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Breakfast

Eating the World Every Morning

Stories We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Eat

Jul.23.15

Stories We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Eat

by Alexa van Sickle

Eggs Burning in Hell From New Jersey

The Sopranos, the television drama about a New Jersey mob boss who struggles to balance work—strip clubs, gambling, and the occasional murder—with family and sessions with his therapist, is a masterpiece of storytelling. Not long after I became obsessed with the show, I discovered The Sopranos Family Cookbook.

A cookbook was a fitting merchandise tie-in not only because of the characters’ Italian heritage, but because food was an important storytelling device and theme throughout The Sopranos, leaving clues for the audience and foreshadowing events, and furnishing Tony’s pathology. At the start of the show, Tony has a panic attack and collapses while barbecuing. He and his therapist eventually work out that it was triggered by the sight of meat — a suppressed trauma from Tony’s childhood discovery that his father managed to put steak on the dinner table by extorting (and worse) the local butcher. A later panic attack is triggered by the sight of gabagool.

The show’s controversial and ambiguous final scene takes place at Holsten’s Diner in New Jersey. Tony, his wife Carmela, and son Anthony, Jr., each eat an onion ring. I won’t say what happens next, but there have been countless forums, discussions, re-caps and blogs dissecting the final scene, and many believe many clues are in the diner itself, and the small crumbs of foreshadowing that reach back to the very first episode.

The Sopranos Family Cookbook contains instructions for all kinds of family-style Italian feasts. Eggs in Purgatory is one of the simplest recipes. The exact origins of this dish are unknown; it is often associated with Catholicism, with the eggs representing souls and the tomato sauce serving as purgatory. But it’s also possible that it is based on a much older North African dish, shakshouka.

Either way, it’s easy enough to make: heat some olive oil, onion, and garlic in a frying pan, add some chopped tomatoes, basil, salt, and pepper. Once the tomatoes simmer, crack a couple of eggs into the pan, and the tomatoes will poach them nicely. I call my version Eggs Burning in Hell because I like to season the dish with fresh chilies, chili flakes, and chopped-up hot sausages.

Whenever I make it, I like to wonder where Tony Soprano ended up, and whether he’s still eating gabagool straight out of the fridge, or watching TV with a bowl of ice cream on his chest.

Not the Bali of In-Flight Magazines, But Good Enough

Oct.24.17

Not the Bali of In-Flight Magazines, But Good Enough

by Lindsay Gasik

Lumpia in Bali

Nothing would go wrong on my parents’ first trip to Bali, I decided. Their Bali would be the stuff of the airline magazine they’d read on the flight there. Their first night would be in one of those cute walled gardens, hidden from the street by an ornate wooden door, which would feel like a secret yet lavish world of yellow plumerias, weathered grey gargoyles, and tropical fruit breakfasts.

That first morning my mom woke, took a sun-dappled walk on the beach, and announced she wanted to see the memorial for Pan Am Flight 812, which crashed in 1974. My brow furrowed. This was not on the itinerary.

Before leaving, she’d told her coworker she was headed to Bali. “That’s cool,” her colleague said. “The last time I was there was when my dad’s plane crashed.”

His father was the flight engineer on the Boeing 707 when it lost contact with Bali Air Traffic Control and, taking a wrong right turn during the approach to Ngurah Rai International Airport, found a mountain in the way. The plane exploded on impact. None of the 107 bodies were ever identified. Mom promised we’d look for the memorial.

A search on Google Maps showed it was only five miles north of Sanur. Easy. We could swing by on our way to the Elephant Cave and still be on time for that vegetarian lunch in Ubud. But at the map pin, after two miles trundling down a potholed country lane, we found only a crumbling stone wall in an empty field. A pack of feral-looking dogs rose from behind it. “Are we lost?” Mom asked.

“Nah,” I tapped my phone screen and turned the car around. “We’ll just ask at the old hotel.”

But the hotel yawned at us from a dilapidated lot, the windows dark and cracked, the pink paint chipped. “I guess it has been 30 years,” Dad said. I flagged a passing motorcyclist, who pointed us down a rutted dust road. It was now mid-morning, and lunch in Ubud would have to be dinner. I didn’t have a back-up plan.

The road dead-ended in a temple parking lot. There a man sat with an aquarium-sized tub of spring rolls, called lumpia here, humming to himself. “Hey! Good Morning!” he called cheerfully. I asked him about the memorial, wondering who here was buying the lumpia. They looked fried to wilting.

He pointed us to the back corner of the lot, tucked behind a small gate. It was carved out of the same weathered charcoal stone of the gargoyles and topped with a tasseled yellow umbrella. We took the photos, and returned to the lumpia man. With a pair of scissors, he snipped the spring rolls into bite-sized pieces, revealing their bean-sprout innards. Over the top he ladled out a sticky molasses-like sauce, kecap manis, and handed the paper cone to my dad.

We took turns spearing the lumpia bites with an elongated toothpick as we walked back to the thoroughly dirty car. They tasted greasy and sweet, the bean sprouts melted to mush by oil. It wasn’t a meal fit for a magazine spread, but I wasn’t worried anymore. Our Bali would be this memory of being together.

The 7 Train to Nepalese Breakfast

Oct.20.17

The 7 Train to Nepalese Breakfast

by Cristina Schreil

Sel roti in Queens, NY

If not for the routine thunder of the 7 train, I’d be disoriented. Behind me is charted territory: the subway, Queens. Before me is a chunk of Nepal. It’s Sunday morning, and I’m following Shailesh, a Kathmandu-born actor turned activist, through a diverse section of Jackson Heights. My stomach practically utters a whale call as we come to an establishment that brims like a subway car. I almost miss the Nepalese businesses in a crush of cell-phone stores and clothing boutiques.

A sign reads “Nepali Bhanchha Ghar.” I learn “Bhanchha” means kitchen.

We’re here for sel roti, a traditional treat. Many greet us with “Namaste” as we enter. The wall has Nepalese flags and snapshots of peaceful mountaintops and the Dalai Lama. It’s a savory-smelling hive; servers scurry behind a small counter tending to vats of soups, stews, and momo, the beloved Himalayan dumpling. But the real showstopper is in the corner. A woman in a baseball cap perches on a low stool. Upon hearing my sel roti order, she flies into action. A stack of crisp, graham cracker-hued hoops are next to her. They appear like towers of onion rings.

Choking up on the handle, the woman swishes a large ladle about a bucket of white, grits-like batter. She grabs the decapitated head of a soda bottle and plops a heap into the back end. Drifting this device over a wok with bubbling oil, she opens the spigot to let a thick strand fall. Her wrists are quick. She shapes the batter into a floating circle, forging a saucer-sized hoop that puffs and fries like a donut. It’s meditative. Gingerly, she coaxes and flips it with a long wand. It bobs luxuriously, as if it were on vacation.

This treat is uniquely Nepalese; sel roti is nothing like the South Asian roti flatbread. Made from ground, soaked rice, they’re staples on special occasions and festivals. I receive a tidy plate with one sel roti loop among mounds of colorful assorted “thali,” or plates of chutneys and pickled vegetables. A lime wedge, onion hunk, and tiny pepper sit like gleaming gems. A closer look at the sel roti reveals this is no onion ring: constellations of pearlescent dots fleck the golden exterior. I rip inside and find a light, rice-doughy texture and pleasant sweetness. A tooth-sinking crunch immediately calls to mind Chinese sesame balls. I pop some pickled vegetables into my mouth for an intriguing contrast between bitter and sweet.

Shailesh explains that the Nepalese commonly have a light bite for breakfast—sel roti, or another bread or porridge—with spiced tea. But for now, he says, this will do. I agree.

Nepali Bhanchha Ghar
7406 37th Rd Jackson Heights, NY 11372

All That About the Cat and We Don’t Even Get the Dalai Lama Story?

Oct.18.17

All That About the Cat and We Don’t Even Get the Dalai Lama Story?

by Shirin Mehrotra

Croissants in McLeodganj

It was late at night, around 8-9 maybe (that’s late in Himachal) when I spotted a pale yellow wall, with “Lhamo’s Croissant” scribbled across it. I could only make out the feeble outline of a café, and made a mental note to check it out the next morning. The idea of eating croissants for breakfast spread a warm feeling in my belly on that cold night.

I was in McLeodganj, a place I had been dreaming of visiting since I read David Michie’s The Dalai Lama’s Cat. The book opened the world of Tibetans in India to me, who had settled in this sleepy hamlet after leaving Tibet (after the Chinese occupation) and followed in the footsteps of their spiritual guru, the Dalai Lama.

When “HHC” (His Holiness’s Cat—the central character of the book) wobbled her way through the lovely hills, I imagined myself trailing in her paw-steps. I wondered about the pretty book cafes where she would perch herself on top of book shelves. The aromas that wafted from the kitchen of the Dalai Lama would make me mentally re-create those fabulous meals. And now that I was finally here; the place was everything I had imagined it to be. With the view of the Dhauladhar Mountains from every corner, there was an invisible layer of peace spread over the town.

Next morning, as planned, we walked to Lhamo’s Croissant—a picturesque two-level café at the corner of the street, with a terrace that opened up to the view of the snow-capped mountains. We were welcomed by a young Tibetan boy who single-handedly managed the place. Chef Lhamo, owner of the café, walked in right behind us with a bagful of grocery and fresh vegetables in her hands. She said a quick hello and walked straight to the kitchen at the basement of the café. Soon we could hear the sounds of our breakfast being rustled up and saw Lugoen, the manager, walking out of the kitchen with tray full of freshly baked breads, all whole-wheat or gluten free.

As we stretched our legs on the low seating section, our breakfast was served: freshly baked whole wheat breads with butter and jam, eggs, freshly squeezed juice, coffee, almond milk smoothie and chocolate croissant; everything so unadulterated, like the mountain air. We lazed around at the café for a while, a book in hand, before venturing out to explore the rest of the town, unaware that a chance encounter with the Dalai Lama awaited us at our next spot.

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.

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