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Breakfast

Eating the World Every Morning

A Culinary Middle Finger to the President-Elect

Nov.29.16

A Culinary Middle Finger to the President-Elect

by Sara Nasser

Shawarma in Istanbul

After Donald J. Trump won the presidency, a full 24 hours after a Twitter troll became the de facto leader-of-the-world in waiting, I mourned his ugly victory the only way I knew how: kabsa, shawarma, hummus.

I went through the motions with a bunch of young Americans in Istanbul, our voices strained, our eyes watery, our emotions running high as we licked our plates clean. Bite, chomp, stew, digest, vent, repeat. It was our form of protest, a culinary middle finger to a man who’d won by demonizing everything we ever cared about, everything that surrounded us now. What better way to say ‘Not My President’ than by chowing down on some Syrian food?

We went to Al Rayan, a Syrian joint tucked away in a side street jutting off of Istiklal Avenue. To find the place, you orient yourself between Hüseyin Ağa Camii (Istiklal’s only mosque, built in the 1590s by a eunuch-turned-statesman) and the Demiroren (a glitzy, multi-storied mall). Between the Ottoman and the post-modern, past the pedestrian thoroughfare filled with ice cream sellers, street musicians, and TOMA vans, runs Atif Yilmaz Sokak—a street studded with restaurants from the Levant. Tarboush is popular; there’s a Palestinian place as well. We ended up choosing Al Rayan because the Syrian-American in the group suggested that it was the best of the lot.

There were four of us, three of us women. Some of us had Muslim backgrounds and immigrant parents. I am an immigrant to the United States. We tried to console each other at the dinner table, our own Venn diagram of who Donald J. Trump hated the most. We ordered more than we thought we could handle, telling ourselves that we could always take it home. We had kabsa, a mound of spiced yellow rice with cashews strewn about, and chicken shaved from the rotisserie spinning right next to us, its warmth and its smell intensifying our hunger. There were two whole plates of shawarma, rolled, crisped and cut into pieces, better for dipping into the garlic mayonnaise sauce. The sauce is so addictive I slather it on everything, even the carrots, cabbage, and tomatoes thrown in for complimentary nutrition. That night, Syrian food was our soul food.

We finished everything, washing it down with our Diet Cokes. How could this have happened? We asked each other, dazed and afraid. More than 60 million of our fellow citizens had just voted to reject the most fundamental aspects of ourselves. Our layered identities, once a point of pride, part of our life’s work abroad, were now bruised and battered, and celebrated no more.

Wiping away the tears, I realized I was naive about how I saw myself. “I’ve met real Americans,” an oud seller once told me in Istanbul, eyeing me up and down. I’ve known that look my whole life.

A Cocoa Puff Latte and a Box of Diabetes, Please

Jan.20.17

A Cocoa Puff Latte and a Box of Diabetes, Please

by Candy Moo

Coffee and Donuts in Miami

Not that long ago, rows upon rows of abandoned warehouses made up Miami’s Wynwood Arts District. Now it’s a haven of street art, galleries, and bars, and the area has become what most of Miami is not: walkable.

Tucked in the backstreets away from the foot traffic of 2nd Avenue is The Salty Donut, a coffee and donut shop peddling flavors like Nutella, Maple Bacon, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch—endless options of oversized doughy goodness.

I dragged my mother along for her first Wynwood experience. I wanted a Cocoa Puff latte and box of donuts for my family. As I tasted the soggy, chocolatey puffs in the latte, I thought of summer camp and PBS reruns of Arthur. My mom’s first bite into a Cinnamon Toast Crunch Cannoli neutralized her accusing glare in my direction. She’s not usually one for sweets or alcohol, but the whiskey caramel and RumChata white chocolate erased all protest.

As it turns out, we had chosen a special day to visit the Salty Donut: they were unveiling a highly coveted new product. The newest donut on the menu was an even bigger hit of nostalgia: a Knaus Berry Farm cinnamon roll wrapped carefully in the arms of a brioche donut, topped with caramelized pecans. Deep down south in Homestead, FL, Knaus Berry Farm is a well-known strawberry farm where families can pick their own produce. Together with fresh strawberry smoothies, their cinnamon buns are a staple for any South Florida native.

Biting into my Knaus Berry Farm Sticky Bun Donut, I recalled a time when the sun was high overhead as I ran, clad in overalls, through the strawberry rows. With this donut and another sip of my sugar cereal-latte, I was in memory lane heaven.

Sitting at the communal table, I glanced at the never-ending line filing out the door. There were people clad in army uniforms, women clutching papers and chatting on their cellphones, and others holding expensive cameras with long lenses and eager expressions, everyone yearning for a mid-day sweet treat.

The Only Thing Better Than a Tamale is a Tamale Sandwich

Jan.19.17

The Only Thing Better Than a Tamale is a Tamale Sandwich

by Susan Shain

Tamales in Oaxaca City

Every morning, her smooth face, her fresh white apron, and her metal cart stand vigilant in the Zócalo, the central square. Her name is Rosario, and for the past eight years, she’s dutifully guarded this post from 6:30-10:30 a.m., seven days a week.

Unlike other vendors, she doesn’t need to hawk her services; for her, patrons jostle, anxiously awaiting their breakfast of tamales. I am one of them.

These heavenly wedges consist of masa (corn dough) and lard, plus meat (in this case, chicken) and sauce (in this case, delicious), wrapped and steamed in either a corn husk or a banana leaf. Or they’re placed snugly inside a bolillo (bread roll) to create a torta de tamal, a simple but filling carb-on-carb delight.

Rosario offers three sauces: mole—decadent, with more than a dozen spices and chilis; salsa verde—spicy and tomatillo-based; or rajas—made with strips of roasted poblano peppers. I choose the mole because I always choose the mole. Oaxaca is famous for no less than seven varieties of mole. Rosario usually uses coloradito or rojo. The sauce is reddish-brown and rich, with hints of chocolate and cinnamon.

Protesters, another of Oaxaca’s specialties, march behind us. Shoe shiners loudly settle their stools. Wheels rattle, birds sing, but none of it distracts me or my fellow tamale pilgrims from our goal.

Rosario grabs a bolillo and scoops out the innards, making room for what really matters: one of the more than 150 tamales she labored over for hours yesterday afternoon. Then she reaches into the cart. As she puts together my order, deftly removing the leaf before depositing the tamale into the roll, she is unwrapping the best kind of gift—the kind you can eat. Steam pours off the mélange of corn and chicken and bread and sauce, floating away into the cool highland air.

Hurry up, I tell myself as I shuffle my coins, trying to determine which combination will get me the torta de tamal the fastest. But Rosario doesn’t even notice the delay. She’s already taking the next eager customer’s order. Finally, I find the right coins: the equivalent of 60 cents.

At Standing Rock, A Small Reprieve From the Guacapocalypse

Jan.16.17

At Standing Rock, A Small Reprieve From the Guacapocalypse

by Rebecca High

Avocado Toast in North Dakota

California worships the avocado. It might be the perfect fruit: hearty and delicious, sweet and savory, firm and soft, always in season.

But the catch is that in California, one pound of avocados needs around 80 gallons of water to grow, and California’s drought has turned the fruit goopy brown or bitterly hard. “Guacapocalypse,” as people call it, is naturally distressing for Californians. Some shops and cafés have pledged not to serve avocado—and the ever-popular brunch staple, avocado toast—until the water shortage ends. The greater implications of the drought, of course, are far more alarming.

I joined several hundred self-described Water Protectors at Standing Rock, North Dakota. We were protesting against an oil pipeline being constructed under a river, potentially polluting the area’s drinking water. I met Katie and Genie, grandmothers from California who told stories of their days in Greenpeace 40 years ago. We shared an interest in garden produce and in protecting clean water sources.

After sunrise on my last chilly morning at Standing Rock, I stopped by Katie and Genie’s camp to say goodbye. Katie pushed a hot Mason jar full of tea into my hands as Genie looked at me conspiratorially over tinted glasses. “Let’s make avocado toast!” She pulled two avocados seemingly out of nowhere and winked. I marveled as she sliced the avocados, then deftly pulled small slices of wheat bread out of a bag and placed them in a pan on low heat. These women spent days freezing in North Dakota fields, and preserved these perfect avocados to share with me.

When the bread started smoking, Genie scooped avocado generously over it, spritzed it with vinegar, and handed me the first piece. I was hungry from days of protein bars. The bread was hot and crisped around the edges. The avocado was somehow perfectly ripe and sweet, even though Genie told me she bought it a week earlier at a market in Santa Cruz. The vinegar was piquant on my lips. It was the most simple, yet most satisfying avocado toast I’d ever had, and I thanked them for their gift.

The Best Lebanese Bread in Salt Lake City

Jan.13.17

The Best Lebanese Bread in Salt Lake City

by Haley Gray

Man’oushe in Salt Lake City

Moudi Sbeity’s favorite dish to serve friends, family, and customers is man’oushe. Supple dough is baked in a wide-mouthed oven like flatbread. Bubbling, salty cheese, a tangy herb blend with olive oil, or a spiced ground-meat mixture are spread over of top thin disks of dough, baking into the bread as truly as the flour and yeast.

Man’oushe is to Lebanese what the bagel is to New Yorkers: filling, cheap, and ubiquitous. It’s most often consumed for breakfast (but is by no means off-limits for afternoon hunger pains). The dish is a mundane thing in Sbeity’s mother country, sure, but only because it is so deeply intertwined with daily life. Sbeity likes sharing this part of his home.

But one doesn’t go to Laziz Kitchen in Salt Lake City for just-another-day kind of breakfast. We’re here to brunch. And though there are three man’oushe options on the menu, my two friends and I only go for one. I’d order them all, but one serving of man’oushe will apparently set you back $9 state-side. The forces of supply and demand, I suppose.

Laziz Kitchen, the brainchild of Sbeity and his husband, the aptly-named Salt Lake City Councilman Derek Kitchen, is immaculately designed. The space is clean and cohesive: a carefully chosen color palate leans on generous use of white spaces with pops of green and gold.

We order a sampling of the most tempting items. In addition to the essential za’atar man’oushe, we split the muhamara, a savory and luscious red pepper and walnut dip made with pomegranate molasses; a satiating fried cauliflower wrap dressed in cool, creamy tarator sauce and rich tahini; spiced labneh (the rich yoghurt is my personal favorite for dipping pita); and artfully herbed fried potatoes.

To create his thoughtful menu, Sbeity flew his mother in from Beirut and hired a kitchen staff of all Middle Eastern refugees, of which there are many in Salt Lake City. He and his mother trained the cooks together before she returned to Lebanon.

Sbeity says his particular staff makes the food better, because they already possess the lexicon of cooking techniques and tastes that his dishes need.

I tend to agree: as each element of the doughy man’oushe spreads over my tongue—the warm, bready base; the herby za’atar’s roasted sesame seeds and bright, citrusy sumac; the fresh, flavorful olive oil—they intertwine in a way not easily achieved by unpracticed hands. Nine bucks well-spent.

Bold Move Ordering Two Cheese-Drenched Breakfasts Before an Hours-Long Bus Ride

Jan.12.17

Bold Move Ordering Two Cheese-Drenched Breakfasts Before an Hours-Long Bus Ride

by Sabrina Toppa

Huevos Rancheros in Los Angeles

My inaugural trip to Los Angeles—and to the West Coast—unexpectedly led me to an empty cluster of shops in downtown L.A. on a Saturday morning, hungry for anything resembling breakfast. I was about to catch the long-distance Megabus service departing for San Francisco, and I had only 30 minutes to find anything suitably filling before I had to be at Patsaouras Transit Plaza.

Every place was closed except a nostalgic diner near Skid Row, playing jazzy, upbeat music, and surprisingly overflowing with ebullient patrons. The waitress ushered us into a booth, elbow-to-elbow with strangers rapt in conversation.

The menu ranged from huevos rancheros to vegan ranchero, with fried tofu as the primary protein. Guests could also order ham, leek, and Fontina cheese egg scrambles, or the so-called Hangover Helper: scrambled eggs with Italian sausages, pepper jack cheese, avocado, salsa, and bacon. There were also more traditional options like fluffy French toast drizzled with saccharine syrup.

The atmosphere evoked the American diners of the past. I scarfed down a hearty scramble of eggs mixed with spinach, roasted garlic, and goat cheese. The breakfast was further carbified with a warm bowl of polenta.

I also had the huevos rancheros: eggs sitting on corn tortillas layered with beans, salsa, crema, avocado, and my favorite cheese, pepper jack. The medley was rich, flavorful, and filling. It felt like the right thing to eat when leaving Southern California. Eggs are my preferred breakfast protein, especially alongside buttery strips of avocado, jalapeño-laced cheese, and a filling portion of beans, and it helped me immeasurably on the long journey northward.

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