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Breakfast

Eating the World Every Morning

Nothing Says Success Like a Floor Covered in Trash

Oct.26.15

Nothing Says Success Like a Floor Covered in Trash

by Barbara Adam

Bún chả in Ho Chi Minh City

Bún chả is a Hanoi specialty that’s become our family’s politically incorrect Sunday breakfast treat in Ho Chi Minh City. While the ill-will between Vietnam’s north and south isn’t as strong as it was in the past, there’s still distrust. Southerners regard Northerners as arrogant and proud, while Northerners think people from the South are uncouth and uncultured.

And then there’s the food.

Many Southern Vietnamese consider dishes from the country’s northern capital of Hanoi bland and uninspiring. My father-in-law certainly wasn’t happy with his breakfast when we took him to our local bún chả joint.

“Bún chả,” he kept muttering in distain as he ate, pausing only to add more pickled chilli to his bowl. Although he lives in the south now, he is from the former capital of Hue, on the banks of the Perfume River in Central Vietnam, where the food is famously spicy.

Like other interactive Vietnamese dishes, bún chả can be enhanced with fresh or pickled chilli and garlic. A range of condiments sit on the center of the table, so each diner can prepare their bowl to suit their individual preference for the level of heat and garlic.

A phần (portion) of bún chả consists of a plate of jiggly bún rice noodles, a basket of herbs, and the pièce de résistance, a bowl of barbecued pork patties and strips bobbing about in a warm, salty-sweet, fish sauce-y soup with carrot and papaya slices. We usually order a side of chả giò, pork and mushroom fried spring rolls.

The owner of our local joint, Ms. Bich (pronounced Bit), is from Hanoi, where the spring rolls are called nem. Because she’s selling to Southerners, she uses the local lingo, chả giò, for her delicious fried parcels. Her Hanoi accent, however, means she calls them “cha-zor” rather than “cha-yor,” as the Saigonese say.

Ms. Bich’s chả giò are delivered sizzling-hot, often with the glorious innards bursting out of the golden-brown skin. My favorite part of our weekend bún chả breakfast are the chả, the sweet, succulent pork patties. I usually order a chả-only portion, not wanting to bother with the fatty strips of barbecued pork.

A bún chả meal should be a balance of ying and yang, fried and fresh, sweet and savory. It’s considered a healthy dish because of the abundance of “vegetables” eaten with the noodles and pork: Asian basil, perilla, spirals of morning glory, lemon balm, bean sprouts, and pieces of bright green leaf lettuce.

Some bún chả places serve whole lettuce leaves, which can be used as wrappers to make a cigar-sized roll of pork, noodles and herbs. At our local bún chả place, however, the various components of the dish are assembled in a small rice bowl. A meal consists of several bowls, washed down with green tea.

Our place is breakfast-only. Arrive too late and Ms. Bich will waggle her hands and announce hết rồi (finished already) in her Hanoi accent that makes it sound like “het-zoi.”Arrive on time, and you’ll pass through a cloud of barbecue pork-scented smoke, billowing from the tiny brazier at the front. “Our” table is at the back of the open-air shed-like structure, at the tiny metal folding table that’s right under the fan.

Eating bún chả with our kids is a much more interactive experience than your average bún chả meal. Our six-year-old likes to play with Ms. Bich’s daughter, so keeping her at the table to eat can be difficult. Our two-year-old, meanwhile, enjoys chasing Ms. Bich’s cats, lurching into the small rooms that serve as the family’s private residence at the back of the restaurant.

When not cat-chasing, the baby likes to decant tea from the small metal teapot into the shot glasses on the table, a very messy exercise that often ends in tears (his) and tea-stained pants (mine). When he’s full, he’ll spit out a masticated mouthful of meatball and noodles. We kick this disgustingness under the table for the cats to eat later, when they’ve recovered from the indignity of being pursued.

At the end of a shift the discarded napkins and wayward pieces of food will be swept up. But when service is in full swing, only the cats and dogs notice the trash under the tables. In Vietnam, an eating place with a well-rubbished floor—and sleek pets—are a sign of a successful business.

I Tried This Australian Croissant-Muffin Hybrid So You Don’t Have To

Mar.22.17

I Tried This Australian Croissant-Muffin Hybrid So You Don’t Have To

by Thei Zervaki

Cruffin in Melbourne

It’s nearly 9:30 a.m. in Melbourne on a Wednesday morning. I get off a tram and turn into a side street in the hip neighborhood of Fitzroy. I follow the Google Map directions that will hopefully take me to my destination. My destination is Lune Croissanterie, the birthplace of the cruffin—the croissant-muffin hybrid.

I am not a pastry aficionado. I prefer salty snacks and savory dishes. But it was my first time in Australia and I wanted to explore and try everything that I couldn’t get in North America. The cruffin can be found in a quite a few pastry shops in the U.S., but I consider visiting its birthplace part of my duty. (The term “cruffin” was first trademarked by a Delaware company in 1993, but it seems they never actually produced one.)

After a few minutes of walking, I arrive. They say the line at Lune starts to form two hours before it opens (at 7:30 a.m.) during the week, and that the pastries sell out before closing time at 3 p.m. Today, there is only a short line of no more than ten people ahead of me.

Lune Croissanterie is housed in a huge converted warehouse space that looks like a luxurious factory. While I wait, I look at the center of the building—a giant glass cube (which I later learn is called simply the “Cube”) that forms the climate-controlled working space where croissants, kougn-ammans, and cruffins are made.

The line moves quickly, and I am almost ready to order. When I ask for a cruffin, I’m told that there is only one left: the Lemon Curd. Naturally, I take it. The lady behind me orders “one of each of everything left”. I grab a bench spot.

Made with house-made lemon curd, citrus sugar, and candied lemon zest, it is soft to the touch and wonderfully fragrant. I cut into the middle to taste the croissant part, which is densely layered. The lemon curd’s tartness is refreshing and reduces the sweetness of the dough.

I regret not ordering the plain croissant to compare, but of the two, the cruffin seems the more delicate. I cheer the Australians for this fantastic culinary invention.

The Best Part of Waking Up Is a Boiling Sheep Carcass

Mar.21.17

The Best Part of Waking Up Is a Boiling Sheep Carcass

by Emma Pomfret

Kaleh pacheh in Tehran

The smell wakes you up first; an acrid alarm call of boiling sheep carcass, catching the back of the throat with more kick than a triple espresso. Iran’s heartiest breakfast, kaleh pacheh—sheep’s heads and hooves—is being served at Tehran’s Bare Sefid, a stripped-back joint of wipe-down tables and tiled walls. Its logo is a prancing lamb.

We are straight off the plane from London and at 7 a.m., this is some education in Persian cuisine. Our guide had gleefully suggested a traditional Iranian breakfast. We imagined bread, cheese, carrot jam, and fresh tea. There is too much shame in backing out now.

At least we can choose the bits we want: cheek, tongue, eyeballs, brain. Everything is doused in ladles of broth and an optional slosh of fat, skimmed from the pot. No wonder Iran’s doctors warn of kaleh pacheh’s cholesterol content. Bare Sefid is pretty low key; one man removes the meat from the carcasses, simmered overnight or for five hours at the very least. Another is on broth duty, hypnotically drenching the cooked heads and each dish before it goes to the customer.

The meat arrives on plates to pick over. Tongue is firm and close-textured; the cheek delicate, shredding under a spoon like an hours-long stew should. Bowls of golden broth come with brain—gelatinous, creamy blobs—floating in the clear stock. Other customers drift in and some order a whole brain, the size of a child’s fist, wobbling on the plate, its surface shiny and with that familiar maze-like, walnut appearance.

I mash the brainy blobs into my broth. Brain is unmistakable in the mouth: mushy, offaly, nutrient-rich. Too much. I tear up the accompanying lavash flatbread and pile it into the broth with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Yes, that works; wholesome and rejuvenating.

In her terrific book, Persia in Peckham, Sally Butcher cites heads and hooves as a hangover cure (yes, even in Iran), and as a “great treat for the family.” However, it is unlikely I’ll follow her recipe for recreating this dish at home.

Yet this is the best start to our Persian adventure. Eating kaleh pacheh becomes a badge of honor as we travel through Iran, sharing our impressions of the country with curious locals. My other half is playing a tennis tournament while we’re here, and news of his pre-match preparation sweeps through the opposition like Roger Federer’s backhand. Who is this bold British cat? Then he wins the tournament.

While buttery, saffrony rice unites the nation, it becomes clear that kaleh pacheh divides; Iranian men swear by it, beating their chests in appreciation. Women are less convinced. A mother tells me she served it to her teenage daughters for its super-food quantities of collagen. They didn’t ask for seconds. And neither will I. Pass the pomegranate juice.

The Serious Business of Breakfast in Northern Italy

Mar.17.17

The Serious Business of Breakfast in Northern Italy

by Rachael Martin

Cappucino in Brianza

It’s 8:30 a.m. in the northern Italian village, and the café is in full swing. The businessmen and bank managers are there in their suits, having a quick caffè, as they call the espresso round here. They stand at the bar, against its glass cases filled with every type of brioche and croissant. They chat opposite shiny polished coffee machines where smartly uniformed staff prepare caffé, caffé lattes, and marocchino, coffees in chic little glasses.

But the cappuccino is the star of the show. Cappuccino, that unassuming coffee copied all over the world, smooth and light in a simple white cup. (But never order it after 11 a.m.) Cappuccino e brioche is the staple breakfast of northern Italy.

It’s the weekly market day and locals from the village gather in the bar. Old ladies fresh from morning mass in pearls and dark woolen coats sit around one of the tables, women who were once busy with grandchildren, but the grandchildren are grown now. They talk together in a mixture of Italian and local dialect about daughters, grandchildren, people they know. And did you hear about Francesca, what a terrible life she’s had, and now this?

The tables fill up, mostly with women. Women who have come from school drop-offs, women who no longer do the drop-off, women in black coats and black sunglasses with designer handbags. They prefer the longer breakfast, spreading it out until past mid-morning.

It’s mid-morning now, and the staff are clearing away what remains of the brioches and preparing for the pre-lunch aperitivo. A few retired husbands have come to join their wives at the tables, back from a walk through the market and a look around its stalls with the fresh ricottas and salamis brought down from the hillside farms.

Mothers are starting to come in from the market. They queue up at the deli above glass-cased pasticcini, cannoncini—small tarts topped with strawberries, raspberries, kiwi, and grapes—next to sticky, rum-flavored babas. There are biscuits, chocolate, butter, almond, two-tone beige and chocolate swirls, and a tray of pastel-colored macaroons. And then there are the cakes: tarts with jam, tarts with fresh fruit, chocolate cakes, apple cake, various forms of cream cakes, all with fluted edges.

These are the mothers who buy pizza and focaccia and bread for hungry children who will soon be home for lunch from school. These are the mothers who rush around in lives they never quite envisaged, just like their mothers before them. They stop at the bar for a quick caffè, then say goodbye to their friends and go off back into their lives.

Everything You Wanted to Know About Millet But Were Afraid to Ask

Mar.16.17

Everything You Wanted to Know About Millet But Were Afraid to Ask

by Shirin Mehrotra

Ponkh in Surat

It’s a bit past the breakfast hour as I hitchhike to Surat’s most famous winter market. Near Swami Narayan Mandir, a short trek away from the main road, under the Sardar Bridge, lies the processing unit of Surat’s limited edition crop of ponkh, also known as tender jowar—one of the six species of sorghum found in the country.

One side of the market is lined with shops selling ponkh fritters while the other side has wholesalers selling the roasted and the dried version. Ponkh is Surat’s winter crop. It’s grown mostly in Hazira, a port town bounded by the Tapti delta and the Arabian Sea. After harvesting, the crop is brought to the market, where it’s roasted, packed, and sold. A big chunk of it goes to stores in Mumbai, while some heads to famous Gujarati restaurants.

I had my first encounter with this pearl-like millet sometime last year at The Bombay Canteen, a Mumbai restaurant that celebrates local and indigenous produce. It piqued my curiosity, and a year later I was standing in the city where the millet originated.

The roasting process is a treat for the eyes and the ears. Bushels of fresh millet are first roasted under coals and ash, then wrapped in a coarse cloth for pounding. The pounding is soft and rhythmic, on the beats of Gujarati music blasting from the speakers. It’s a visual experience. Families from tribal areas in Maharashtra come to the city every year to work at the processing unit. Men take care of the roasting and pounding, while women do the cleaning and packing of the final product.

After soaking in the experience for a while, I head to the shop to get some packed ponkh for home. There’s a sun-dried version too, which is easier to carry and can be stored for longer periods. But the earthy sweetness of fresh millet, enhanced by roasting, is unbeatable. The ideal way to eat it is with sev—a deep-fried savory snack made of chickpea flour—and smothered in green chutney. Farms in Gujarat and Maharashtra have winter picnics or hurda parties (hurda is the Maharashtrian name for ponkh) where they roast it on the spot and eat it with flavored sev, green garlic, and a spritz of lime and chutneys.

I decide to have a late breakfast of ponkh wada—deep-fried ponkh fritters, split Bengal gram, and spices, as well as ponkh pattice—ponkh stuffed inside mashed potato and deep-fried.

It’s fiery, so I wash it down with a bottle of cold chaas—buttermilk.

Never Get Between a Canadian and His Bacon

Mar.15.17

Never Get Between a Canadian and His Bacon

by Dave Hazzan

Khlii in Marrakech

Traveling in Morocco, I find I’m getting weary.

Maybe it’s the dust. Maybe it’s the lack of women anywhere after sundown: I’m married and traveling with my wife, but it’s hard to adjust to this world of scowling, soccer-watching men. Maybe it’s because I’ve been on the road for six months.

Then it’s hard to get liquor, a severe drawback when you travel the Islamic world. I had a friend who once spent six months in Saudi Arabia. When he arrived at Heathrow at the end of his contract, and Immigration asked him why he was visiting England, he declared, “To drink beer and eat bacon!”

But hey, at least there’s the food. Today we left our hostel unfed and starving, ready to comb la nouvelle ville for whatever Moroccans eat for breakfast. At a café by the bus station, we found it.

We sat outside. They had a menu in four languages, and I ordered khlii, a mix of eggs and a sort of beef jerky, along with orange juice, bacon, and a bowl of harira, Moroccan soup.

Never get between a Canadian and his bacon–yummy, maple-cured, fried in its own fat, sizzling, cut fresh from the hog, fill-me-up-with-rashers-of-that-shit bacon. But if you’re going to substitute it for anything, then by all means, let it be beef jerky.

Western cuisine has criminally neglected the possibilities for beef jerky. It can be so much more than just a gas station snack for truck drivers and baked teens. It can be fried, sautéed in lemon, braised, fried, chopped up in salad, fried, pureed into tomato sauce, used as a cocktail garnish, or fried. Or, as the Moroccans do, put in eggs.

I was delighted with my khlii. The eggs were baked to a perfect firmness, and with every bite there were little beefy explosions of jerky. Washed down with a double espresso and a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice, that’s the way to begin your Moroccan day.

Until we asked for our harira, the soup which came with the breakfast special. The waiter seemed incredulous, like we were asking him to sacrifice a fresh lamb for our dinner. “Harira is soup,” he said.

“Yes,” I said, pointing at the menu, “and according to the menu, breakfast comes with soup. It says so right here.”

“That is not for breakfast! You got coffee and juice with your eggs. That’s already a very good deal.”

I find I’m getting weary once more.

Photo by: Jo Turner

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