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Breakfast

Eating the World Every Morning

The Best Little Arepa Stand in Cartagena

Jul.01.15

The Best Little Arepa Stand in Cartagena

by Nikki Vargas

Arepas in Colombia

Mornings in Cartagena—Colombia’s Caribbean seaside gem—and the sun lights up the spectrum of colors that paint the Old City. As the cobblestone streets come to life, vendors are seen rolling their humble carts nearby: some wielding fresh fruit from the Islas del Rosario, others pushing a wheelbarrow filled with coconuts and a machete, and many cooking arepas. One of these local vendors is Elaine Gomez Lozano, the Arepa Lady (as I have come to call her).

Everyday, Elaine sets up her cart on the corner of Carrera 11 and Calle 38 and gets to work making handmade arepas. With her stand positioned in front of the crumbling wall surrounding the city’s historical district, Elaine caters to both locals and tourists looking for a quick bite. For 40 years, Elaine has whipped up her arepas by flattening and shaping the maize, tossing the arepas in a vat of hot oil and serving them alongside colorful salsas in vibrant hues of green and red.

The arepa—a staple of Colombian and Venezuelan cuisine—is a type of flat bread made of cornmeal. Usually eaten for breakfast or lunch, arepas con huevos are traditional in Colombia and can be likened to a crispy, round pocket with a sweet, corn exterior and cooked egg—often mixed with meat—on the inside.

Elaine, for whom the process has become second nature, kneads out the cornmeal, slaps the yellow dough between her bronzed hands, drops an egg into the fold and tosses the arepas into bubbling oil until the precise moment they’re ready. The first bite is fragrant and savory, the crisp maize mingling with the taste of egg and beef. The accompanying homemade condiments range from fresh guacamole to a fiery red salsa to a cooling white sauce reminiscent of tzatziki, each one changing the flavor of the arepa and creating a new symphony of flavors.

Colombia offers up many bites to start the day, be it fresh pan de bono with Colombian cafe or a heavy breakfast of eggs with chicharron, but it is the arepa that leaves my palate teeming with excitement. It is filling but light, delicious but quick; for less than the cost of a New York subway ride, anyone passing by can enjoy a true Colombian treat.

What Memorable Breakfast Doesn’t Involve a Shot of Vodka?

Oct.17.17

What Memorable Breakfast Doesn’t Involve a Shot of Vodka?

by Luciana Squadrilli

Breakfast in Georgia

When my best friend and I decided to pick Georgia as our holiday destination, we mostly had in mind pristine nature, secluded Orthodox monasteries, and the famous qvevri (amphora-fermented) wines.

An in-depth study of local gastronomy had only convinced us further of our choice, and so we landed in Tbilisi dreaming about lavish dinners based on cheese-filled khatchapuri, kinkhali dumplings, and lamb stews. We didn’t have great expectations for breakfast, though, and the stale croissant we ate in a drab café near Liberty Square on our first morning in Tbilisi seemed to confirm this.

Traveling around the country in the rural areas of Kakheti, Imereti, and Racha in search of orange wines and local specialties, however, put breakfast time in a whole new light: the morning meal in those areas was a seductive mix of carbs, animal proteins, fruits, and dairy, accompanied by Turkish coffee—with slight variations according to region and host. Day after day, sleeping in basic country inns and family-run hotels, soon breakfasts became my favorite moment of the day.

In a small hotel in Telavi—the heart of the wine-making Kakheti region—we had fresh green grapes, a salty and spongy cheese, bread and jam, and some delicious fried rolls filled with cheese. At the lovely wine farm in the Racha region—pompously named Chateau Dio—we had boiled eggs, cheese, local sausages, and the creamiest smetana (sour cream) ever, to go with bread and a delicious honey which reminded me of Greek desserts with yogurt.

On our second stay in Tbilisi, we rented a bright apartment at the 18th floor of a run-down building where a stunning view over the city made up for the every frightening elevator ride. Here, we waited in vain for the owner to bring us the breakfast and then gave up and bought some biscuits at the nearest shop. At 10 a.m. we were about to leave the apartment when she showed up with boiled eggs, fruit, and a sensational, freshly baked khatchapuri. This was when we learned that Georgians eat this lovely baked good any time of the day, and that Georgians are quite slow to get started in the morning (and stay up late.)

But our most memorable breakfast was at a dull hotel in Georgia’s second city, Kutaisi, in the Imereti region. After a sleepless night and a difficult start of the day thanks to linguistic misunderstandings, we finally sat at our table, with plenty of food, including a generous amount of smetana, blackberry jam, and some oily yet tasty machkatebi (Tushetian pancakes). We were ready to leave when the owner proudly offered us a shot glass, full to the brim, of chacha—in his version, not the famous local grape spirit, but vodka, infused with fresh oranges and lemons. Obviously refusing to drink it would be rude.

Going back to our usual breakfasts of espresso and rice cakes is what gave us the post-holiday blues this time.

Chicken Wings Are Everything Argentina Is Not

Oct.16.17

Chicken Wings Are Everything Argentina Is Not

by Leigh Shulman

Chicken in Buenos Aires

I landed in Buenos Aires, a short stopover on my way to run a writing retreat in Nicaragua. One flight behind me and a long way to go. Travel limbo. But first, to eat.

Media lunas, small croissant-like pastries, with coffee are the usual breakfast, but I wanted something else. I wanted meaty, eggy, smoky food to fill me up for hours. There was only one place to go: Chicken Bros.

I met Timmy, one of the owners, at Argentina’s first Burning Man a year earlier. He, his friend Justin, and two fryers served hundreds of wings on the roof of their building. They opened the restaurant a few months before I got to Buenos Aires, and I was in time for brunch.

Two graffitied chicken butts greeted me from above the entrance, and was that bacon I smelled? Inside, the place buzzed with life. Plates of chicken and waffles flew by on their way to hungry people. A DJ set up his table. I pondered the menu.

Huevos Benedictinos? No. I wanted wings.

Chicken wings are everything Argentina is not. All bones. How can you make a meal of it? And spicy? Even the mildest of chilis offend the Argentine palate. Eating with your hands? Nope.
But what sauce to choose? I narrowed it down to Sweet Chile Lime (two flames) and Blazin’ Buffalo (four flames).

“How spicy is a flame in a country that doesn’t like spice?” I asked.

“You’re gonna feel four flames in your mouth for a while after you eat,” Timmy told me.

I’ll take the challenge.

“Blazin’ Buffalo it is. Soy ginger sesame, too?” “I’m in.” Then I found a table and waited for my food.

The second I bit into twice-fried crispy skin, the tang of jalapeño hit. First the lips, then tongue, soon my tonsils pricked. Red, peppery, burning.

Thank god for celery sticks and Ranch dressing. And another prayer for the other side of my plate. Thick, sweet and salty soy redolent of ginger.

The rule of chicken wings: give into the mess. Napkins are defenseless against sticky soy. Sesame seeds cling to the corners of your mouth as red hot and brown sauces spread across your face.

“How’re those wings?” Timmy shouted as he delivered an armful of bagels with cream cheese and lox. Mouth full, I mustered a thumbs-up.

Dessert next: there’s nothing more American than battered and fried Oreos with ice cream. My favorite state fair food. But cover them in dulce de leche and sugared walnuts. You’re in Argentina.

My Own Private Albanian Breakfast

Oct.11.17

My Own Private Albanian Breakfast

by Madeleine D’Este

Eggs in Albania

There’s one problem with vacations: they have to end. And like suntans, the memories fade too fast. But food is one way to bring the holiday home with you.

In June this year, I spent three weeks of long, lazy summer days in Europe but eventually I had to return to Melbourne in all its grey, mid-winter gloom. I swapped open-air cafes, beaches, and waterfalls for an open-plan office with harsh lighting and stuffy heating.

The unexpected highlight of this trip was Albania. The history, people, cafes, mountains, and of course, the food. Sweet juicy tomatoes, crisp green cucumbers and heart-stopping black coffee, exactly the way I like it.

After days of planes, trains, and furgons I stopped in Himare on the Albanian
Riviera, for three days of reading on white-pebble beaches alongside the refreshing, clear Aegean waters. My guest house overlooked the sea and each morning, my hosts laid out a spread in the communal kitchen of fresh bread, warm burek, local honey and jams, boiled eggs, and of course, black strong coffee. But no matter how glorious the crisp golden pastry of the burek looked and smelled, it wasn’t worth the belly aches. As someone with a gluten intolerance, I had to be a little more creative at breakfast.

On the first day, I made up my own little Albanian breakfast; hard-boiled eggs, slices of creamy feta, a splash of homemade olive oil, sprinkles of dried basil, salt, and pepper. It was a winner; the right mix of salty, creamy, and aromatic, and I ate my concoction every morning on the patio, under the vine-covered pergola gazing over the sea, never wanting to go home again. But eventually, Melbourne beckoned.

Once home, when I craved my Albanian breakfast, I started looking around for an alternative. But despite the culinary fusion of Melbourne’s cafes, I couldn’t find my made-up Albanian breakfast on any menu. The closest is the moreish “Macedonian breakfast” from a café in Thornbury with ajvar, poached eggs, feta, avocado, and bacon. It was up to me to recreate my Albanian breakfast. At least the ingredients were easy to find. I bought the best feta I could afford from the supermarket (Greek not Albanian), hard-boiled a few eggs, drizzled on my olive oil (Spanish not Albanian) and added herbs and spices.

While it wasn’t the same—the feta not as creamy, the olive oil not as grassy and fresh, the dried basil lacking the same oomph—the salty, crumbly texture of the feta with the hard-boiled eggs was enough to transport me back to the sunny patio of my guest house in Himare for a few moments and ignore the rain outside. And add a new breakfast to my home cooking repertoire.

Fried Goat and Deep-Fried Roti Sure Beat the Usual Business-Trip Meals

Oct.10.17

Fried Goat and Deep-Fried Roti Sure Beat the Usual Business-Trip Meals

by Erin Green

Breakfast in Chitwan

Chitwan, in southern Nepal, is famous for one-horned rhinos, elephants, leopards, and the occasional Bengal tiger. I travel to Chitwan regularly to do work with the British Council. I don’t go on any jungle safaris; I stay along the highway in a business hotel with a conference room and a questionably cleaned pool. The highlight of my day is kicking it off with a with a deep-fried roti (in this case, puri, a puffed-up flatbread) and deep-fried, sugar-soaked swirls, dipped into potato and chickpea curry, along with sweet and milky masala tea.

I like it, and often, I need it. Usually, I’ve gone out with the local staff the evening before. That means drinking Royal Stag whiskey and eating fried spicy goat or mutton, or tass, with beaten rice and spicy achar. That’s the culture here: work in the 90-plus degree heat until you’ve sweated through your shirt eight times, then go find a bench on the Rapti bridge or maybe inside a small restaurant. Drink. Wake up to puri bhaji jelabi chai. Go to work.

These puri are little puffy spaceships made of atta, or wheat flour, so I like to think they’re healthy. There’s one shop near my hotel that rocks only this meal in the mornings. One man is in charge of the puri station, while another mans the tea. The milky, spiced hot brew is lightly boiled, then strained and served in a small glass towards the end of the meal. It takes a little while to steep, so it gets started in advance. In the meantime, four fresh, hot puri are placed on a metal tray. The lid comes off a simmering pot of spicy turmeric-colored curry made of potatoes and the pea of the day—maybe chick, black-eyed, or green. After a couple of stirs, a ladleful goes into a metal bowl placed in the corner of the tray. Raw red onions and cilantro are sprinkled on top. The next component: a few bright orange swirls of sugar syrup. These jalebi are the caloric spike I need to wake up.

By now, someone has turned the Nepali news to CNN to kindly adapt to the clientele. I’ve washed my hands and am ready to tuck into breakfast. The other tables are full of people eating the same meal. Around us, staff bus the tables, wash the glasses, and deliver fresh puri when stacks run low. Tea comes around and I sit back and watch a few of the international headlines.

After paying the boss not very many rupees, I hop in one of the local electric golf cart/tram hybrids and ride off into the pastel haze from the early sun, ready to get to work. Good morning, Chitwan.

Photo by: Ask27/Commons

A Bread-Lover’s Guide to Japan

Oct.09.17

A Bread-Lover’s Guide to Japan

by Shirin Mehrotra

Croissants in Kyoto

I love Japanese food. Sushi and sashimi, ramen and donburi, okonomiyaki and yakisoba; bring it all and I am more than happy to wolf it down, with a glass of sake, of course. But rice, miso soup, and grilled fish for breakfast don’t quite do it for me. In Tokyo, we mostly skipped breakfast and went for brunch; in Osaka, I attempted to eat supermarket sushi for breakfast but ended up cooking scrambled eggs at my Airbnb. In Kyoto, I found my breakfast groove.

A quick walk away from our Airbnb stay near Hirano shrine stood Boulangerie Briant. The morning after our first night in Kyoto, as we were walking down to the bus stop, the aroma of fresh bread pulled us towards it; shelves stocked with a variety of breads invited us in. Inside, it looked like bread heaven—whole-wheat loaves, baguettes, croissants, sourdoughs, and bagels called out to us. And then there was a range of Danishes, and mini-pizzas stuffed or topped with cheese, sausages, tomato, strawberries, and custard. We picked up croissants and tomato-and-cheese-topped mini-pizza and chomped it down, standing on the sidewalk.

While exploring the city we come across many of these French bakeries, for which Japan is famous. Like in India, the Portuguese introduced bread to Japan in the 16th century, and Japan adapted it as pan, derived from pao. Post-World War II, when rice was scarce, bread became a staple. However, back then, when American occupation authorities were making cheap, unpalatable bread, the Japanese didn’t regard it favorably. In the mid-20th century the Japanese started making and consuming their own versions, and it took another couple of decades for bakers to introduce the concept of “real,” artisan breads.

Breads replaced the traditional Japanese breakfast, which was more tedious to prepare. Soon, breakfast tables were filled with shokupan—plain, white, sliced bread; anpan—sweetened bread roll stuffed with anko, a sweetened red bean paste, which was also the first bread that was made to suit the Japanese palate; melonpan—a sweet roll with a crumbly cookie-like surface; and tonkatsu sando—a sandwich made with shokupan and crispy fried-pork cutlet.

After we found Boulangerie Briant, our next three mornings played on repeat: wake up, brisk walk to the bakery, pick up bread, come back, eat a breakfast of croissants and coffee. The rest of the day was planned only once we’d wiped off the last morsel of those soft, fluffy, buttery pastries and the last drop of our instant coffee.

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