City Archives, the licorice factory Venco first introduced an aniseed version of hagelslag in 1919. They say the chocolate variety came along in the 1930s after a five-year-old boy wrote the company a bunch of letters requesting something chocolate-based to put on his morning bread. But it was after World War II that the hagelslag industry really took off, led by Venco and rival company De Ruijter. Now you can get them in many flavors and shapes: coconut, white chocolate, dark, chocolate, rainbow, fruit-flavored, as flakes.

Since the days when I first sprinkled chocolate on my bread in a Dutch household in Austria, many breakfast products once so wedded to their own turf that they were almost national symbols—Nutella, Marmite, Roobois tea—have, through exposure, merit, or marketing, leaped across borders and lost their status as a national novelty. But for me, at least, hagelslag was an experience and product that remained anchored to the Netherlands. After we both left Vienna, for the next 15 years through college, grad school, jobs, and then in her case, motherhood, I would visit my friend almost every year, first in Utrecht, then Amsterdam, and then Haarlem, and I would always insist on hagelslag at breakfast. Because I was in a Dutch, chocolatey Rome and I could only do that there.

When I moved to Berkeley, California last year, I wandered into World Market in Emeryville to browse. There, among brass lantern-holders nobody needs, gum ball machines, old-fashioned cream sodas, and obscure Belgian ales, I found a few boxes of chocolate hagelsag. I couldn’t wait to get home and have some. But it sat in my kitchen cupboard for a year, untouched. I finally ate some in an effort to clean out my food supplies before moving out of my house. I missed the Dutch dark bread, the peanut butter, and the cheese on the same table. But mostly, it just wasn’t the same without my friend.

Then again, I had played fast and loose with the “best before” date.

Not the Bali of In-Flight Magazines, But Good Enough

Oct.24.17

Not the Bali of In-Flight Magazines, But Good Enough

by Lindsay Gasik

Lumpia in Bali

Nothing would go wrong on my parents’ first trip to Bali, I decided. Their Bali would be the stuff of the airline magazine they’d read on the flight there. Their first night would be in one of those cute walled gardens, hidden from the street by an ornate wooden door, which would feel like a secret yet lavish world of yellow plumerias, weathered grey gargoyles, and tropical fruit breakfasts.

That first morning my mom woke, took a sun-dappled walk on the beach, and announced she wanted to see the memorial for Pan Am Flight 812, which crashed in 1974. My brow furrowed. This was not on the itinerary.

Before leaving, she’d told her coworker she was headed to Bali. “That’s cool,” her colleague said. “The last time I was there was when my dad’s plane crashed.”

His father was the flight engineer on the Boeing 707 when it lost contact with Bali Air Traffic Control and, taking a wrong right turn during the approach to Ngurah Rai International Airport, found a mountain in the way. The plane exploded on impact. None of the 107 bodies were ever identified. Mom promised we’d look for the memorial.

A search on Google Maps showed it was only five miles north of Sanur. Easy. We could swing by on our way to the Elephant Cave and still be on time for that vegetarian lunch in Ubud. But at the map pin, after two miles trundling down a potholed country lane, we found only a crumbling stone wall in an empty field. A pack of feral-looking dogs rose from behind it. “Are we lost?” Mom asked.

“Nah,” I tapped my phone screen and turned the car around. “We’ll just ask at the old hotel.”

But the hotel yawned at us from a dilapidated lot, the windows dark and cracked, the pink paint chipped. “I guess it has been 30 years,” Dad said. I flagged a passing motorcyclist, who pointed us down a rutted dust road. It was now mid-morning, and lunch in Ubud would have to be dinner. I didn’t have a back-up plan.

The road dead-ended in a temple parking lot. There a man sat with an aquarium-sized tub of spring rolls, called lumpia here, humming to himself. “Hey! Good Morning!” he called cheerfully. I asked him about the memorial, wondering who here was buying the lumpia. They looked fried to wilting.

He pointed us to the back corner of the lot, tucked behind a small gate. It was carved out of the same weathered charcoal stone of the gargoyles and topped with a tasseled yellow umbrella. We took the photos, and returned to the lumpia man. With a pair of scissors, he snipped the spring rolls into bite-sized pieces, revealing their bean-sprout innards. Over the top he ladled out a sticky molasses-like sauce, kecap manis, and handed the paper cone to my dad.

We took turns spearing the lumpia bites with an elongated toothpick as we walked back to the thoroughly dirty car. They tasted greasy and sweet, the bean sprouts melted to mush by oil. It wasn’t a meal fit for a magazine spread, but I wasn’t worried anymore. Our Bali would be this memory of being together.

The 7 Train to Nepalese Breakfast

Oct.20.17

The 7 Train to Nepalese Breakfast

by Cristina Schreil

Sel roti in Queens, NY

If not for the routine thunder of the 7 train, I’d be disoriented. Behind me is charted territory: the subway, Queens. Before me is a chunk of Nepal. It’s Sunday morning, and I’m following Shailesh, a Kathmandu-born actor turned activist, through a diverse section of Jackson Heights. My stomach practically utters a whale call as we come to an establishment that brims like a subway car. I almost miss the Nepalese businesses in a crush of cell-phone stores and clothing boutiques.

A sign reads “Nepali Bhanchha Ghar.” I learn “Bhanchha” means kitchen.

We’re here for sel roti, a traditional treat. Many greet us with “Namaste” as we enter. The wall has Nepalese flags and snapshots of peaceful mountaintops and the Dalai Lama. It’s a savory-smelling hive; servers scurry behind a small counter tending to vats of soups, stews, and momo, the beloved Himalayan dumpling. But the real showstopper is in the corner. A woman in a baseball cap perches on a low stool. Upon hearing my sel roti order, she flies into action. A stack of crisp, graham cracker-hued hoops are next to her. They appear like towers of onion rings.

Choking up on the handle, the woman swishes a large ladle about a bucket of white, grits-like batter. She grabs the decapitated head of a soda bottle and plops a heap into the back end. Drifting this device over a wok with bubbling oil, she opens the spigot to let a thick strand fall. Her wrists are quick. She shapes the batter into a floating circle, forging a saucer-sized hoop that puffs and fries like a donut. It’s meditative. Gingerly, she coaxes and flips it with a long wand. It bobs luxuriously, as if it were on vacation.

This treat is uniquely Nepalese; sel roti is nothing like the South Asian roti flatbread. Made from ground, soaked rice, they’re staples on special occasions and festivals. I receive a tidy plate with one sel roti loop among mounds of colorful assorted “thali,” or plates of chutneys and pickled vegetables. A lime wedge, onion hunk, and tiny pepper sit like gleaming gems. A closer look at the sel roti reveals this is no onion ring: constellations of pearlescent dots fleck the golden exterior. I rip inside and find a light, rice-doughy texture and pleasant sweetness. A tooth-sinking crunch immediately calls to mind Chinese sesame balls. I pop some pickled vegetables into my mouth for an intriguing contrast between bitter and sweet.

Shailesh explains that the Nepalese commonly have a light bite for breakfast—sel roti, or another bread or porridge—with spiced tea. But for now, he says, this will do. I agree.

Nepali Bhanchha Ghar
7406 37th Rd Jackson Heights, NY 11372

All That About the Cat and We Don’t Even Get the Dalai Lama Story?

Oct.18.17

All That About the Cat and We Don’t Even Get the Dalai Lama Story?

by Shirin Mehrotra

Croissants in McLeodganj

It was late at night, around 8-9 maybe (that’s late in Himachal) when I spotted a pale yellow wall, with “Lhamo’s Croissant” scribbled across it. I could only make out the feeble outline of a café, and made a mental note to check it out the next morning. The idea of eating croissants for breakfast spread a warm feeling in my belly on that cold night.

I was in McLeodganj, a place I had been dreaming of visiting since I read David Michie’s The Dalai Lama’s Cat. The book opened the world of Tibetans in India to me, who had settled in this sleepy hamlet after leaving Tibet (after the Chinese occupation) and followed in the footsteps of their spiritual guru, the Dalai Lama.

When “HHC” (His Holiness’s Cat—the central character of the book) wobbled her way through the lovely hills, I imagined myself trailing in her paw-steps. I wondered about the pretty book cafes where she would perch herself on top of book shelves. The aromas that wafted from the kitchen of the Dalai Lama would make me mentally re-create those fabulous meals. And now that I was finally here; the place was everything I had imagined it to be. With the view of the Dhauladhar Mountains from every corner, there was an invisible layer of peace spread over the town.

Next morning, as planned, we walked to Lhamo’s Croissant—a picturesque two-level café at the corner of the street, with a terrace that opened up to the view of the snow-capped mountains. We were welcomed by a young Tibetan boy who single-handedly managed the place. Chef Lhamo, owner of the café, walked in right behind us with a bagful of grocery and fresh vegetables in her hands. She said a quick hello and walked straight to the kitchen at the basement of the café. Soon we could hear the sounds of our breakfast being rustled up and saw Lugoen, the manager, walking out of the kitchen with tray full of freshly baked breads, all whole-wheat or gluten free.

As we stretched our legs on the low seating section, our breakfast was served: freshly baked whole wheat breads with butter and jam, eggs, freshly squeezed juice, coffee, almond milk smoothie and chocolate croissant; everything so unadulterated, like the mountain air. We lazed around at the café for a while, a book in hand, before venturing out to explore the rest of the town, unaware that a chance encounter with the Dalai Lama awaited us at our next spot.

What Memorable Breakfast Doesn’t Involve a Shot of Vodka?

Oct.17.17

What Memorable Breakfast Doesn’t Involve a Shot of Vodka?

by Luciana Squadrilli

Breakfast in Georgia

When my best friend and I decided to pick Georgia as our holiday destination, we mostly had in mind pristine nature, secluded Orthodox monasteries, and the famous qvevri (amphora-fermented) wines.

An in-depth study of local gastronomy had only convinced us further of our choice, and so we landed in Tbilisi dreaming about lavish dinners based on cheese-filled khatchapuri, kinkhali dumplings, and lamb stews. We didn’t have great expectations for breakfast, though, and the stale croissant we ate in a drab café near Liberty Square on our first morning in Tbilisi seemed to confirm this.

Traveling around the country in the rural areas of Kakheti, Imereti, and Racha in search of orange wines and local specialties, however, put breakfast time in a whole new light: the morning meal in those areas was a seductive mix of carbs, animal proteins, fruits, and dairy, accompanied by Turkish coffee—with slight variations according to region and host. Day after day, sleeping in basic country inns and family-run hotels, soon breakfasts became my favorite moment of the day.

In a small hotel in Telavi—the heart of the wine-making Kakheti region—we had fresh green grapes, a salty and spongy cheese, bread and jam, and some delicious fried rolls filled with cheese. At the lovely wine farm in the Racha region—pompously named Chateau Dio—we had boiled eggs, cheese, local sausages, and the creamiest smetana (sour cream) ever, to go with bread and a delicious honey which reminded me of Greek desserts with yogurt.

On our second stay in Tbilisi, we rented a bright apartment at the 18th floor of a run-down building where a stunning view over the city made up for the every frightening elevator ride. Here, we waited in vain for the owner to bring us the breakfast and then gave up and bought some biscuits at the nearest shop. At 10 a.m. we were about to leave the apartment when she showed up with boiled eggs, fruit, and a sensational, freshly baked khatchapuri. This was when we learned that Georgians eat this lovely baked good any time of the day, and that Georgians are quite slow to get started in the morning (and stay up late.)

But our most memorable breakfast was at a dull hotel in Georgia’s second city, Kutaisi, in the Imereti region. After a sleepless night and a difficult start of the day thanks to linguistic misunderstandings, we finally sat at our table, with plenty of food, including a generous amount of smetana, blackberry jam, and some oily yet tasty machkatebi (Tushetian pancakes). We were ready to leave when the owner proudly offered us a shot glass, full to the brim, of chacha—in his version, not the famous local grape spirit, but vodka, infused with fresh oranges and lemons. Obviously refusing to drink it would be rude.

Going back to our usual breakfasts of espresso and rice cakes is what gave us the post-holiday blues this time.

Chicken Wings Are Everything Argentina Is Not

Oct.16.17

Chicken Wings Are Everything Argentina Is Not

by Leigh Shulman

Chicken in Buenos Aires

I landed in Buenos Aires, a short stopover on my way to run a writing retreat in Nicaragua. One flight behind me and a long way to go. Travel limbo. But first, to eat.

Media lunas, small croissant-like pastries, with coffee are the usual breakfast, but I wanted something else. I wanted meaty, eggy, smoky food to fill me up for hours. There was only one place to go: Chicken Bros.

I met Timmy, one of the owners, at Argentina’s first Burning Man a year earlier. He, his friend Justin, and two fryers served hundreds of wings on the roof of their building. They opened the restaurant a few months before I got to Buenos Aires, and I was in time for brunch.

Two graffitied chicken butts greeted me from above the entrance, and was that bacon I smelled? Inside, the place buzzed with life. Plates of chicken and waffles flew by on their way to hungry people. A DJ set up his table. I pondered the menu.

Huevos Benedictinos? No. I wanted wings.

Chicken wings are everything Argentina is not. All bones. How can you make a meal of it? And spicy? Even the mildest of chilis offend the Argentine palate. Eating with your hands? Nope.
But what sauce to choose? I narrowed it down to Sweet Chile Lime (two flames) and Blazin’ Buffalo (four flames).

“How spicy is a flame in a country that doesn’t like spice?” I asked.

“You’re gonna feel four flames in your mouth for a while after you eat,” Timmy told me.

I’ll take the challenge.

“Blazin’ Buffalo it is. Soy ginger sesame, too?” “I’m in.” Then I found a table and waited for my food.

The second I bit into twice-fried crispy skin, the tang of jalapeño hit. First the lips, then tongue, soon my tonsils pricked. Red, peppery, burning.

Thank god for celery sticks and Ranch dressing. And another prayer for the other side of my plate. Thick, sweet and salty soy redolent of ginger.

The rule of chicken wings: give into the mess. Napkins are defenseless against sticky soy. Sesame seeds cling to the corners of your mouth as red hot and brown sauces spread across your face.

“How’re those wings?” Timmy shouted as he delivered an armful of bagels with cream cheese and lox. Mouth full, I mustered a thumbs-up.

Dessert next: there’s nothing more American than battered and fried Oreos with ice cream. My favorite state fair food. But cover them in dulce de leche and sugared walnuts. You’re in Argentina.

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