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Breakfast

Eating the World Every Morning

Embracing Flaky, Turkish Pastries and Gluttony at Dawn

Jul.11.17

Embracing Flaky, Turkish Pastries and Gluttony at Dawn

by Harini Sriram

Burek in Cappadocia

A rogue wind swept past the street and left my teeth clattering. My hands were numb, and I couldn’t feel my feet. March in Cappadocia can be unforgiving, especially for someone from the plains of southern India. I was in dire need of a warm cup of coffee.

We had been up early that morning, hot-air ballooning. It was magical; we soared precariously over fairy chimneys against a gloomy dishwater sky that miraculously turned a tinge of fiery orange as the first rays of the sun strained its way in. Once we touched ground, we trudged through ankle-deep snow, and took a swig of the celebratory champagne on offer (it was, unfortunately, non-alcoholic), after which we ambled over to the neighboring town of Goreme for a leisurely walk.

It was 8 a.m. on a Sunday, and the town wasn’t ready for the drudgery of daily life yet, understandably. The streets were lined with pretty-looking bakeries and cafés, none of which had opened for the day. We’d almost given up hope, but then we stumbled upon a middle-aged bespectacled man who asked us if we’d like to have some breakfast, and pointed us towards M&M Café, around the bend of the road. The smell of freshly brewed coffee and baked items filled the air; the promise of a good breakfast.

It was here that I sank my teeth into the softest, most pillowy Su Boregi (water burek) stuffed with feta cheese. This deceptively simple dish has been compared to lasagna without the sauce, but it tastes nothing like that. It’s doughy, flaky, buttery, and it is layers upon layers of pure bliss. Burek is a phyllo pastry (made of yufka, a thin pastry sheet with flour, eggs, butter and salt), a savory pie, if you like, and there are several variations of it across Turkey and parts of western Asia. It’s a quintessential Anatolian dish that grew in popularity during the Ottoman period. The multi-layered burek whetted my appetite, and I was greedy for more. Another plate of burek, this time with chicken, was wiped clean in minutes.

Egged on by our unabashed enthusiasm for pastry, the friendly owner of the café—the bespectacled man we met earlier—urged us to try gozleme. Light, soft and airy, this Turkish flatbread (also made of yufka) had a thin filling of salty feta cheese and spinach—just enough to tease your palate, and nudge you to have another bite, and then another. And then there was the Turkish coffee I’d been craving. Thick, dark, hot, bitter, and unfiltered, it shook me out of the inevitable food coma. There was room for cake, I thought; there always is.

As we dug our fork into a giant slice of almond-pistachio cake at the warm, cozy café, we saw ourselves for what we truly were: gluttons.

If Nothing Else, This Experimental Utopia Has a Pretty Good Café

Sep.18.17

If Nothing Else, This Experimental Utopia Has a Pretty Good Café

by Ranjini Rao

Bagels in Auroville

With the blaze of the August sun in our eyes and yet a lightness to our step in Pondicherry, India’s beloved, dreamy beach town, and an erstwhile French colony, we set out for Auroville to have breakfast at the Auroville Bakery Café.

Our host—a dear friend who had grown up talking, breathing, and eating all things French in Pondy—had raved enough about it for us to want to sample the food there.

Auroville is an ambitious utopian living experiment, courtesy of the vision of philosopher-guru Sri Aurobindo and his colleague Mirra Alfassa, aka The Mother. Founded in 1968, it was designed as a village-for-all, governed by multicultural harmony, where people from all over the world are welcome.

The foundation for the bakery was laid by an Austrian banker, Otto, who moved to Auroville in the 80s and collaborated with bakers in the area for a while. The café in the back is a recent addition to the bakery, we were informed. The bakery was created by several eager hands, trying and testing recipes ranging from brioche to knackebrots to provide an excellent patisserie for Aurovilleans in the 90s.

The café’s newest crew—a German, a Ukrainian, a handful of Indians, and a couple of French nationals—came aboard in the 2000s, and decided to offer beverages, too. They started the café out small, with a few vibrant chairs and tables assembled under the trees in the backyard garden, but they were determined to serve big, satisfying breakfasts.

The menu was handwritten on an overused blackboard, and didn’t seem too exciting at first. But on closer inspection, we saw the items of which we’re sadly deprived in Bangalore: bagels with cheese, salads loaded with proteins, fresh fruit platters, wholewheat sandwiches with fresh cheese, quiches, tarts, croissants.

We ordered a bagel with cheese, a fresh fruit platter, and a grilled vegetable and cheese sandwich to share, plus juice, tea, and coffees.

The bread in the sandwich was a far cry from the supermarket variety to which we’re accustomed, which is softened and aerated with additives. This bread was crusty, substantial, with a nutty, earthy taste. The cheese was fresh, thick-cut, and refreshingly light on sourness and saltiness, unlike the aged cheeses sold outside, preserved with chemicals. It was a delicious morning.

A Delicious Breakfast Ruined by Reality

Sep.15.17

A Delicious Breakfast Ruined by Reality

by Corinne Redfern

Barbati in Bangladesh

It’s our third day of reporting in Jessore, and we’re starving. A tightly-bound team of four, we’re supposed to be covering child marriage—a weighty topic that’s reduced our sleep and raised our stress levels—and our stomachs are the ones suffering for it.

Somehow I’ve taken to subsisting on peanut butter scooped out of the jar with the end of a pen. The roadside café near our hotel doesn’t appeal—five men hover on the steps outside and stare. But our fixer is insistent: it’s time to find food. Plus it’s shaded, and there appears to be tea.

Female foreigners don’t come here often, we learn. The proprietor, Mahmoud, nervously knots and unknots the front of his navy-blue lunghi as we help ourselves to the pots of food: shoveling saucers full of rice onto wet stainless steel plates and drowning everything in heavily-spiced daal.

The food is good; hot and heavy. But it feels like we’re getting in the way. We push our chairs back to leave, and relief flushes Mahmoud’s face.

Less than 24 hours later and we’re back. It’s barely morning, but the day’s interviews are already going awry and we need to regroup. Today, Mahmoud is waiting. As we elbow our way to reach a space at the back, the 66-year-old stands beaming before producing a red plastic lunchbox from behind his back. A handmade paper bag follows; unwrapped to reveal eight flour-soft pathiri folded in four. Water is procured and ceremoniously poured.

He told his wife about us last night, Mahmoud explains, lunghi-knot intact as he checks the table arrangement one last time, and finally lifts the red plastic lid to reveal a hot, spiced pile of green beans and garlic. So she made us a breakfast of barbati, just in case we were still in town.

They were worried, he adds, in case yesterday’s food wasn’t good enough. That day, he hadn’t known we were coming. He hadn’t had time to prepare.
We try to send compliments back to the chef, but Mahmoud insists he could have cooked the barbati himself. It’s just a matter of heating salt, garlic, turmeric and onions, dicing potato and chopping up yard-long beans; stirring the ingredients with water until they soften and the spices find their way under the skins.

After all, he should know. He’d taught his wife the recipe himself two decades earlier, although she’s improved on it since, and won’t tell him what’s changed. How old was she when you married her, we ask, mouths full and distracted. It’s only as our breakfast digests that it dawns on us he answered “ten.”

Photo by: Rds26/Wikipedia Commons

Battle Lines Drawn in Philly’s Cookie Wars

Sep.14.17

Battle Lines Drawn in Philly’s Cookie Wars

by Gina Zammit

Spiced Wafers in Philadelphia

Like jack-o’-lanterns on Halloween, another black-and-orange tradition arrives each fall in Philadelphia. Spiced wafers from two dueling companies, Ivins and Sweetzels, appear on store shelves in late August.

These curious cookies have rabid local fans, outselling even Oreos throughout their autumn reign. But, come the first signs of peppermint sticks and jolly Saint Nick, which, sadly, increasingly encroaches on the fall season, just as mysteriously as they arrived, they disappear.

Spiced wafers are best compared to ginger snaps, although there are distinct differences. Containing a mix of autumnal spices including ginger, cinnamon, allspice, molasses, and cloves, these tough cookies have a more complex flavor than traditional ginger snaps. The wafers are baked three times longer than most cookie varieties, achieving a hard, but not rock-solid, texture, “born to be dunked.” They are best served alongside another fall favorite, apple cider (preferably from the local Bauman’s Cider Company), with a cold glass of milk, or spicy tea.

Although the cookies are confined to the greater Philly area, including parts of southern New Jersey, there is a fierce rivalry between the brands’ devotees. Sweetzels supporters favor the less spicy, sweeter version, while Ivins fans prefer the longer-lasting kick of allspice, and a cookie lighter on the molasses. But despite their loyal followings, the cookies’ origins are somewhat mysterious.

Sweetzels’ website proudly proclaims that “The Old Black & Orange Magic is Back!” and a “Philadelphia original since 1910!” Sweetzels were originally produced by the Tritzel Baking Company, which was based in the Philly suburb of Landsdale. Along with the cookies (Sweetzels), the company also manufactured potato chips (Chipzels) and Pretzels. Eventually, the company shuttered in 1965, was bought by the Borzillo family, and is now located in Nooristown in Montgomery County.

However, tracking down information on Ivins proved to be more challenging, so I went directly to the source. Danielle D’Elia, Communications & Government Relations Manager for the supermarket chain, Acme Markets, and Nina Borzillo, daughter of Sweetzels owner Robert D. Borzillo, both helped enlighten me.

Public information about Ivins is a little harder to discover, because it’s a proprietary brand of Acme Markets. But it didn’t start out that way.

According to Acme’s company records, Ivins Baking Company was originally located on Broad Street in Philadelphia. They sold their “penny cookies” at Acme Markets for a number of years, until the company closed its doors sometime around the 1960s. Acme Markets quickly swooped in on that opportunity and purchased both the company name and the recipe. Although the spiced wafers are no longer produced in Pennsylvania, they’re sold today at all 178 Acme locations and remain unchanged from the original recipe. (Sweetzels, on the other hand, are sold at most other stores, but not at Acme Markets.)

The wafers are rumored to have come from a German ginger-snap recipe, modified to its current version during the colonial era. Now, they are the essence of autumn in Philadelphia and a staple at tailgating events. Or, as Nina Borzillo prefers, with morning coffee.

Where Eating Only Two Rounds of Breakfast is the Height of Rudeness

Sep.12.17

Where Eating Only Two Rounds of Breakfast is the Height of Rudeness

by Joanna Lobo

Ghee roast dosa in Chembur

I am at a table with three strangers. We don’t talk; our mouths are busy shoveling down idlis, wadas, and upma. The only sounds we make come from the cracking of a crisp dosa, and the slurp of hot filter coffee.

A waiter hovers, ready to refill our bowls with ladles of fragrant sambhar. The thin and tangy vegetable stew coats the idlis (steamed lentil rice cakes) on my plate, giving them an orange tint. In another bowl, the soup-like rasam, made with tamarind juice, tomato, chilies, and spices, soaks through the medu wada (crisp fritters made with urad dal), softening them up. I wipe both dishes clean, resisting the urge to lick my fingers.

In Mumbai, there’s cheap and then there’s “lunch home” cheap. Mani’s Lunch Home, or Mani’s, falls in the latter category. Nothing on their menu costs over 150 rupees. The 80-year-old institution serves simple, homely, vegetarian South Indian food. Last year, it shut down its Matunga outlet and moved to the eastern suburbs of Chembur.

I visit the new digs for a late breakfast. It takes time getting used to the white walls, metal chairs, and air-conditioned interiors. The old Mani’s felt like a friend’s dining room, warm and inviting. Here, under the glare of white lights, the four of us sharing a table are extremely conscious of each other. We sit properly, without fidgeting. But once our orders arrive, all propriety is forgotten, and we dig in.

My ghee roast dosa is paper thin and crumbles as I break into it, revealing a mound of masala (boiled potatoes with onion and tempered with mustard and curry leaves). In between bites, I pour the filter coffee from the stainless steel tumbler into the cup, cool it, and take small sips. It is milky and sweet enough to jolt me awake.

Eating at a lunch home is a lesson in portion control. I barely wipe the last drop of sambhar from the plate, when a hand materializes out of nowhere and fills it up. After two rounds, I feebly wave the waiter away. He is understandably surprised. Whoever says no to extra, and free, servings?

By now, I’m regretting all the food I’ve ordered. I can’t finish it all. My fellow diners have finished up, paid and left. They know their limits. They also know that you don’t waste time at a lunch home; you eat as quickly as you can and leave, making way for other hungry diners.

As I pay the bill, the owner, K.S. Narayanaswamy, walks over for feedback. I am full of praise, but he isn’t convinced. He saw me wave away extra helpings. “You didn’t finish your paper dosa,” he says, accusingly. I sheepishly apologize, promising to return and do justice to everything I order.

Flour Water: Delicious or Not So Much?

Sep.11.17

Flour Water: Delicious or Not So Much?

by Anuj Juna

Sattu in Calcutta

The Calcutta air is still cool in the early mornings; summer is a few weeks away. The morning walkers are beginning to gather around their favorite stall, waiting for freshly fried kachoris (bread) and aloo sabji (potato curry). Their banter is fun and loud, old friends sipping sweetened tea from cups made of earth.

But this is not what I am after. Not right now.

I am looking for a glass of sattu, or roasted gram flour mixed with water and churned into this delicious concoction that fills my stomach and cools my mind. Extremely popular in the eastern state of Bihar, sattu must have wound its way through the city’s migrant population.

I don’t have to look too hard to find the sattu man. In this city, my heart’s desires are almost always fulfilled.

Often potbellied, the sattu man is usually found at the intersection of tiny lanes, standing or sitting next to a stall covered with light brown sattu. The sattu itself comes either loose or in plastic, branded packets. The choice is yours, and once you make it, all you do is stand back and watch.

It’s worth watching. The sattu is measured on a balancing scale, and then slid into this metal churning pot. Next comes the water from an earthen pot; one glass of water, then a little more. And then the man will churn, and churn, adding some salt, cut green chillies, and diced onions into the pot. If you are lucky, you will also get a dollop of green chutney and some freshly squeezed lime.

When he feels it is ready, he pours me a glass, and I take a sip, or two, of the brown, powdery drink. I feel the bite of the onion and the chilies floating on the surface, and that subtle tang of lime. The sattu itself tastes, well, a bit dry, and slightly sour.

I take another sip, feeling the sattu rush to my belly, filling it, cooling it. I pause and take a look around.

A rickshaw-puller will join me soon, an old customer who knows what he wants. Nearby two old men on an old wooden bench continue to smoke their cigarettes and share a newspaper. On the other side of the road, the bread omelet shops begin to sizzle as the bright yellow taxis fill up the city’s streets.

I’m almost done now; there is still some sattu remaining at the bottom of my glass. I stick my glass out, and the sattu man dips into the earthen pot, and pours a little water into my glass. I twirl my glass, watch it swirl, and then gulp it down.

The air is no longer cool, and the sun no longer friendly. Soon, I will be sweating in the warm, humid air. But right now, I don’t care.

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