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Breakfast

Eating the World Every Morning

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.

The Dorito-Topped Hot Dog That Saved Breakfast

Jun.29.17

The Dorito-Topped Hot Dog That Saved Breakfast

by Laura Marie

Hot dogs in Iceland

We left the house by the glacier early—around 7 a.m. My husband and I had to get back to Reyjkavik to catch a plane that afternoon. I expected, like in so many other places I’d travelled, that we would be able to find an open coffee shop or breakfast restaurant, even though it was Sunday. Years of living in Europe had taught me the spotty nature of Sunday-open business, but I hadn’t bargained on southern Iceland.

The towns that occasionally dot Highway 1 along the southern coast are fascinating, like a snapshot of a movie set for a quiet independent film. The weather was mild in May, but everything had a quiet feel to it, with perhaps one person visible walking through the towns. The whole island has fewer than 350,000 people, and so many of them live in the capital city. Only a few miles out of Reyjkavik, you start to see how big the island is, and how few and far-between the people are, as the modern city buildings give way to bumpy moss-covered terrain, insanely long views up to the glaciers and volcanoes, and occasional wisps of steam coming from vents in the ground.

We stopped at a natural hot spring, and swam the algae-lined pool for a little while, but then started getting hungry for breakfast. I figured it wouldn’t be far before we’d see a place that was open. As the minutes turned into an hour, I started using Google to search for the individual open spots along our route.

As we neared the town of Selfoss, one place popped up as open on Google: Pylsuvagninn. As near as I can figure, it translates to something like “Hot Dog Wagon.”

We were hungry, and I’d been told that Icelandic people ate a lot of hot dogs, so it seemed like an appropriate choice. The “all the way” hot dog in Iceland is a popular choice after a long night of drinking and dancing. An “all the way” hot dog, I learned, is topped with onions, ketchup, remoulade, a sweet mustard, and more onions—crispy fried ones.

The only other customers at Pylsuvagninn at 11 on a Sunday morning were teenagers, seeking greasy piles of onion rings and cans of soda, perhaps after partying. I looked below “hot dog all the way” on the menu and read “hot dog with garlic sauce, cheese, and Doritos.” I wasn’t hungover, but I ordered it anyway.

I ate my Dorito hot dog out on a picnic table by the river that runs through Selfoss, while the town quietly did whatever small-city Iceland does on Sunday mornings and the wind, ever-present, ruffled my hair. The hot dog was everything: greasy and garlicky and crunchy. Like so many other things in Iceland, it wasn’t what I expected or asked for, but it was wonderful nonetheless.

When Falafel is Good, It’s Very Good

Jun.28.17

When Falafel is Good, It’s Very Good

by Dave Hazzan

Falafel in Berlin

Why is falafel such a difficult food to get right?

This is not a rhetorical question. I don’t cook, so I don’t know. But half the time I order falafel, it’s like a crunchy ball of baked sand. It’s tasteless, mealy, and above all, dry. Sometimes it’s so dry it crumbles like powder, and if I breathe too close to it, it ends up clogging my nostrils like cheap coke cut with laundry detergent.

Slather it in tahini, surround it with veggies, or dip it in a vat of hummus like so many potato chips—none of these tricks work. Bad falafel is just bad falafel. You ordered it because you wanted the “healthy” choice, or maybe you’re vegetarian. In any event, you rolled the dice, and it sucks to be you.

Here in the north Neukölln district of Berlin, along Sonnenallee, there’s as much Arabic spoken as German. The women wear an even mix of tank-tops and shorts and hijabs and long dresses. The men shake hands and hug, and talk a mile a minute over each other. There is Arab restaurant after Arab restaurant, so picking one can be hard.

It’s a hot, humid, and hungover noon in Berlin, and anything is breakfast food. But do I dare risk the falafel? My mouth is already bone dry—wouldn’t a moist and scrumptious lebne, halloumi, or chicken shawarma be the better choice? Or maybe I should walk a few blocks and get some Schnitzel or Bratwurst, or a hamburger from the gourmet hamburger restaurants that have sprouted like dandelions across Europe. It’s hard to screw up a fat slab of beef on bread.

No. It’s falafel I crave, and it’s falafel I will have. According to Google, the best-rated restaurant in the neighborhood is a crowded little fast-food place called Azzam. You order at the cash desk, where the four men behind the counter work like machines, chopping, slicing, garnishing, throwing, yelling–the last two are necessary in an overcrowded joint like this. I order the falafel plate, which comes with hummus, pickles, and tomato.

There is free tea out of the samovar. It has two nozzles–one for hot water, and one for hot Turkish tea concentrate; espresso tea, if you will. Put too much of the second one in, your tea backhands you.

Finally, it’s the moment of reckoning. The fact it was only four euros and served up in less than a minute bodes well for my pocketbook and the use of my time, but not the quality of the food. The pickles are a bit too salty, the hummus seems a bit too oily. What will it be?

Success! It’s good! And when falafel is good, it’s very good. Crunchy on the outside, warm and moist on the inside. Exploding with garlic and chickpea flavor. All seven balls of falafel go down beautifully, dipped in hummus, chased with pickles and backhanding Turkish tea.

It augurs well for my time in Berlin.

Photo by: Jo Turner

Elton John and Colonel Sanders Can’t Both Be Wrong About This Pie

Jun.27.17

Elton John and Colonel Sanders Can’t Both Be Wrong About This Pie

by Steele Rudd

Tiger Pie in Sydney

The decor is retro diner; pure Americana. Chrome benches, vinyl seat covers, a big neon sign out the front that screams HARRY’s. Pinups of visiting celebrities paste the walls.

But the menu is single-mindedly British. Pies, and lots of them. The classic mince or chunky steak options, a couple of curry pies, veggie or marinara alternatives. If you’re really desperate for a meal that doesn’t come ensconced in buttery, flaky pastry, you could go for a hot dog or a roast beef roll, but tourists and locals alike have been coming back to Harry’s Cafe de Wheels for 70 years for the pies.

And one pie in particular. I’m here today for the pie that sets Harry’s apart from your average bakery. The pie that’s been a late-night savior to generations of drunken sailors and the subject of an Elton John press conference. The pie so good that Colonel Sanders smashed three in a row. Harry’s Tiger pies are a two-fisted sculpture of meat and pastry, topped with a generous double crown of mashed potatoes and mushy peas, then scooped out and filled up with hot gravy.

I’m the only customer in when I order mine. It’s 9 a.m., but Harry’s pies are traditionally a breakfast: the original restaurant had a long history as an (immobile) food van stationed outside a naval dock, serving sailors something hearty in the early hours before they stumbled back onto base.

The waitress/cashier takes a chicken pie out of the warmer, ladles up some steamy mash on top, and plonks a chunky mess of peas on top of that. Out of an industrial-size tureen she scoops up the thick gravy, uses the bottom of the spoon to dig a trough in the mash and peas, and fills it like a tiny bowl of soup.

Meanwhile I’m considering my sauce options. There are a couple of mustards, a mint jelly, and Worcestershire and HP sauce. They’re used so infrequently that some of the bottles have scabbed over, but it’s the thought that counts.

When my pie’s ready, I take a seat by the long countertop. The steam rises off the pie, thick and sticky. I use my spoon to mix the peas and mash and gravy together and take a couple of bites of the gloopy paste. It tastes and feels like a pre-chewed roast dinner, warm and nutritious and weirdly comforting. When I’m halfway through the toppings, I dig a hole in the pie’s roof and mush the rest inside. The pie bulges and dribbles obscenely and I feel a bit like a kid playing with his food, but this way I can pick the whole thing up at once. I chug the rest down quickly and feel exactly full enough.

On the way out I snap a photo of Colonel Sanders, cheerily mugging his way through a pie in 1974. Honestly, before I visited Harry’s I hadn’t realized that Colonel Sanders was a real person.

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.

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