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Breakfast

Eating the World Every Morning

That’s It, We’re All Going to Vienna to Drink Coffee and Sit Out This Madness

Sep.28.16

That’s It, We’re All Going to Vienna to Drink Coffee and Sit Out This Madness

by Zamira Kristina Skalkottas

Coffee in Vienna

This winter, I took a train to Vienna and spent several days visiting its cafés. Typically, I would wake up, amble to a coffee house, and linger over a mélange. Sometimes, the morning would bend toward the afternoon. It was easy to spend hours inside a place like Café Sperl and not notice the time. I read my book, perused the papers, and sipped my coffee, emerging as invigorated as if I had eaten my fill at a breakfast buffet.

These Old World urban temples seem to offer space and time in spades, something so rare these days. The soaring rooms make you feel like you’re just part of the scenery, in a comforting way. You are never cramped or pushed up against other customers. In Vienna, I learned the word Gemütlichkeit. The word sounds like a broken washing machine, but it actually refers to a space where people can be themselves: a refuge of warmth, friendliness, and good cheer.

Inside these coffee palaces—some of which, like Café Griensteidl, have scarcely changed in 200 years—you feel like you can put the world on pause as you watch the morning light shift through ecru curtains.

I had come from Istanbul, and the bond between the two cities and coffee was not lost on me. Had it not been for the Ottoman siege over 300 years ago, coffee would not have arrived here as early as it did. The Turks were repelled from the city’s gates in 1683, leaving behind several bags of mysterious beans. Nobody knew what they were—except for one man who had spent time in Arabia, who recognized their aroma and saved them from the fire. So, the legend goes, Vienna’s glorious coffee houses were born.

Today, they are listed as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage, though they seemed quite tangible to me. The marble tabletops, the tiled floors, the sheen on the wood bar, the porcelain coffee cups: all spoke of a very concrete and all but bygone world.

The waiters are mostly men of a certain age, tall, in snappy bowties. They never hurry, but swish your order to your table with a solemn mien that seems to convey deep respect for your choice to be there. Newspapers are bound on long, wooden holders. I had forgotten that reading an actual newspaper was such a tactile experience: the rustling of the big pages, the ink that stains your fingertips.

Babette Tischleder writes in her book The Literary Life of Things about the durability of objects, and how culture is dependent on the context and continuity of things in order to exist. There is wonder in the relationship between human lives and the material world that often outlasts us. It is this reification inside Vienna’s cafes that makes them so remarkable but not museum-like: they are still functioning as they ever have, with people coming and going, smoking, eating, and talking.

There’s No Such Thing As a Short Minute When You’re Hungover and Waiting for Pie

Mar.23.17

There’s No Such Thing As a Short Minute When You’re Hungover and Waiting for Pie

by Efraín Villanueva

Tamal in Bogota

The waiter takes our order and, before descending the stairs, extends all five fingers of his right hand: “Cinco minuticos”—five short minutes.

I explain to Sabeth, my German girlfriend, that La Puerta Falsa, next to Bogota’s Cathedral, is next to a side door that once was walled up. People would say “let’s meet at the aguapanalería at the false door.” That’s how the restaurant got its name.

Sabeth smiles, nods and we fall into silence. It’s 7 a.m., I’m hungover, and all I can think of is food.

Ten minutes.

The waiter comes up carrying two metal trays. Sabeth’s smile vanishes and I get crankier as he passes and serves another table. A guy in a black suit devours his huevos con todo—scrambled eggs with everything: white cheese, slices of sausages, ham, corn. It should be me eating those.

I try to distract myself by telling Sabeth more history. That La Puerta Falsa opened in 1816, and has been run by the same family for seven or eight generations. It’s only half a block away from Bolivar Square, the center of Colombian power. The restaurant’s owners and patrons have witnessed some of the most distressing moments in our country’s recent history: the riots of El Bogotazo in 1948, and in 1986, the guerrilla group M-19’s attack on the Supreme Court building.

Back to silence.

Our gazes cross from time to time as we look around, absorbing the details of the place. The second floor, where we’re sitting, has four wooden tables. Thanks to a mirror that covers the entire wall on the opposite side of the room, we get a fair view of the ground level. There is a tiny kitchen shared by four cooks and a cashier area behind an open fridge with a variety of juices, cheeses, arequipe figs, and other sweet treats.

Twenty minutes.

Without enthusiasm, I answer Sabeth’s questions. Almojabanas are cheesy, UFO-shaped baked corn pastries. They seem plain but they are very filling. A tamal is made of corn dough mixed with rice and stuffed with vegetables, pork, and chicken. Then this pie is wrapped in bijao leaves and cooked. The hot chocolate comes with a slice of white cheese. People drown it in the mug and let it melt before drinking the cocoa.

It’s hot and the remains of Glenlivet in my blood react accordingly. I feel naïve for trusting in cinco minuticos. Three years living outside Colombia, and I’ve forgotten the basics. That cannot be good for my colombianidad. In my mind, I walk down the stairs and demand my breakfast. My shirt is stuck to my back. I feel like fainting.

When the tamal is finally set down in front of me and its seductive smell hits my nose, I am saved. With the first bite, the evil waiter and his accomplices in the kitchen are forgiven. They are angels.

Photo by: Elisabeth Brenker

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.

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