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Breakfast

Eating the World Every Morning

Pretzels: the Bagels of Philadelphia

Jan.19.16

Pretzels: the Bagels of Philadelphia

by Sarah Grey

Pretzels in Philadelphia

“Fresh! Hot! Pretzels!”

It’s 7:30 am in Philadelphia, and there’s a pretzel seller touting his wares under my window. Here in Fishtown, on the banks of the Delaware River, things have been changing quickly: the brick rowhouses that housed fishermen, Irish immigrants, and brewery workers a century ago are being renovated and flipped faster than you can say “gentrification.” Between the hip coffeehouses, galleries, and warehouse lofts, though, longtime Fishtowners carry on the old traditions, like selling hot soft pretzels carried on a stick first thing in the morning.

And is there any Philadelphia tradition more beloved than soft pretzels? You can find them on just about every corner in Center City, though every Philly native you ask will point you toward a different bakery (there are at least a dozen). The prominence of pretzels is part of Pennsylvania’s German heritage, which goes back four centuries. The central and eastern parts of the state are famous for their Amish and Mennonite residents, many of whom speak “Pennsylvania Dutch,” a German dialect that’s evolved on its own since it was imported to North America in the 17th and 18th centuries. (“Dutch” is a misnomer; it’s actually a corruption of Deutsch, or German.)

Pretzels are popular all over the U.S., of course, but here in Philly, they’re breakfast. New Yorkers bring bagels to work and Southerners bring Krispy Kreme doughnuts, but here, if you want to make friends at the office, you swing by Furfari’s Soft Pretzels on Frankford Avenue (or wherever your secret spot is) and pick up a dozen soft pretzels still warm from the oven. You’ll even find their fresh pretzels sold inside the local elementary schools first thing in the morning, with a line of children clutching quarters stretching down the hall from the pretzel cart.

The iconic Philly breakfast pretzels aren’t the wide-open twists you find at every Auntie Anne’s: they’re dense and squat, very nearly rectangular. They come in a cardboard box still connected, with a little container of mustard on the side. When you tear one away, a little puff of steam tells you how fresh it is. They’re also dirt-cheap: think fifty cents apiece.

Furfari’s pretzels have been the same since the bakery opened in 1954: elemental, conjured from the simplest interplay of salt and flour and water. A little yeast, maybe a hint of sugar, some egg wash to burnish the top and make the salt stick. They get more chewy as they cool, but the clean, yeasty flavor always plays well with coffee for a quick rush of morning carbs.

At the Mennonite-owned Miller’s Twist in the Reading Terminal Market, on the other hand, it’s all about butter. Here tourists watch women in T-shirts and women in bonnets roll the dough for a wider, richer pretzel with less chew, one that leaves your fingers slick. They’re delicious on their own, but Miller’s has locked down the Reading Market breakfast game by combining pretzel dough with a breakfast sandwich. Pretzel wraps stuff the buttery dough with egg and cheese, sausage, or even the glorious grease-and-Cheez-Wiz mixture that Philadelphians just call “cheesesteak.”

There’s debate about how much butter is too much, but you’re unlikely to go wrong if you show up early with a salt-shedding armload of pretzels and mustard. And if the pretzel-seller disturbs your sleep? Get up and run outside like a kid chasing the ice-cream truck. That’s how we do it in Philly.

Everything That Powdered Chocolate Milk Toast Promises to Be

Aug.16.17

Everything That Powdered Chocolate Milk Toast Promises to Be

by Harini Sriram

Milo toast in Singapore

When I was a school kid, Milo was my favorite drink. The Australian malt-and-chocolate powder mix had somehow permeated the local market at the laid-back coastal town in India in which I grew up, and it was quite the rage among my friends.

But in my home, we were set in our ways; anything new was viewed with skepticism. We were not allowed to have coffee all through school, so I had to be content with other health drinks like Complan, Bournvita, Maltova, and Boost, all of which promised to turn kids into super tall, supremely intelligent creatures who could crack complex arithmetic problems in nanoseconds. Occasionally, I’d have a glass of chilled milk with Milo at home and feel like such a rebel.

I was in Singapore recently and discovered that Milo toast is a breakfast option. This was a revelation to me, and as someone who hadn’t had a sip of the drink for more than 10 years, the idea of biting into crunchy toast dusted with Milo seemed like fun. So, one morning, at Toast Box in Bugis Junction, we ordered two plates of Milo toast and two cups of steaming hot kopi (coffee). The perfectly buttered toast was cut into bite-sized squares with generous sprinklings of Milo, topped with condensed milk. It was everything Milo toast promised to be.

I used to love eating Milo straight out of the tin, and this simple breakfast brought back truckloads of memories: of school, home, family, friends I’d lost touch with, and flavors that linger. And of course, nostalgia. Sitting in a café, thousands of miles away from home, it made me crave a simpler life, filled with the flavors of my childhood. Yet I also felt at home, munching on Milo toast in one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities.

Who Needs Sausage and Eggs When There Are Fried-Milk Pancakes?

Aug.14.17

Who Needs Sausage and Eggs When There Are Fried-Milk Pancakes?

by Rituparna Roy

Malpuas in Pushkar

It is a cold December morning when we step out of our hostel in Pushkar to grab some breakfast. The Hindu temple town three hours from Jaipur is strictly vegetarian, so eggs and sausages are off the menu. In any case, after stuffing our faces with kachoris (deep-fried lentil pastry) and jalebis (Indian sweet pretzels) throughout our trip in Rajasthan, we weren’t missing omelets at all.

We walk through the lanes of Sadar Bazar, past shops selling colorful Rajasthani jewelery and leheriya dupattas (tie-dye stoles), dodging people and cows.

Stomachs growling, when we reach Laxmi Mishtan Bhandar near Gau Ghat it is bit past 9 a.m. “Two plates of kachoris, please,” we say, and dive into Rajasthan’s favorite breakfast. The kick from the spicy lentil filling, and the promise of a hot and sweet chutney that follows with every bite have us smiling.

A craving for something sweet keeps us going, and the sweet shops of Pushkar know how to satiate. A typical scene is that of a man sitting next to two huge iron woks—one with hot ghee or clarified butter to fry things and another with sugar syrup to soak those things fried. We were staring at Pushkar’s best-kept secret—its malpuas. These small pancakes are made with a batter comprised of rabdi (milk that has been reduced on low heat for hours), khoya (thickened and dried milk) and plain flour. After being deep-fried, they’re soaked in a cardamom-scented sugar syrup.

We have eaten malpuas all our lives. During Holi (the Indian festival of colors), at high-end restaurants, and during Ramadan on the streets of Mumbai. But nothing I had tasted so far came close to what I ate now. Deep-fried in the fattiest oil and soaked in the sweetest syrup, it was a recipe for death.

Aur ek khayenge? Kuch nahi hoga. Yeh desi ghee hain.” (Do you want to eat one more? Don’t worry, it’s made of homely clarified butter), says the bespectacled man. We oblige.

Over the next couple of days, we walk up and down the bazaar, past Laxmi Mishtan Bhandar and its happy sweet-maker. Each time all it takes is a wave of his hand, and we find ourselves polishing off Pushkar’s famous fried-milk malpuas, fingers dripping with syrup.

Don’t leave Pushkar without learning the recipe for malpua. And don’t forget to thank the cows for the milk.

Only a Formidable Breakfast Burrito Could Make Spam Seem Like a Good Idea

Aug.11.17

Only a Formidable Breakfast Burrito Could Make Spam Seem Like a Good Idea

by Sarah Morgan

Burrito in New Mexico

When your desk is often the dashboard of your truck as you head out into a 12-hour field day, you shouldn’t miss the last chance for food not procured from a gas station. As an archaeologist, I often just eat whatever goods are stashed in the bottom of my pack. Real food is glorious.

A few miles south of Farmington, New Mexico is a different kind of border. Where the view gives way from the greens and built shapes of the San Juan River valley to the browns and golds and reds of the mesas and rock. The border isn’t marked; there isn’t even a sign. Somewhere between dawn and the sunrise, you enter the Navajo Nation.

At a dusty four-way intersection, which multitasks as an asphalt depository, a school bus stop, and a gathering place for work crews, a 1970s travel trailer is hitched to an old Ford 150 that may once have been dark blue. And in that old trailer, there is a stove, and a counter, and a couple who make spectacular Navajo breakfast burritos.

They must get up pretty early to make the stacks of homemade tortillas every morning. The tortillas are thick, often slightly charred, unsalted, and have a faintly metallic baking powder aftertaste. These tortillas recall the Long Walk of 1864, when flour, lard, and baking powder became staples of the Navajo kitchen. The Navajo were forcibly relocated from their homeland where they herded sheep and grew beans, corn, and squash, to Bosque Redondo, where those items were no longer an option.

You can pick between ham, bacon, sausage, Spam. Into the thick tortilla it goes, with egg scrambled lightly on a griddle, layered over pork and smashed-up potatoes. Wrapped in a single sheet of yellow paper, a piece of scotch tape seals the cylinder. For $3.50, it comes with a salt packet and a whole raw jalapeño. Sometimes I get the sausage. Sometimes, the Spam. In fact, it’s the only time I like Spam.

I place the burrito on my dashboard and drive further. Past the border and into the landscape, into Navajo country, first through nothing and then past hogans—Navajo dwellings—horses, dogs, sage. I consult maps and consult the sky. My destination varies, depending on the project.

When I arrive, I open the yellow-clad parcel, and sprinkle the salt on just enough for two bites. I take one nibble of the jalapeño, and hold the wet green spice in a corner of my mouth before biting the burrito. The tortilla is slightly dry, and cracking a little. The contrast between that dryness and the wet crunch of the pepper, and the sprinkled-on salt with the soft filling, makes a perfect morning meal. Salt on the outside, salted pork on the inside, wrapped in the chewy dough, which tastes slightly of wood smoke. I inhale and watch the light play on the mesa edges.

There’s A Lot Riding on This Pork Sandwich

Aug.10.17

There’s A Lot Riding on This Pork Sandwich

by Sharanya Deepak

Porchetta in Rome

It is midnight on a Saturday in Rome, and there is an air of silent devastation at our table. We have eaten a bad Chinese meal. There is prolonged bickering, erratic blaming, contemplation on the confusion that globalization brings. We wonder if our chefs were really Chinese. And what we should drink to erase the memory of the last hour.

It’s a tense hour, but I suggest, to a hum of agreement, that the next days should be about culinary redemption. Someone announces “porchetta!” and we have consensus about breakfast tomorrow, and a glimmer of hope.
The first time I ate porchetta, my Indian stomach did not understand it. There was no dressing up of flavors, no daylong stewing, no fuss. It was stand-alone meat and bread, but it was perfect. I used to gawk at the plates of ham and tomatoes Italian friends presented to me proudly, aghast at how easy they made cuisine look.

My favorite porchetta in Rome is at Mercato Trionfale—an ocean of hard cheeses, fresh fruits, and competing Italian grandmothers in the center of the city. A perfect porchetta is a pork roast, prepared after laborious gutting and deboning, and roasted for hours over wood. The meat is moist, salty, herbed and violently fragrant. Usually eaten inside a panini, a good porchetta sandwich has a reasonable amount of fat, not too much, definitely not too little, and as a Roman friend solemnly told me in my first days in the city is “all about the correct balance. Like life.”

Though porchetta is native to nearby Ariccia, it is eaten all over Italy. The Tuscans sometimes eat it in flat bread, in Umbria the pig is stuffed with its own entrails, but the sandwich, which can be traced back to different historical periods in the city, lives up its full potential in Rome.

Today, a lot rides on my breakfast. There is the challenge of redemption from the frozen shrimp we ate last night, and it is two years after my first, young, impressionable visit. This time around, the trip has been trying. I am a frequent visitor and not a first-time tourist, less easily enamored, a self-proclaimed aficionado of the Italian kitchen.

At the market, it takes five minutes to find the porchetta—in shining, pink glory and in the process of being carved by a balding man named Nino. We run towards him, urgent in mission, and he chuckles as he takes out his knife. “In one hour it is lunch!” he scolds, as he hands us bread stuffed with pork he has been working on all week.

With one bite, Nino’s porchetta does everything I hoped. It heals me of yesterday’s regrets, prepares me for my new experience of Rome, and rids me of the skepticism I was afraid I had acquired. It’s almost closing time, and Nino packs up his leftovers for the next day. We get some to take home. The porchetta is still a home away from home.

You Can Never Have Too Many Cooks Stuffing Chilis

Aug.09.17

You Can Never Have Too Many Cooks Stuffing Chilis

by Martina Žoldoš

Chiles en Nogada in Puebla

It was chile en nogada season in Puebla. Everyone was talking about how many they had eaten, and where: everyone had a favorite restaurant, although the consensus was that the homemade ones are always the best.

So my friends and I decided to do just that—make them ourselves, although nobody really had a clue how to go about it.

Chiles en nogada are a Mexican gastronomic icon. A whole poblano chili, filled with picadillo—a mixture of meat, fruit, and spices. It’s a most patriotic dish, representing the three colors of the Mexican flag: white from the creamy walnut (nogada) sauce, red from the pomegranates sprinkled over it, and green from the parsley garnish.

There are many legends about the dish’s creation, and rules about which recipe to follow, and the best time and place to prepare it. They say the original and best version is served in the state of Puebla between July 15 and September 30, with locally grown apples, pears, peaches, plantains, nuts, and pomegranate.

According to the most popular legend, nuns from Santa Monica convent invented the tri-color dish to celebrate Agustin de Iturbide—the Mexican army general and later emperor who was instrumental in fighting for independence from Spain—on his way through the city of Puebla, and to commemorate the country’s recent triumph over its colonial rulers. Another claims it was first served by some the emperor’s soldiers’ girlfriends to celebrate the troops’ arrival.

Legends aside, one thing about this revered dish certainly holds true: preparing it is a laborious process.

We had to do all the shopping the day before, or we would have sat down to eat at midnight. So we gathered in the market and bought around 22 pounds of ingredients, splitting the bags strategically so that each team could chop some of the fruit in advance.

My partner and I were assigned one of the most challenging parts of the process: roasting and cleaning the chilis. My partner’s eyes were soon sore and he sneezed constantly as the smoke from the burning chilis filled the kitchen. When they were totally black, we put them into a plastic bag for 15 minutes before skinning them and opening them to dig out the seeds and veins.

When we arrived at Rafa’s home the next day, the garden was already a hive of activity. Agnija was busy chopping the last of the peaches; Adriana was struggling to whisk egg whites into snowy peaks; Cassandra was puréeing nuts, cream, and cheese; Dario was cleaning pomegranates. Nereo was mixing the music. Mirna, the only one who had witnessed the creation of chiles en nogada before, was frying onions, pork, and beef. She was also in charge of mixing meat and fruits in a huge pot, filling the chilis, rolling them in beaten egg, frying them, and taking them out of the boiling oil.

Four hours later, we served the chiles en nogada with a nutty cream, heavily spiced with bourbon, sprinkled with pomegranate seeds, and decorated with chopped parsley leaves. Despite one minor mishap—when the pot slid off the fire and turned over, spitting out some of the filling—the endeavor was a success. It was the first and the last time I ate two chiles en nogada in one sitting.

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