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Breakfast

Eating the World Every Morning

Insert Your Own Joke Here About Cops and Pork Products, Thanks

Sep.20.16

Insert Your Own Joke Here About Cops and Pork Products, Thanks

by Brent Crane

Noodle Soup in Chiang Mai

For reasons unclear, I departed from my guesthouse to visit Wat Umong forest temple without first eating breakfast, which is always a poor decision. For me, breakfast is fuel, and there I was, running out on empty.

Wat Umong is a 700-year-old temple complex at the base of the Doi Suthep mountain, the 5,500-foot peak that towers over Thailand’s second city. To get there I had to circumnavigate the 17th-century wall around the Old Town, and then head up a number of busy roads on my moped. But an empty stomach always leads to a weak mind and I fudged the directions. I took a turn too early and ended up on a traffic-heavy street. That was only the beginning of my troubles. Driving slowly, I noticed a roadblock ahead with traffic police and a number of bemused looking Japanese tourists standing by a motorbike. I tried to act casual as I passed, but a cop whistled and gestured me in.

I pulled up and before I could say, “What seems to be the problem, officer?” he said, “License.” He wore an egg-white helmet with white gloves and a maroon sash across his chest. His uniform looked royal.

“I don’t have one,” I said.

“You need.” He reached down and twisted the key on my bike, shutting off the engine. He walked away and soon came back with a thick notepad. He opened it and displayed it to me. A litany of offenses were listed in English and Chinese: driving without a helmet, driving with too many passengers, driving while intoxicated. With his gloved finger, he pointed at mine: driving without a license. Next to it was the fine, 500 baht, or about $14. I handed it over.

“You can drive. One day,” he said. “Go!”

I buzzed off. I rode down the highway for a while and took an exit towards the mountains. There was a dingy eatery on the side of the road and I stopped there for a bowl of noodle soup. The soup came with chunks of white pork, fried garlic, thin egg noodles, green onion, fish balls and crispy bits of fried pork skin, which I decided should accompany every bowl of noodle soup anywhere. The chef wore a funny white hat, and her smiling hospitality warmed me after my chilly encounter.

Disregard the Ghastly Color and Lumpy Texture And This Porridge Is Actually Quite Good

Jul.20.17

Disregard the Ghastly Color and Lumpy Texture And This Porridge Is Actually Quite Good

by Josh Freedman

Youcha Tang in Meitan

Meitan County, in southern China’s Guizhou province, is obsessed with tea. At the center of the county seat, on the peak of a hill named Fire Mountain, sits a 240-foot-tall building shaped like a teapot. Another township features a series of undulating tea fields called the “Sea of Tea,” named after an impromptu utterance by former president Hu Jintao. The character for tea adorns unassuming housing blocks and grand entryways alike, and even the streetlights overlooking the county’s recently paved extra-wide highways are shaped like tea leaves. Places in China often compete to be number one for something, and Meitan has crowned itself the undisputed number one place for tea in Guizhou.

You don’t need to drink tea with breakfast in Meitan, because you can get tea in your breakfast. Youcha tang, or oil tea soup, is a thick porridge made with tea leaves, sticky rice, peanuts, and lard. The ghastly grayish-green color and lumpy, viscous texture are misleading: adorned with fried dough twists and crispy millet, oil tea soup has a pleasant, slightly salty taste. Each variation of oil tea soup has different ingredients, but when I press for more specifics about what is in the bowl I am eating, I am simply told, “A lot of things.”

In Meitan, oil tea soup has earned the moniker “vitality soup.” “If you eat a bowl of oil tea soup in the morning, you’ll have vitality all day,” explains Bacon, my tour guide-turned-best friend who, like nearly everyone I meet in Meitan, takes hospitality to unparalleled heights. The origins of oil tea soup are murky, but local lore traces it back more than a century and a half, to the food that helped re-energize rebel forces fighting against the Qing dynasty army. The thick porridge is about as efficient as caloric intake gets, and it tastes pretty good, too.

Much of the rest of the tea obsession in Meitan, in which any possible item can be turned into an oversized monument to tea, is new. A decade ago, a friend explains, there was still plenty of tea in Meitan—it just wasn’t a big deal. Policymakers hope that combining tea and tourism can drive economic growth in what remains one of the least developed parts of the country.

The newfound overabundance of tea symbolism has succeeded in drawing people like me, strangely fascinated by giant teapot buildings, to Meitan. But something feels off about the extent to which tea has metastasized in Meitan. Similar to brand-new “ancient” towns sprouting up all over China, the single-minded obsession with tea feels forced: the need to make a place “about something” threatens to overshadow the essence of the place itself.

A dish like oil tea soup dispels any doubts about Meitan. It is the most utilitarian food imaginable, eaten by farmers and office workers alike. High-grade tea can be outrageously expensive, but a hearty bowl of oil tea soup remains less than a dollar. It, rather than the world’s largest teapot, would be a better choice to represent the people and places in Meitan: humble, nourishing, and surprisingly delightful.

The Misfit Breakfast of Vietnam

Jul.19.17

The Misfit Breakfast of Vietnam

by Sean Campbell

Beef stew in Ho Chi Minh City

My t-shirt is every bit as moist as the fatty chunks of beef and carrot floating in the deep red broth. I’m not in the least bit worried about the perspiration, or the splashes of broth on my shoes, or the way I’ve got the bowl tipped up to my face as I emit pleasured grunts.

Some of the meat melts in the mouth and some stiffens the jaw with its rubberiness—that’ll be the tendon, I guess.

Like a lot of Vietnamese soups, the magic is in the broth. Star anise, curry paste, pepper, cumin, chopped onion, chive, and the national condiment, fish sauce, are just a part of what makes up a criminally under-celebrated dish.

Lighten the brawn with chili, hoisin, lemongrass, hefty squeezes of lime, and a bunch of cilantro, basil, and ngo om (rice paddy herb) and you’ve got yourself a most complex flavor. Order a baguette on the side to dunk and mop up, and you’re onto a winner.

Vietnamese beef stew, or bò kho, doesn’t seem to fit in around here. The words heavy, hearty and earthy aren’t really words we’d associate with Vietnamese eating. This is a land famed not only for phở, but for the light sweetness of bún chả and crispy, fresh gỏi cuốn among others.

Its inner workings are about as complex as its disputed history. Some say it’s a colonially influenced take on beef bourguignon, while others suggest it’s nothing more than the pell-mell product of ingredients traded on the spice route.

In a country famed for zesty, sharp dishes, this is the heavyweight cousin. Right at the bottom of the bowl is where the most magic happens. The contradiction of flavor at the top, where one side might give you aniseed, onion on the other, coexists in perfect harmony at the bottom, a euphoric cross section of tastes begging to be smeared onto the crispy baguette.

It’s no easy task getting there, though. The piping hot bowl and the fragrance has your nose streaming and your tongue burning; I’ve eaten it under the baking sun and I’m certain that I weighed less after eating than before, so fair warning—get it early in the morning or late at night.

Bò kho might not be the most popular breakfast here, but I’ve never met a soul who claimed to dislike it. When I eventually return home to Ireland, I’m going to open up a food cart selling Vietnamese beef stew to morning commuters on cold winter mornings, and you know what? I reckon I’ll make a killing. So here’s to misfit breakfasts.

This Australian Breakfast Is “Like Sucking Mucus Out of a Corpse” AND IT’S NOT EVEN VEGEMITE

Jul.18.17

This Australian Breakfast Is “Like Sucking Mucus Out of a Corpse” AND IT’S NOT EVEN VEGEMITE

by Steele Rudd

Weet-Bix in Sydney

I have vague memories of an ad campaign that ran during the lead-up to the Sydney Olympics. Buffed and toothy athletes in their green-and-gold tracksuits stood, backdropped by an Australian flag, talking about how many Weet-Bix they ate each morning.

“Five,” bragged the sprinter. “Eleven,” growled the weightlifter. “Three,” chirped the pole vaulter.

I can’t be certain whether that’s an accurate memory or not, but I know that a variation of that campaign has been running more or less ever since. Weet-Bix stands for nutrition and nationalism, and they won’t let you forget it. It’s “Australia’s No. 1 Breakfast Cereal”; it’s the “Official Breakfast of the Socceroos” and the “Official Breakfast of the Australian Cricket Team.” Rather immodestly, it’s also the “Breakfast of Champions.”

But Weet-Bix are bloody awful. In case the name didn’t give it away, they’re wheat biscuits: even the most charitably-minded would struggle to describe them as anything other than “edible.” I’m not convinced they’re even particularly nutritious, although they do boast of being a great source of fiber. So is cardboard.

I think even the manufacturers of Weet-Bix have realized this problem, because when I get to the supermarket to pick some up—for the first time in decades—there’s an abundance of alternatives under the same brand. There’s a gluten-free option (sorghum, for the curious). There’s an organic option. There’s Weet-Bix for kids; half a dozen flavors of Weet-Bix drinks; Weet-Bix Bites and Blends and Minis. It’s all a bit too bright-lights-big-city for me.

Bugger this, I think to myself, and go next door to the Aldi. They’ve got a generic version that’s a perfect simulacrum of the Weet-Bix I remember. Plain, unassuming, shredded wheat oblongs in a box with the Southern Cross proudly spackled across it. It’s even got the official Made in Australia logo in the corner, so you know it must be good.

At home, I dump three of my ersatz-biscuits in a bowl, pour some milk over them and wait for them to soak it up. Some people like theirs crunchy, but I prefer my breakfasts mushy and unthreatening. While I wait I ponder the reasoning behind all the flag-waving on the box.

The original Weet-Bix are made by a company called Sanitarium. Like Kellogg’s, Sanitarium was founded on Seventh Day Adventist beliefs that vegetarianism, circumcision, and enemas light the path to righteousness.

Unlike Kellogg’s, however, Sanitarium is still wholly owned by the Adventists—although as noted their advertising leans more on the nutrition and nationalism, less on the circumcision and enemas. They claim to have invented the idea of shredded wheat biscuits right here in Sydney. It’s a fair call, although hardly one to swell your breast with patriotic pride; and with some variety of the cereal now available in most of the world it’s no longer the case that shredded wheat is a unique and defining aspect of the Australian psyche.

When my gruel’s nice and ready, I take a few bites. It’s cold and oleaginous, like sucking the mucus out of a corpse. I chop up a banana into it and wish I’d bought oats instead.

If You’re Stuck With Bad Weather Might As Well Eat Something Deep Fried

Jul.17.17

If You’re Stuck With Bad Weather Might As Well Eat Something Deep Fried

by Revati Upadhya

Buns in Bangalore

I only need to shut my eyes for a brief moment, and I can almost taste the hot morsel of crispy flatbread cradling the spicy, glossy gravy of chickpeas, and I am transported to the little tea house in Panjim, where I first tasted the Goan breakfast my friends had been telling me so much about.

There’s no better time than during drizzling and overcast skies to indulge in deep-fried goodness of any kind. And in Goa, I was introduced to a particular type of buns. A round, flat, mildly sweetened bread, fried in a large hot wok of oil until only slightly puffy, dotted sparsely with a hint of cumin. Crisp (but not crunchy) on the outside, puffy on the inside.

One morning, it was pouring, the rain coming down in sheets, and we ducked into the little teahouse. Inside, the air was warm from the sheer number of bodies gathered for their breakfast of snacks and tea.

It was a grey week in the beginning of June, and the monsoon had been threatening to hit for a few days, and it was the first time I tasted the dish that assuaged some part of my craving for a breakfast from back home. In the years that followed, buns and bhaji (the spicy gravy) became my go-to comfort food.

There’s something about the delicate balance between the subtle sweetness of the bun and the richly flavored curry it typically accompanies. Whether it was the mixed vegetable curry, or the slightly indulgent chickpea variant, or black-eyed peas, or the simplest of them all, made with sliced and wilted onions and tomatoes, the gravy always packed a punch. Runny, but slightly textured thanks to a ground base made from coconut and whole spices, it is the perfect accompaniment to the bun, in form and in function.

Last week, my Facebook feed was filled to the gills with gushing updates about the monsoon that had just hit Goa. As I scrolled through it, sitting at home in the city I have now moved to, I was filled with the inexplicable urge to immediately find my way to the tea-house where I’d breakfast at least once a week, but especially so when the monsoon first struck.

The smell of the wet earth following the first rains will forever stir up an intense craving for some fried buns.

Since the teahouse is now about 500+ miles away, I did the next best thing. Replicated it in my kitchen, while the rain came down in a feathery drizzle, as people call it in Bangalore. All this, so I could dig my teeth into a puffy bun, the steam escaping through my lips, and chase it with a cup of sweet milky tea.

Chicken Soup: The Cure for Traveling Man Flu?

Jul.14.17

Chicken Soup: The Cure for Traveling Man Flu?

by Dave Hazzan

Chicken soup in Hamburg

Are all canned chicken soups created equal?

That was my question as I pried open a can of “Meine Hühner Bouillon” at 9:00 a.m. at our guesthouse in Hamburg.

I’m not a huge canned soup fan; who is? There’s nothing glamorous about plopping a dented aluminum can of concentrated meat and vegetables into a saucepan and heating it, stirring occasionally as the puddles of oil concentrate on the top, reflecting the kitchen lights in all sorts of psychedelic patterns. Then you eat it and grimace through more salt than was used to preserve the rations on all of Captain Cook’s voyages.

But then there is a cachet to the canned soup, no? Andy Warhol didn’t make great pyramids out of fresh soup from mother’s kitchen. It represents an age when love of convenience and ignorance of nutrition intersected, to produce an adequate, if not yummy, lunch in five minutes. What North American hasn’t once pined for a tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwich meal on a rainy day? Hell, you don’t even need to have ever eaten it before–the image has been ingrained in us enough by culture.

And of course, chicken soup keeps you warm and comfortable: that’s why you can commission a series of books called “Chicken Soup for the ____ Soul” and walk off with so many billions, you won’t ever need to eat canned soup again.

Chicken soup the world over is also meant to be a cure for illness. My own people call it “Jewish penicillin.”

By the time our train pulled into Hamburg, I felt decidedly unwell. By nightfall, I realized I was in the middle of a seriously unpleasant bout of flu: sour stomach, headaches, fever, alternating sweats and chills, and muscle pain throughout my body. Beatles-platz, St. Michael’s Cathedral, and St. Pauli were going to have to wait for this break-bone nastiness to pass.

My wife picked up a can of what we both felt looked like chicken soup at the grocery store. By the time we heated it for the next day’s breakfast, all the signs indicated it was. There was a chicken broth, cut carrots, little chunks of chicken, and big balls of what look like some lame goyish excuse for matzo balls, but I think were a chicken by-product, processed from the feet, bones, and beak of the poor, feathered beast.

It didn’t cure anything, but it was ingestible and digestible in my weakened state. At the end of it, as my wife did the dishes—usually my job, like the shopping—she remarked, “I think Big Pharma is suppressing the cure for Man Flu, to try and keep women serving whiny men.”

Photo by: Jo Turner

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