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Breakfast

Eating the World Every Morning

Divided By Politics, United in Salty Cheese

Feb.16.17

Divided By Politics, United in Salty Cheese

by Samantha Shields

Halloumi in Cyprus

When I lived in London’s Cypriot enclave, Green Lanes, I used to buy slabs of halloumi cheese from the huge, plastic buckets overflowing with cloudy brine that lurked in the corner of every greengrocers on the road. I’d eat it for breakfast raw, sliced in fresh pitta bread, loving its saltiness and squeakiness between my teeth, and the hits of freshness from flecks of mint.

It wasn’t until I moved to Cyprus many years later that I realized I’d been doing it all wrong. While it’s delicious raw, halloumi is at its very best straight off a hot grill. The char on the outside intensifies the flavor of the salt, and the inside doesn’t melt but instead keeps its wonderful texture. If you need a condiment, it goes equally well with Greek-Cypriot mosfilo jam, made from the tiny yellow fruit of a local hawthorn tree, or with Turkish-Cypriot ezme salad, a fiery chopped mixture of tomatoes, peppers, chilies, and pomegranate molasses.

Another thing I realized when I moved to Nicosia: this cheese is political. In the Republic of Cyprus, the southern part of the island that has been a member of the European Union since 2004, it’s called halloumi. In the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, occupied by Turkey since 1974, it’s hellim. Both cheeses are made from a mixture of goat, sheep and cows’ milk, although they shouldn’t contain too much cows’ milk.

A 2008 Greek-Cypriot attempt to secure European Union Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status for halloumi failed, dogged by Turkish-Cypriot accusations of gastronationalism and a German company’s attempt to trademark the name hellim.

But last year the European Commission published an application to register the names halloumi and hellim, in Greek and Turkish, as PDOs for cheese of this type produced in all the territory of the island of Cyprus. Hopes are high that the attempt will succeed this year, putting halloumi and hellim in the same category as Parmigiano-Reggiano, Stilton, and feta. There are some concerns that small producers won’t be able to afford to pay the international body that will carry out production controls to monitor the milk ratios, but overall, the cheesemakers on both sides of the divide have managed to come together in a way that politicians have so far failed to.

At Mousikon Kafeneion, a traditional old-style cafe on the Greek-Cypriot side of Nicosia, a stone’s throw from the Green Line dividing the island’s capital, I ordered the Cypriot breakfast. Generous slices of grilled halloumi came with a dollop of mosfilo jam, the local smoked ham called lountza, chunks of fresh tomato and cucumber, and good bread and olive oil.

I listened to the call to prayer drifting over from the Selimiye Mosque on the other side of the border, and later the church bells from the Greek Orthodox Faneromeni Church not far from the cafe. Maybe the reunification of Cyprus will start with cheese.

Not Quite St. Patrick’s Day On the Other Emerald Isle

Mar.29.17

Not Quite St. Patrick’s Day On the Other Emerald Isle

by Séamas Ashe

Bagel in Montserrat

I’ve exchanged a blizzard in Boston for tree frogs and trade winds. I’m back in Montserrat in the Caribbean, one of Britain’s last overseas territories. It’s known as the Emerald Isle of the Caribbean, because it resembles Ireland topographically and because of its Irish heritage: its first European settlers were Irish indentured servants the English shipped over from neighboring St. Kitts, who eventually became slave owners themselves.

Montserrat is one of a handful of places besides Ireland where March 17—St. Patrick’s Day—is a public holiday. Here, it also commemorates a failed slave uprising in 1768.

For the past six years I have spent March 17 here, where it’s part of a week-long, Mardi-Gras-like festival when far-flung Montserratians return for dancing, drinking, and to don the national dress of green, white, and orange—which also happen to be the national colors of Ireland.

At first, I was drawn to the island’s friendliness, but now it’s the actual friendships that keep bringing me back.

My friend, Iris, is running late, and though I’m hungry, I’m not in a hurry. When she eventually picks me up, we take our time driving along narrow winding roads.

Our destination is a quaint combination café and mini art gallery called Java Lava—a fitting name on an island with an active volcano. (The loudspeaker outside chimes at noon, and doubles as an emergency siren when necessary.) Montserrat’s Soufrière Hills volcano—long dormant—sputtered back to life in 1995, and a large eruption 1997 killed 19 people and devastated much of the island, including the island’s capital, Plymouth, and the island’s airport. The tourism industry was also destroyed, but it’s slowly returning as the island continues to rebuild and renew. Java Lava now buzzes with locals and visitors alike.

My friend Iris recommends a Caribbean Blend frappe, which is made with coconut cream. I need a quick caloric fix, so I order a scrambled egg-stuffed bagel packed with bacon. The eggs are fluffy and tasty, and I ponder how they fit what looks like a half dozen eggs between two bagel slices. Everything is fresh on this island, particularly the eggs. Montserrat has no chain restaurants. Chances are, anything you order will have been picked, harvested, or caught that very day, and your palate and your body will be grateful for it.

Customers come and go, some sitting and others opting for takeout. I meet several people, some I’ve met on previous visits. Later, I’ll head to the north of the island, to Pont’s Beach View Restaurant, where I will wait for my freshly caught fish to be cleaned and cooked. Again, I won’t be in a hurry.

A Man With a Sizzling Wok is Always Good to Find

Mar.28.17

A Man With a Sizzling Wok is Always Good to Find

by Anisha Rachel Oommen

Jalebis in Bangalore

The spring equinox that marks the Persian New Year is also celebrated in India, by the Parsi community.

India’s Parsis predate the country’s other Zoroastrian community, the Iranis, by several centuries. The legend of that first wave of Persian migration in the eighth century goes like this: fleeing persecution in their home country, they arrived on the shores of Gujarat on the west coast of India seeking asylum, only to be told there was no room. The king sent a glass of milk filled to the brim to signify his kingdom could accommodate no refugees. But a tenacious Zoroastrian priest added a pinch of sugar and sent the tumbler back, an unspoken promise that the Parsis would assimilate to their new home like sugar into milk, only adding to the sweetness of life in their host country. And the Parsis did integrate seamlessly, assuming the native dress and adopting local traditions while still retaining their distinct culture and faith.

Many Parsi culinary traditions are unique, but there is no denying their host culture’s influence—such as a strong sweet tooth. Most Parsi Nowruz celebrations feature the jalebi, a maze-like spiral of flour-batter, deep-fried and soaked in sugar syrup. The jalebi’s origins are unclear, but many trace its roots to Persia, from the Iranian zulabiā, sweetened with honey and flavored with saffron and rose water.

In the crowded streets of Malleswaram, in Bangalore, if you know where to look, you can find jalebi for breakfast. One morning in the week leading up to Nowruz, as we walked among Malleswaram’s iconic old-school restaurants that serve traditional dosas and idlis, we found what we were looking for: a corner stall with a man and a giant wok. As we walked towards his stall, we felt the heat radiate off the spluttering oil in the pan. He saw us approach and swung into action. Picking up what looked like a large handkerchief filled with batter, he expertly motioned circles in the air, over the oil. A steady stream of batter flowed into the oil below, which he shaped like pretzels. In under a minute he had made close to 40 of them.

It was hard to tear our eyes away from the mesmerizing pattern of his movement. The batter sizzled in the oil. As it changed color, he used a large slotted spoon to lift the roundels out of the oil and drop them into another wok filled with sugar syrup. He let them rest a moment, before ceremoniously placing them on a scratched blue plate.

Jalebis pair nicely with thickened milk, rabdi, or vanilla ice cream, and even custard. But many, like me, believe that they taste best on their own, still hot and crisp from the wok.

If You’re in Mexico City and Craving Cameroonian Bread, You’re In Luck

Mar.27.17

If You’re in Mexico City and Craving Cameroonian Bread, You’re In Luck

by Daniel Martínez Garbuno

Makra in Mexico City

I live in Mexico City, perhaps not the most obvious location for a place devoted to African gastronomy. But there is a small and cozy restaurant in the north part of this megalopolis called Lafricaine, and it is where I ate one of the most magnificent pieces of bread: the makra.

I don’t make this affirmation lightly. Mexico has no shortage of baked goods. Every day, we can choose between the bolillo (and their many varieties: torta, guajolota, or molletes, for instance), a concha (with nata or with a cup of hot chocolate), an oreja (so called because it resembles an elephant’s ear) and many other breads at our panaderías.

Makra is just a ball of fried banana bread. But its simplicity is what makes it so attractive. As is often the case, the simpler the dish, the better it tastes. I thought, when I first tasted it, that this could be the next big thing, if only more Mexicans knew about it.

Danielle, Lafricaine’s owner, told me her family ate makra for breakfast every morning. I imagined her family feeling the first rays of the sun in Bafang, Cameroon, while they ate and prepared themselves for another day, which always began with a bunch of freshly fried makras. Usually, they ate this bread with beans and buyi, a fermented drink made of cornmeal. In Mexico, however, I ate it with cajeta, a Mexican staple of sweetened caramelized goat’s milk.

After they immigrated to Mexico, Danielle’s family left many things behind, but not their makra morning ritual. Maybe because the recipe is simple and the bread can be easily reproduced with products in any Mexican market, or maybe because some foods feel like home more than any house or bed. Either way, I found myself transported through the flavors of a long lost home.

Smart Move, Going for Pasta Over the Lumberjack Brunch When in Italy

Mar.24.17

Smart Move, Going for Pasta Over the Lumberjack Brunch When in Italy

by Dave Hazzan

Spaghetti aglio e olio in Turin

A woman is screaming in the apartment above us.

We don’t know what she’s screaming about, but she’s doing it at such a pitch that no one, presumably including whomever she’s screaming at, can understand anything. Residents have come out on their balconies to see what’s going on, pedestrians have stopped to listen, their thumbs on their mobile phones, ready to call the police if glass starts to shatter.

We’ve come for Sunday brunch at Slurp!, a well-known restaurant off Via Vittorio Emanuel II. It’s a pleasant little place with a cute balcony on the sidewalk, napkins and tablecloths in bright, primary colors, and lots of chatty young locals in sunglasses, kissing each other and chatting away their hangovers.

The menu is a bit of a disappointment, though. They offer something called the Lumberjack Brunch, which as far as I can tell involves a massive pile of eggs, sausages, pastry, salmon, and plenty else. It’s also 18.50, which is a bit beyond our budget, especially since we spent 70 euros getting drunk last night.

There is a pause in the din. Perhaps they’ve made up? Jo gets the salmon sandwich and I go for the spaghetti aglio e olio, largely because of the price, and because hey, we’re in Italy! While we wait for our meals, the screaming begins again.

When the food arrives, I ask the waitress, “You have no idea what’s going on here?”

“Well, they sometimes scream,” the waitress replies. “They are a couple, two women. They fight sometimes.”

Both the spaghetti and the smoked salmon are fantastic. Simple dishes done right—this is why we’ve come to Italy, to eat our way through the day in the mountains and Mediterranean sunlight. It feels like an Italian cliché made flesh: a Sunday at noon, with little cars going past, chatty, smoky locals, the al dente pasta, the lady above us screaming blue murder.

Photo by: Jo Turner

There’s No Such Thing As a Short Minute When You’re Hungover and Waiting for Pie

Mar.23.17

There’s No Such Thing As a Short Minute When You’re Hungover and Waiting for Pie

by Efraín Villanueva

Tamal in Bogota

The waiter takes our order and, before descending the stairs, extends all five fingers of his right hand: “Cinco minuticos”—five short minutes.

I explain to Sabeth, my German girlfriend, that La Puerta Falsa, next to Bogota’s Cathedral, is next to a side door that once was walled up. People would say “let’s meet at the aguapanalería at the false door.” That’s how the restaurant got its name.

Sabeth smiles, nods and we fall into silence. It’s 7 a.m., I’m hungover, and all I can think of is food.

Ten minutes.

The waiter comes up carrying two metal trays. Sabeth’s smile vanishes and I get crankier as he passes and serves another table. A guy in a black suit devours his huevos con todo—scrambled eggs with everything: white cheese, slices of sausages, ham, corn. It should be me eating those.

I try to distract myself by telling Sabeth more history. That La Puerta Falsa opened in 1816, and has been run by the same family for seven or eight generations. It’s only half a block away from Bolivar Square, the center of Colombian power. The restaurant’s owners and patrons have witnessed some of the most distressing moments in our country’s recent history: the riots of El Bogotazo in 1948, and in 1986, the guerrilla group M-19’s attack on the Supreme Court building.

Back to silence.

Our gazes cross from time to time as we look around, absorbing the details of the place. The second floor, where we’re sitting, has four wooden tables. Thanks to a mirror that covers the entire wall on the opposite side of the room, we get a fair view of the ground level. There is a tiny kitchen shared by four cooks and a cashier area behind an open fridge with a variety of juices, cheeses, arequipe figs, and other sweet treats.

Twenty minutes.

Without enthusiasm, I answer Sabeth’s questions. Almojabanas are cheesy, UFO-shaped baked corn pastries. They seem plain but they are very filling. A tamal is made of corn dough mixed with rice and stuffed with vegetables, pork, and chicken. Then this pie is wrapped in bijao leaves and cooked. The hot chocolate comes with a slice of white cheese. People drown it in the mug and let it melt before drinking the cocoa.

It’s hot and the remains of Glenlivet in my blood react accordingly. I feel naïve for trusting in cinco minuticos. Three years living outside Colombia, and I’ve forgotten the basics. That cannot be good for my colombianidad. In my mind, I walk down the stairs and demand my breakfast. My shirt is stuck to my back. I feel like fainting.

When the tamal is finally set down in front of me and its seductive smell hits my nose, I am saved. With the first bite, the evil waiter and his accomplices in the kitchen are forgiven. They are angels.

Photo by: Elisabeth Brenker

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