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Breakfast

Eating the World Every Morning

The Best Medicinal Noodles in the World’s Oldest Chinatown

Aug.03.17

The Best Medicinal Noodles in the World’s Oldest Chinatown

by Shirin Bhandari

Egg Noodles in Manila

“Is this your first time?” I ask my friend as he looks blankly at the board. The menu looks as old as the Dead Sea scrolls. The food has not changed since the restaurant’s inception. The red acrylic letters on the sign are sparse and unmoving. The price slots are movable and filled with handwritten rates on paper—prices which have increased exorbitantly since my last visit.

The floor is slick and the 1940s-era fans are full of dust, as if time stood still.
A waiter in a one-size-fits-all-uniform arrives with a bored look on his face.

“The place smells funny,” G says.

Chinese egg noodles often come with a distinct smell of ammonia that some find off-putting. There has been much debate through the decades about why they smell like this, and the mystery adds to the experience.

The interior of the restaurant is uninspiring; G can hardly believe that this is, in fact, the birthplace of the Philippine mami—a hearty noodle soup with cuts of meat. We watch the kitchen door swing open, servers rushing out with large white porcelain bowls filled with hot soup.

The neighborhood of Binondo, in the city of Manila, was established in 1594 by Spanish colonizers to keep the Chinese immigrants in check. It is the world’s oldest Chinatown. The word Binondo is derived from the local Tagalog word binundok, or mountainous, referring to Binondo’s then-hilly terrain. It was the center of commerce, trade, and good food. Now, it has seen better days.

The restaurant’s founder, Ma Mon Luk, was born in Guangdong. He left his life as a teacher in 1918 to try his luck in the Philippines. To earn a living, he peddled his special noodle soup in metal vats attached to a bamboo pole slung over his shoulders. He became popular with the working class and students around Chinatown and Quiapo, Manila. The word mami is the street slang for the famous concoction, combining his first name (ma) with the Chinese name for noodles (mian).

Through hard work, he opened his first restaurant in the 1950s in the heart of the city, making the nourishing and tasty mami famous throughout the country. He died a decade later from cancer. His family have continued the tradition, but only two stores out of six remain. The Filipino love affair with air-conditioned fast-food burger chains has killed many small enterprises.

Our beef noodles arrive, with two steamed pork buns. The meat is tender and melts in the mouth. It has a strong flavor of star anise. The egg noodles are firm and tasty. The chopped scallions and fried garlic are crispy. It brings back fond memories of my grandfather slurping his noodles with gusto.
A bright orange salted duck-egg yolk glistened as I tore into the succulent pork bun.

“How is the broth?” I asked as I dipped a piece of the white bun into the bowl.

“Medicinal, but in a good way,” G laughs.

The soup keeps our hearts pounding and fuels us for the rest of the day.

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 McLeodgan

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.

My Own Private Albanian Breakfast

Oct.11.17

My Own Private Albanian Breakfast

by Madeleine D’Este

Eggs in Albania

There’s one problem with vacations: they have to end. And like suntans, the memories fade too fast. But food is one way to bring the holiday home with you.

In June this year, I spent three weeks of long, lazy summer days in Europe but eventually I had to return to Melbourne in all its grey, mid-winter gloom. I swapped open-air cafes, beaches, and waterfalls for an open-plan office with harsh lighting and stuffy heating.

The unexpected highlight of this trip was Albania. The history, people, cafes, mountains, and of course, the food. Sweet juicy tomatoes, crisp green cucumbers and heart-stopping black coffee, exactly the way I like it.

After days of planes, trains, and furgons I stopped in Himare on the Albanian
Riviera, for three days of reading on white-pebble beaches alongside the refreshing, clear Aegean waters. My guest house overlooked the sea and each morning, my hosts laid out a spread in the communal kitchen of fresh bread, warm burek, local honey and jams, boiled eggs, and of course, black strong coffee. But no matter how glorious the crisp golden pastry of the burek looked and smelled, it wasn’t worth the belly aches. As someone with a gluten intolerance, I had to be a little more creative at breakfast.

On the first day, I made up my own little Albanian breakfast; hard-boiled eggs, slices of creamy feta, a splash of homemade olive oil, sprinkles of dried basil, salt, and pepper. It was a winner; the right mix of salty, creamy, and aromatic, and I ate my concoction every morning on the patio, under the vine-covered pergola gazing over the sea, never wanting to go home again. But eventually, Melbourne beckoned.

Once home, when I craved my Albanian breakfast, I started looking around for an alternative. But despite the culinary fusion of Melbourne’s cafes, I couldn’t find my made-up Albanian breakfast on any menu. The closest is the moreish “Macedonian breakfast” from a café in Thornbury with ajvar, poached eggs, feta, avocado, and bacon. It was up to me to recreate my Albanian breakfast. At least the ingredients were easy to find. I bought the best feta I could afford from the supermarket (Greek not Albanian), hard-boiled a few eggs, drizzled on my olive oil (Spanish not Albanian) and added herbs and spices.

While it wasn’t the same—the feta not as creamy, the olive oil not as grassy and fresh, the dried basil lacking the same oomph—the salty, crumbly texture of the feta with the hard-boiled eggs was enough to transport me back to the sunny patio of my guest house in Himare for a few moments and ignore the rain outside. And add a new breakfast to my home cooking repertoire.

Fried Goat and Deep-Fried Roti Sure Beat the Usual Business-Trip Meals

Oct.10.17

Fried Goat and Deep-Fried Roti Sure Beat the Usual Business-Trip Meals

by Erin Green

Breakfast in Chitwan

Chitwan, in southern Nepal, is famous for one-horned rhinos, elephants, leopards, and the occasional Bengal tiger. I travel to Chitwan regularly to do work with the British Council. I don’t go on any jungle safaris; I stay along the highway in a business hotel with a conference room and a questionably cleaned pool. The highlight of my day is kicking it off with a with a deep-fried roti (in this case, puri, a puffed-up flatbread) and deep-fried, sugar-soaked swirls, dipped into potato and chickpea curry, along with sweet and milky masala tea.

I like it, and often, I need it. Usually, I’ve gone out with the local staff the evening before. That means drinking Royal Stag whiskey and eating fried spicy goat or mutton, or tass, with beaten rice and spicy achar. That’s the culture here: work in the 90-plus degree heat until you’ve sweated through your shirt eight times, then go find a bench on the Rapti bridge or maybe inside a small restaurant. Drink. Wake up to puri bhaji jelabi chai. Go to work.

These puri are little puffy spaceships made of atta, or wheat flour, so I like to think they’re healthy. There’s one shop near my hotel that rocks only this meal in the mornings. One man is in charge of the puri station, while another mans the tea. The milky, spiced hot brew is lightly boiled, then strained and served in a small glass towards the end of the meal. It takes a little while to steep, so it gets started in advance. In the meantime, four fresh, hot puri are placed on a metal tray. The lid comes off a simmering pot of spicy turmeric-colored curry made of potatoes and the pea of the day—maybe chick, black-eyed, or green. After a couple of stirs, a ladleful goes into a metal bowl placed in the corner of the tray. Raw red onions and cilantro are sprinkled on top. The next component: a few bright orange swirls of sugar syrup. These jalebi are the caloric spike I need to wake up.

By now, someone has turned the Nepali news to CNN to kindly adapt to the clientele. I’ve washed my hands and am ready to tuck into breakfast. The other tables are full of people eating the same meal. Around us, staff bus the tables, wash the glasses, and deliver fresh puri when stacks run low. Tea comes around and I sit back and watch a few of the international headlines.

After paying the boss not very many rupees, I hop in one of the local electric golf cart/tram hybrids and ride off into the pastel haze from the early sun, ready to get to work. Good morning, Chitwan.

Photo by: Ask27/Commons

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