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Breakfast

Eating the World Every Morning

Milk, Bread, Butter, Chocolate

Mar.22.16

Milk, Bread, Butter, Chocolate

by Marcia DeSanctis

Chocolat Toast in Bayonne

It was one of my more notable detours in a lifetime of impractical diversions on the road. Last summer, I took a long side trip on the way from Lourdes to the airport in Biarritz and stopped in Bayonne, a riverside city in the Pays Basque, just inland from the glittering beaches of the Atlantic coast. Good sense would have dictated that I fly out of Pau, which was much closer. Plus, I was not eager to pass through hordes of chi-chi vacationers inching through traffic on the Côte Basque, of which Biarritz was the de facto capital.

But this was no ordinary deviation, late as I was for the 8 pm flight to Paris. I could anticipate the regret, the what-ifs, the self-recriminations that were all but certain to cascade over me if, because of some foolish airplane reservation, I lost my chance to pull over for Chocolat Toast at Cazenave.

Every great food city has its emblematic dish: Singapore has chili crab, New Orleans has beignets, Brussels has moules frites. The singular aspect of Chocolat Toast, though, is that this signature, utterly Bayonnais concoction is served only at Cazenave, a family-owned shop on the rue Port Neuf.

It’s construction is simple: a cup of foamy hot chocolate as thick as Greek yogurt with a stalagmite of whipped cream on the side, two slices of buttered brioche toast and a generous pitcher of ice water (presumably to cut the blood fats swirling around after ingesting this achingly rich combination). Served at breakfast, at l’heure du thé, or right before closing time to post-miracle pilgrims from Lourdes craving the earth’s most glorious comfort food and who give no damns about missing their flight, the Chocolat Toast ritual is perhaps the sole obligation of the visitor to Bayonne. “People often stop here because it’s a tradition, which is both because of Cazenave itself and also because of the history of chocolate in Bayonne,” says owner Pantxoa Bimboire.

As his name indicates, he is a child of the Basque country, whose grandmother had been a waitress at the salon de thé in the rear of the chocolate shop and who, in 1930, convinced her husband to sell his jewelry store and buy Cazenave. Even then, a tray laden with Chocolat Toast was the iconic dish of this small city on the banks of the Nive and Adour Rivers, the ancestral home of the cocoa bean in France, which had journeyed there from Spain.

While he was decimating the local population, the Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortés saw economic value in the drink the Aztecs called xocolatl, which revved Emperor Montezuma’s troops for battle. Cortés appropriated Mexico’s cacao plantations, and in 1524, the first beans arrived in Spain. Soon the addition of sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon rendered sweet flavor to the medicinal liquid brew and the drink became all the rage throughout Europe’s royal courts.

But in Spain, the chocolate trade was run chiefly by Sephardic Jews, and during the Inquisition, they were forced to flee for Portugal. Again, they were swiftly expelled before finding refuge in the Saint-Esprit quarter of Bayonne, where they brought the tools and know-how of the cocoa trade to France. Soon, another ignoble chapter: In 1761, an ordinance created by Catholic chocolatiers barred Jews from working in the chocolate industry. The Bordeaux parliament annulled this decree in 1767 and by 1854, there were 34 chocolate makers in Bayonne. This is the year that Cazenave opened its doors in the storefront where it remains today.

The shop window is perhaps a testament to Pantxoa Bimboire’s heritage, with plaques of chocolate wrapped in elegant, gem-hued paper. Normally, I’d stop to swoon over the stylish packaging, but it was late that July afternoon, and I had two hours until my plane’s departure. I made my way through the store to the salon de thé. Lined with smoky, century-old mirrors, the tea-room is suffused with Belle Époque glamor, the kind unfortunate restaurateurs in the New World try, pathetically, to fake. To further the sensation of sitting in a jewel box, the room sits under a stained glass dome, milky white and gold, installed in the 19th century.

What is most unchanging is the dish I crave, nearly always, since my first visit to Bayonne thirty years ago. There is nothing terribly complicated about the recipe. Yes, the chocolate tablets from Costa Rica or Venezuela are now organic, but the hot milk poured over them are still from cows who pasture in the lush Pays Basque, as is the cream for the dense Chantilly. The brioche toast is sliced from a special golden loaf, created by a local baker only for Cazenave. Most unusually, the foam that provides a tantalizing lid to the sweet hot chocolate is still whipped by hand using a wooded mousseuse—beater—fashioned from boxwood. “It will always be the same, because this is the heritage of Bayonne,” says Bimboire, who will soon hand over the store to the fourth generation.

And, I learn, it is somehow my heritage, too. This summer day, in this tearoom, making a beeline for what will sustain me: milk, bread, butter, chocolate, comfort.

Breakfast in Kashmir is So Good, They Have it Twice

Sep.19.17

Breakfast in Kashmir is So Good, They Have it Twice

by Sophia Ann French

Czot in Kashmir

It was my first time on a houseboat and my first trip to Kashmir. Standing on the deck of the boat, I was excited to start working on my first film when Ajaz, the owner of the houseboat, brought me a cup of tea. It was the first time I tasted Kashmiri nun chai. We Indians love our chai with milk, sugar, and, at times, I add a dash of cardamom seeds to make a Mumbai-style masala chai, but nun chai wasn’t like any other tea I’ve had. It was pink, and salty. (It’s usually served with milk, but I had it without.) I took a reluctant sip and was surprised to enjoy the unusual flavor. Over the three months we spent in Kashmir, nun chai became a staple at every breakfast.

The union of bread with tea is an age-old tradition, and a Kashmiri breakfast pairs the savory tea with fresh-baked loaves from a kandar waz—these bakeries are found in every neighborhood across the valley and the bread is baked in a wood-fired, clay tandoor. On the first morning, Ajaz served us czot and lavasa. Czot is made by mixing refined white flour with water and kneading pieces of dough into thin rectangles. The kandar makes impressions on each piece with his fingertips before putting it into the oven, so the bread has ridges across the surface. I’d smear dollops of butter across its auburn crust and dunk it in nun chai. Lavasa is an unleavened flat bread with a blistery surface. I didn’t enjoy its stretchy texture when dipped in tea, so a Kashmiri colleague made me a delicious roll by stuffing the lavasa with barbecued meat and chickpeas.

The Kashmiris love their bread and chai so much they have it twice every morning. The film’s crew would leave for reconnaissance soon after breakfast, but I stayed back on the houseboat to interview the locals about militancy in Kashmir. The valley has been disputed territory between India and Pakistan for decades. Kashmiris who cross the border into Pakistan and return to India to fight are called militants. Ajaz, like many young Kashmiris, didn’t go the militant way, but is caught between the crossfire between the militants and the Indian army.

In the middle of his interview, Ajaz excused himself for a few minutes and returned with a tray of the pink tea and bakarkhani, a round bread that looks like puffed pastry. It’s brown and crispy on the outside with soft fluffy layers on the inside. I’d never seen this at breakfast, and Ajaz explained that the Kashmiris have specific breads for specific times. Bakarkhani and nun chai became part of our 10 a.m. ritual, when Ajaz and I ruminated over the differences between Kashmir’s past—when it was a center for Sufism and Shaivism—and its fraught present.

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.

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