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Breakfast

Eating the World Every Morning

The Labor That Goes Into One Glass of Humble Porridge

Mar.14.17

The Labor That Goes Into One Glass of Humble Porridge

by Ranjini Rao

Ragi porridge in Bangalore

Growing up in a traditional South Indian family in Bangalore, I came to love sweet breakfasts just as well as savory ones. We’d often have something sweet at the ready in the mornings, and Mother’s free-handedness with ghee and jaggery only enhanced the sugar rush.

While those ingredients can easily waltz their way into halwa varieties, we mostly had them mixed into our one big staple: Ragi porridge. Ragi, or finger millet, wasn’t just a grain rich in proteins and minerals: it was a sacred part of good health and vitality.

Making it was no picnic; it called for days of elbow grease, from the storeroom to the grinding stone. The Ragi kernels were first unpacked from musty gunny bags in the storeroom at the back of the kitchen, then washed and dried out on a soft, white, muslin cloth laid out like nine yards of a sari on the terrace. Once dry, they were brought down to the backyard, where Grandma and Mother would huddle up around a coal-fired stove bearing a large cast-iron pan. They would then break into an elaborate folk song about the goodness of Ragi, as they threw the sun-dried kernels into the heated pan to roast them.

Once cooled, they’d be packed into large tin boxes for the housemaid to take to the local flour mill, where they’d be ground to a silken smoothness. This aromatic, earthy powder would then transform into a sticky-sweet, ambrosial porridge every morning, as Mother whisked it with hot milk, dollops of ghee, and jaggery powder, topped off with a kiss of cardamom. She’d fill tall glasses with this superfood and line them on the counter, and if we were all to get to school or work in time, we had to pick up a glass and drink up.

When I moved out and went on to live across continents, Mother would send me goodies through kindly folks who were headed my way, and there was always a pack of Ragi porridge blend in the mix. I’d rarely been short on supply, save for a few weeks here and there. Since her passing last year, and my own homecoming a little before that, I’ve tried scores of store-bought packaged millets: muesli and granola, for example, doused in warm milk or cold yogurt, but the one thing I can’t seem to shake off is the yearning for the singularly spectacular drink that made past breakfasts so fulfilling at Mother’s. After a bit of careful exploration, I’ve finally found Indira’s Popped Ragi mix at my local grocer’s, which tastes almost as good as Mother’s, and I couldn’t be more thankful.

I’ve since resumed the ‘drink up’ morning routine, which has duly been passed on to my American-born child, whose persnickety breakfast preferences typically run toward pancakes and French toast, but who can sometimes be found drinking a glass of Ragi porridge.

A Cold, Yogurt-Like Spoonful of Norse History

Jun.26.17

A Cold, Yogurt-Like Spoonful of Norse History

by Dave Hazzan

Skyr in Reykjavik

The first thing Iceland would like you to know about Skyr is that it isn’t yogurt.

It is at first glance. It’s sold next to the real yogurt, and comes in a variety of delightful fruit flavors, like yogurt. But it is not yogurt. The difference is Skyr is more solid than yoghurt, and less sour. Icelanders mix it with milk and sugar, or in equal parts with porridge, usually for breakfast. It’s also delicious on potatoes, the only food I can afford to eat in this extortionately expensive country.

The second thing Iceland would like you to know about Skyr is that it is wholesome and full of protein, the perfect thing to get you going on a dark and frozen Icelandic morning. The way they talk about it reminds me a lot of Wilford Brimley selling Cream of Wheat a hot, cereal-like porridge. In the 80s, Wilford would sit at a table, the quintessential kindly old man, and tell you that giving your kid Cream of Wheat on cold mornings before school is “the right thing to do.”

Skyr is like that, except its cold and full of protein. I don’t get why they focus so heavily on Skyr’s protein content. Between the lamb and beef, the fish and fowl, and the clogged and enormous dairy aisle at the Bonus “Discount” Supermarket, no Icelander is lacking in protein.

The third thing Icelanders would like you to know is that Skyr has been part of the Icelandic diet since the first settlers got here about A.D. 840, and inexplicably decided to stay. It has since died out in the rest of the Nordic countries, but remains popular in Iceland.

It’s changed over the years. Once made with whole milk, more health-conscious Icelanders today make it with low-fat milk. There are also many flavors, including kiddie flavors like chocolate and liquorice.

So the next time you find yourself in Iceland, fooled by the cheap airfares from mainland Europe, head over to your local Bonus and raid the dairy aisle for Skyr. Paying your grocery bill will feel like a mugging, but every spoonful of Skyr will be like eating a piece of Norse history.

Photo by: Jo Turner

Getting to Know Mexican-Style Sno-Cones

Jun.23.17

Getting to Know Mexican-Style Sno-Cones

by Thei Zervaki

Raspado in Tucson

I had no idea what a raspado was before I went to Arizona.

It’s a Mexican-style shaved-ice drink, named from the Spanish raspar, which means “to scrape.” It can be topped with fruit, flavoring, syrup, and various condiments. It can be sweet, savory, spicy, or all three. Naturally, I had to try it. For breakfast.

You can get raspado all over Tucson, but I went to Sonoran Sno-Cones, at their Mercado San Agustin location. Owner Maria Robles told me that when Sonoran Sno-Cones opened in 1999—after their family moved to Tucson from Obregon, in Mexico’s Sonora state—there were already a couple of raspado shops, but they served plainer, American-style versions. Sonoran Sno-Cones brought with them Mexican-style raspados, with fresh fruit, tamarind, and dry plum. This part of Arizona used to be part of Mexico, Robles said, so raspado culture is a way of staying connected to the area’s geographical roots.

At their store, the large menu board had a dizzying array of raspado combinations. Raspado terminology can be confusing for novices. Chamoy, an indispensable raspado ingredient, is a savory, sour, and spicy sauce made with pickled fruits. Nieve—from the word for snow—in a raspado refers to a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

The sweet-toothed should go for the fruit-based versions, like mango and strawberry; you can add condensed milk—lechera—for a more creamy style. But there are also many options for lovers of sour flavors. The mangoyada raspado, with mango with chamoy and lime, is both sweet and savory. The chamoyada includes chamoy, lime and rielitos—the spicy Mexican candies made with sugar and chili powder paste. The saladito is a lime raspado blended with salt and topped with dried salted plums. You can add ice cream, peanuts or serpentine, another type of spicy candy.

For my first raspado, I went big: a savory, spicy one with strawberry and mango flavors, topped with tamarind and chamoy. The combination of sweet, savory, and spicy was perfect for a hot, dry day, not far from the Sonoran desert.

The Famed Parisian Café Culture, Now Available in Kabul

Jun.22.17

The Famed Parisian Café Culture, Now Available in Kabul

by Ali M Latifi

Coconut cookies in Kabul

The Slice Bakery opened while I was briefly living in Istanbul, but even in Turkey, I heard that it had become a gathering point for young people in Kabul.

Visitors to Istanbul from Kabul would talk about meetings and debates over coffee and pastries—Turkish milk tea, brownies, coconut cookies or a take on our traditional Afghan salty biscuits—at Slice.

When I moved back to Kabul in March, Slice was one of the first places I visited. I had to see if it lived up to its reputation.

The first time I went in, seeing the wood and glass tables full of young people—some in traditional Afghan piran tomban, others in suits and ties or distressed jeans and crisp leather jackets—it seemed that it was indeed the Afghan capital’s new hotspot.

More importantly, this wasn’t a high-priced establishment, tucked away in an unmarked building in a side street of a residential area catering to foreigners and rich Afghans. The bright yellow sign was visible from across the busy street in Shahr-e Naw, Kabul’s commercial hub.

I’ve been to the café countless times, but one evening in early May proved to me why this place stood out among the glut of restaurants and cafes that pop up each day in Kabul.

At the time, people all over Kabul were talking about the imminent return of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a former anti-Soviet commander and now leader of the nation’s second-largest armed opposition movement, who had just made peace with the central government after more than two decades in hiding.

Of course, people were talking about it at Slice, too. As soon as I ordered my latte and coconut cookies, my friends called me over to their table to discuss the return of a man who—along with rival commanders—had been responsible for the destruction of Kabul and thousands of deaths in the 1990s.

These young men, many of whom were too young to have any direct memory of the thousands of rockets Hekmatyar and his rivals rained over the city, were discussing his return over their cups of “Afghano” coffee, saffron-infused lattes, espressos, and green teas.

These debates were a sign of how far Kabul had come since the time Hekmatyar and his rivals were destroying the city. From the rise of communism in the late 1970s and until the U.S.-led intervention of 2001, Afghanistan was ruled by a series of communists, warlords, and the Taliban, whose policies made the expression of dissent extremely difficult, if not illegal. The free discussion among Afghans with different viewpoints—some who welcomed Hekmatyar’s return, others resigned to the fact that warlords always win, and those who refused to accept a man known as the “butcher of Kabul”—could almost, I thought, resemble the famous café debate culture of Paris or Beirut.

“Slice is what Kabul could become if everyone just left us alone,” said an Afghan-American documentary filmmaker, who had been visiting from her home in Brooklyn. One of the waiters put it more simply to a European journalist: “Slice is a symbol of what young Afghans want their country to be.”

Photo by: Qais Alamdar

Come for the Obscure Canadian Sport, Stay for the Buffet

Jun.21.17

Come for the Obscure Canadian Sport, Stay for the Buffet

by Julie Stauffer

Pork sausage and marshmallow salad in Tavistock, Ontario

Defeat makes you hungry. Or maybe it’s the fact that we dragged ourselves out of bed at 6:00 a.m. to make it to the World Crokinole Championship on time. Either way, two intense hours of disk-flicking have failed to get us beyond the preliminary round of the recreational doubles event, and our stomachs are speaking up.

Crokinole is a tabletop hybrid of curling and shuffleboard. Players use a thumb and finger to shoot their wooden disks across the board, knocking off their opponent’s pieces and—if they’ve judged the angles just right—coming to rest in the high-scoring center.

Most folks reserve it for rainy afternoons at the cottage, or for Christmas gatherings after the remains of turkey and mincemeat pie have been cleared away. But once a year, several hundred players descend on Tavistock, Ontario (population 6,836) to prove their prowess at a game invented just a few miles up the road.

There are grandparents and grandkids here for a little fun, and a smattering of Mennonite women in their white net caps. (While the Church has traditionally prohibited alcohol, cards, and dancing, it sees no harm in crokinole.) There are clubs from as far away as Texas and Prince Edward Island, and champions from past years here to defend their titles.

We have all convened in the town’s hockey arena, where row after row of crokinole boards have replaced the customary ice. Officials in reflective vests stand ready to settle disputes and enforce regulations. (Woe betide anyone who fails to keep a portion of their posterior firmly on their chair while making a shot.)

My colleague, Josh, and I came here with ambitious goals: to avoid defeat at the hands of children. And we have succeeded. In our first match, we triumphed over a nine-year-old and his grandfather. Even better, we soundly defeated Josh’s adult brother and cousin in our second match, with plenty of trash-talking on both sides.

By the end of eight matches, we’ve accumulated a respectable 37 points, placing us in the top half of the division. It’s not enough to move on, but that’s just fine. By now it’s 10:30, and we’re ready for some serious sustenance.

As tradition dictates, we join a group of other less-than-stellar players and head to Quehl’s. You won’t find prosciutto, pea shoots, or baby kale at this Tavistock institution. Instead, Quehl’s serves country cuisine with a Pennsylvania Dutch flavor. At the buffet, diners pile their plates with pork sausages, roast beef, mashed potatoes, pickled beets, sauerkraut, and four kinds of pie.

After demolishing his meat course, Josh’s brother announces his intention to load up on salad. He returns with a plate noticeably lacking anything green. “There’s fruit in here,” he argues, pointing to a mound of marshmallow “salad.” “Yeah,” says Jared, his doubles partner. “Maraschino cherries.”

But the best is yet to come. Everyone who participates in the World Crokinole Championship earns a commemorative disk, courtesy of Quehl’s. Those who choose to partake in the buffet can shoot it on the restaurant’s crokinole board to determine the discount on their bill: 10 percent off if it lands in the center hole; 5 percent off for anywhere else on the board.

Jared’s shot slides purposefully across the board and past the posts that ring the inner zone. The disk hesitates for the briefest moment on the lip of the hole and then slips smoothly inside. Doogie!

2018 Championship, here we come.

Hangover-Curing Fish Soup, Ecuador Edition

Jun.20.17

Hangover-Curing Fish Soup, Ecuador Edition

by Carolina Loza León

Encebollado in Esmeraldas

It’s noon, and the whole flat is waking up, hungry, with thumping headaches. Trying to piece the together the night before is a daunting task. The best way to do it is over some encebollado, Ecuador’s famous fish soup. We head out, tired and sweating on a hot, cloudy day in Esmeraldas, a city on Ecuador’s northern Pacific coast.

Lucien, a cocky French aid worker, hops on a bus, and I follow. “I won’t eat encebollado just anywhere,” he says. All Ecuadorians have their own ‘secret’ spot they believe serves the best version of this thick tuna, cassava, and onion-based soup. They usually take great pride in ‘their’ place, so you’d better like it, too.

Lucien leads us to a small, no-frills corner restaurant in the chaotic downtown district. Most of the patrons are families with young children. Most Ecuadorians eat encebollado—which originated on Ecuador’s coast—for breakfast, with plantain chips or bread, depending on which part of the country it is. It’s a favorite both for hard-partying revelers and for families doing brunch, Ecua-style.

Looking the worse for wear and surrounded by five-year-olds excitedly ordering soup for their families, we pay our USD$2.50 each. Lucien starts piecing the previous night together. The bar had closed at Ecuador’s mandatory time—2 a.m.—but then there was a lock-in, where they had too much to drink. For once, I’m glad I left the bar before they did. I pretend to listen, and look at the street outside: empty, like the rest of the city on a Sunday morning. The only activity for blocks is this restaurant, its white plastic chairs spread on the sidewalk.

We finally get our bowls of soup. The encebollado is thick, orange-hued, with bits of chopped parsley and cilantro on top. I squeeze all the juice of a lemon wedge into the steaming liquid. The first taste is soothing; it’s comfort food, but it’s also nutritious. It makes this grey Sunday morning bearable. I have to give Lucien credit: he’s chosen his encebollado joint well.

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