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Breakfast

Eating the World Every Morning

Who Needs Fruit When You Can Have Carbs?

Aug.27.15

Who Needs Fruit When You Can Have Carbs?

by Nastasya Tay

Masala Chai and Tubers in Nairobi

I want a piglet, so we go to market.

It’s a sort of unsettled morning. Gray, with a dull buzz. Burundi is on the radio again, BBC World Service drifting through the traffic, everything suspended in the early morning oblivion.

Nairobi City County market has acquired a new sign since I’ve last passed: OPEN 24 HOURS. Yet 7 am is clearly rush hour for cleavering; white coats, gumboots, and hospital horror splatter.

Mwangi degloves to make some calls. Promises me he’ll find me a good specimen for Saturday’s roasting experiment scheduled for our Serbian neighbors’ self-built wood-fired backyard oven.

Nivi steers us around the corner, onto Bishiara Street, and to a doorway behind the newspaper seller. It’s been over a year since I’ve seen her, and the city. Life messiness has gotten in the way: coverage of a never-ending Paralympian murder trial, a love affair with an artist, the end of a love affair with an artist. It’s an adopted homecoming of sorts; time for tea.

The G&R restaurant, announced by red letters painted on whitewash, is dark inside with wall-mounted fluorescent tubes. The G&R annex next door is wood-carved and happier looking. We opt for the former.

Inside, two wan goldfish swim listlessly in their dim tank by the lattice partition in place of a door. A paper sign in highlighter yellow and BOLD ARIAL CAPS declares opening hours between 4.30-2.00am daily above a vegetable decal from the 1970s. I imagine taxi drivers and tired dancing girls slumped over rattan table legs. Right now, it is the domain of men in suits with white melamine mugs.

Felix has fixed his cracked conference-hand-me-down name badge with sellotape. He runs over, earnest, black waistcoated, and flashes an enormous smile.

The menu offers Egg, Ommelets & Sand Witches. Let me give you a Spanish, Felix says to me. The Spanish, it is really, really, very, very good. The suited businessman to my left is absently coaxing his strips of pancake into neat rolls before spearing them, lost in the Daily Nation. I order from the Roots & Snacks section.

The masala chai arrives, brown skin growing in the middle of my mug. They boil it all together, in a pot on the stove, Nivi says, shoveling in teaspoons of sugar.

The heat hits the back of my throat, scalding in an explosion of ginger, cloves, cardamon, and nutmeg. It’s weak on tea, seemingly replaced with pepper. It burns all the way down, then settles into a prickly, comforting warmth. The milk skin catches on my teeth, and I try to rub it away without anyone noticing, hide it in my napkin.

Nivi is fingering her hoop earrings and asking what color I think her latest project should be. A female tech entrepreneur in Africa’s proclaimed tech hub, she’s been digitizing the Kenyan primary school syllabus for tablets. Now, they’re putting together remote classrooms: a BRCK for Internet access and tablets loaded with lessons, all inside a shockproof, waterproof gear case on wheels, which recharges everything overnight. We decide the case should be bright yellow and resemble a spaceship.

On two wall-mounted televisions in opposite corners, 40 of Kenya’s most successful women under 40 are dispensing wisdom on a morning talk show. “You should eat fruit,” one reveals. “Look after your body, too.”

We aren’t eating fruit.

My pancake has arrived with a deep fried hunk of muhogo, cassava dropped in the deep fryer so it splinters and then sticks to the roof of my mouth. On a side plate, dense slabs of ngwaci promise to behave similarly, sweet potato boiled into near-crumbliness. A beef samosa perches on the edge of a saucer, wondering what it’s doing amid the carb fiesta.

Nivi is unperturbed. She squeezes a glob of ketchup onto her plate from a squeezy bottle—luminescent fuchsia, reminiscent of fake blood from hostile environment training—then adds a dollop of opaque chilli and swirls them together with a torn shard of chapati.

Matilda, the manager, comes over with crooked teeth and a perfectly combed bowler weave to inform us we’re eating the Best African Breakfast in Nairobi. Meat and vegetables and milk from Godfrey and Richard—fraternal co-owners—and their shamba in Kiambu, on the outskirts of town.

What does G&R stand for, I ask Felix.

Gatundu Restaurant, he says, confidently, That’s where the owner is from. And the president, too.

I persist: What about the “and?”

Gatundu AND Restaurant, Felix says proudly.

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.

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.

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