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Breakfast

Eating the World Every Morning

Why the Coffee Sucks in One of the World’s Best Coffee-Growing Nations

Feb.17.16

Why the Coffee Sucks in One of the World’s Best Coffee-Growing Nations

by Mark Wetzler

Coffee in Marsella

I’m sitting outside a cafe in Marsella, Colombia—a small town located in the middle of Colombia’s “eje cafetero,” or “coffee axis”—trying to figure out why Colombian coffee is so bad.

It shouldn’t be. If I were to get out of my chair and sprint in any direction for two minutes I’d soon find myself wading through rows and rows of leafy, verdant coffee plants, some of the most renowned arabica plants in the world. And yet order a coffee in 99 percent of establishments in Colombia, like the one I’m at right now, and the result is the same: a product that vaguely resembles what you know to be coffee but tastes more like battery acid.

Further north, in the town of Fredonia, an hour and a half south of Medellin, I get a little insight as to why this is. I talk to Richard, a twenty-something Fredonita whose family owns Cafe Don Chucho and has 30,000 plants in the neighboring hills. Richard is fighting a difficult fight; he’s trying to bring coffee culture to Fredonia, a tiny town built on a mountainside whose main modes of transportation include horseback and heavy-duty Toyota Land Cruisers.

“The old people, they’re not going to change,” explains Richard. “They’re happy with the way tinto tastes. It’s what they know. But the younger generation is starting to get more interested in the way coffee could be.”

The tinto Richard is talking about is essentially what Colombian coffee culture has always been. It’s made in a colossal silver cylinder drip machine, filtered several times and heated and reheated throughout the day. What’s more, often times it’s not even Colombian; it’s imported pre-ground from Vietnam. When I ask Richard if it wouldn’t be cheaper to use local coffee, he looks sheepish. “Actually, probably yes,” he says. “But again, this is the way they’ve always done things. It’s the system they’re used to.”

In the capital of Bogotá, just 143 miles away as the crow flies but nine hours by bus, this system is starting to change. The following week I check out cafe and bakery Arbol del Pan, a perfect example of the advancing coffee culture in Colombia. The americano I order tastes fresh-roasted, fresh-ground, and properly prepared.

Arbol del Pan gets their coffee from Vereda Central, a local roaster whose employee, Santiago, sheds valuable light on the Colombian coffee situation.

“In the 70s and 80s, the norm became exporting the best beans and using the pasilla“—beans damaged by bugs and other elements—”for local coffee. Then came Oma and Juan Valdez (Colombian coffee chains) who started using healthy beans, but still not the best. And now you have places like Arbol del Pan that only use premium-quality, single-origin beans.”

Why would a farmer sell them in his home country when he can get a much higher price abroad? And, of course, there’s also the matter of tradition. “People are used to their tinto and and they’re used to paying 800-1000 pesos”—about 30 cents USD—”for it,” Santiago says, echoing Richard’s statements. “Why would they pay more?”

In Bogotá, however, people are starting to pay more. People are willing to shell out a few extra pesos for a locally-sourced, high-quality product. This isn’t surprising, being in the capital, but I wonder what will become of Richard and his coffee shop back in Fredonia. Due to the longstanding tinto tradition, Richard is fighting an uphill battle. And in Fredonia, as well as in most of Colombia, the hills are steep.

Where Better to Drink Coffee Than in the Chicken Capital of the Philippines?

May.24.17

Where Better to Drink Coffee Than in the Chicken Capital of the Philippines?

by Shirin Bhandari

Coffee in Bacalod

The colorful pre-war jeepney lets us off in the middle of a busy street. We make our way through the market in search of an early morning caffeine fix. Meats, fresh seafood, and vegetables are on display as we push against people haggling loudly. The aroma of coffee wafts by.

The city of Bacolod, in the Visayan Islands, is known for its sugar cane haciendas and for being the chicken capital of the Philippines. Skewered and grilled on a stick, or alive and ready to kill in a cockfighting pit, the city is obsessed with poultry. However, many are unaware of Bacalod’s coffee potential.

Café Excellente is an old and quaint coffee shop on the main thoroughfare of the central market. A group of rusted chairs and a long wooden bench serve as seats. A young boy crushes the coffee beans in a large industrial grinder. A large pot is on the boil. The beans are grown on the sub-tropical foothills of Mount Kanlaon and brought into town for trade.

Coffee was introduced to the Philippines by the Spanish conquistadors in the mid-18th century. The coffee seedlings initially came from Mexico, and were first planted in the fields of Batangas, south of Manila. Two hundred years ago, the Philippines was the world’s fourth-largest coffee producer, until insect infestation destroyed all the coffee trees in the late 19th century. Its coffee standing has declined, but there is now an interest among farmers in reviving the trade. The Philippines is one of only a few countries that can produce all four main coffee varieties—Robusta, Liberica, Arabica, and Excelsa.

The little café tucked inside the buzzing market is a far cry from the prohibitively complicated concoctions of Starbucks: here, 12 pesos buys you a hot cup. The freshly roasted coffee beans are filtered through local cheese-cloth called katcha and served to you in its purest form.

The fragrant coffee is presented in a small brown mug with a spoon on top. The dark liquid is strong and crisp, intense and rich in taste.

A man seated next to me has a can of sweet evaporated milk. He whisks a few drops into his coffee. The hawkers across the cafe wave and offer a variety of cakes and local pastries.

I settle with a sticky roll of rice in coconut milk with homegrown muscovado sugar, wrapped in banana leaf. The people at the neighboring table laugh as I try to figure out the logistics of unraveling the gluey cake. The first bite is corrosively sweet—but a perfect match for the underrated coffee of Bacolod.

We Should All Be So Lucky as to Have Beautiful and Boring Memories

May.23.17

We Should All Be So Lucky as to Have Beautiful and Boring Memories

by Jessica Furseth

Brunost in Norway

The house I grew up in was sold the year after I left home, and I never saw it again. It’s in the Trøndelag region of Norway in a village called Å—a single letter word meaning “still river,” named for a stream where the water sometimes runs so slowly you can see your reflection. It’s a beautiful place that was also very boring.

Every Norwegian breakfast table has two kinds of cheese: white and brown. The white is a mellow gouda, and the brown is a very different animal. Brunost—literally “brown cheese”—is made from whey, is caramel-like in flavor, with a texture that resembles fudge, but with a cheesy tang. Brunost is one of the most Norwegian things you’ll find: it’s ubiquitous and distinctive, and also plain and quotidian, just like the brown paper wrapped around school lunches.

As a teenager, living in that house in the village with the curious name, I’d often have Brunost for breakfast. I’d carve off a slice of bread, homemade by my mother, on the chopping board that you pulled out of the kitchen unit like a drawer. Salty butter came next, and then the special Norwegian cheese cutter, the only way to get nice slices off the sticky Brunost. I’d take my open-faced sandwich and go sit on top of the stocky dining room table that my father had made, resting my feet on the bench while looking out the window and eating in silence. It was always so quiet in that village, a beautiful place where nothing ever happened.

I live in London now, a place where everything happens all the time, and I haven’t been back inside that house in 16 years. But I can still walk through it in my mind, perfectly recalling the smallest details: the feel of the front door handle in my hand, the texture of the hallway linoleum, and which kitchen cupboard had my mother’s shopping list tacked on the inside.

Tine, Norway’s national dairy, makes 11 kinds of brown cheese these days, but anyone who knows anything will tell you there are really only three. The light and mild Fløtemysost is full of cream, the medium-flavored Gudbrandsdalsost is the original and most common, and the dark and rich Geitost is my favorite. It’s sharp and pungent, made purely out of goat’s milk. This was the one I’d put on those slices of bread early in the morning, all those years ago, and eat while looking out the window onto the snow-covered landscape. I can still remember the grain of the wooden table, the curve of the plate, and the salty tang of the caramel cheese. The memory is boring and beautiful, and it’s so close to the surface that I can taste it.

Is This the Best Sausageless Sausage Sandwich in Chile?

May.22.17

Is This the Best Sausageless Sausage Sandwich in Chile?

by Cristina Slattery

Choripán in Punta Arenas

At a quarter of eight in the morning, other cities might have been buzzing. At the end of March, Punta Arenas—the capital of Chile’s southernmost region—was still dark, and although teenagers in uniforms were heading to school, the city was quiet.

In the main square, there is a bronze statue of Hernando de Magallanes, as Ferdinand Magellan is known in Chile. People make a point of kissing the statue’s large foot—or at least rubbing it—to ensure they will one day return to Patagonia.

Coffee shops that had been open the night before were all closed now. “Desayuno? Dónde?” I asked a woman crossing the street. She looked perplexed, but not because she couldn’t understand the questions. A long moment followed. “Down that street, to the right, there is a place,” she said, pointing in the direction of the Strait of Magellan. Sure enough, on the right, a block from the center square, Kiosko Roca was open for business.

The room was packed. The royal-blue banners of the University of Chile and bright red ones of “La Roja,” the national soccer team, decorated the walls. Waitresses took orders rapidly from the mostly male crowd. Some people occupied seats at the counter and others stood in the center of the room waiting for a seat to be vacated, or were content to eat standing up. There was one free spot on a round stool at the very end of the counter.

Pieces of bread with a sauce resembling tomato paste appeared on the counter in front of the man to my right. “Choripán,” he explained. This is all that Kiosko Roca serves. Here, the choripán is a sandwich that comes with a sauce made from chorizo, with mayonnaise (chorimayo) or with cheese (choriqueso). At Kiosko Roca, the choripán is larger than an English muffin, but slightly smaller than an average bagel.

Brazilians, Uruguayans, Argentines, and Chileans are all partial to this sandwich, but it usually comes with a whole chorizo. Kiosko Roca uses the paste, but not the meat itself. They opened in 1932, so generations of Chileans know about Kiosko Roca’s sausageless style of choripán, even if they have never eaten one themselves.

I went for the choriqueso. After five or ten minutes—time seems to pass slowly when one is hungry—it arrived. The warm, freshly-baked bread with just a thin layer of melted white cheese was ideally suited to the crisp morning.

A few minutes later, it was time to leave. A short walk led to the boardwalk that bordered the Strait of Magellan. Tierra del Fuego was visible on the horizon, but just barely.

Delicious, Flaky Pastries Not Quite Like Grandma Used to Make

May.17.17

Delicious, Flaky Pastries Not Quite Like Grandma Used to Make

by Dave Hazzan

Burek in Dubrovnik

Ottawa, 1989.

When we were children, my grandmother, Mariette Setton, would take the Voyageur bus from Montreal to stay with us. These trips happened about once a month, and I loved them.

Grandma would take us all to the fast food joint of our choice, stuff us with grease, and then spend the weekend telling us how wonderful we were compared to our father when he was our age, back in Egypt, the old country they had fled in the 50s as very unwelcome Jews.

When not stroking our egos, grandma would spend most of the weekend making “cheese bits” and “spinach bits.” There was a routine to this.
First, she complained that she had to work all weekend like the Hebrews of old.

Second, she complained about the quality of the filo, the paper-thin pastry used to wrap the cheese and spinach with. Is this really the best filo they had? To which my father replied, would you really like to drive to the Arab market across town and try them all out for yourself?

Third, she would complain about their taste once they were finished and baked, for which she only blamed herself. They were wonderful, of course: a taste of the old country my grandmother would not talk about. I also appreciated it when she told my Dad that 13 was perfectly old enough for me to drink beer with them.

Dubrovnik, 2017.

It turns out cheese and spinach bits are called burek. You can also get them with meat. It also turns out they’re a Balkan specialty, not just from Egypt. The Croatians shape them like Danishes, whereas my grandmother used to fold them over each other into squares or triangles. But the food is the same.

They’re also hella good for breakfast. At our home they were appetizers, but my God, what did we miss by not eating them in the morning. The most miserable 15-year-old could be persuaded to eat breakfast before school if it was salted cheese or spinach with lemon, wrapped in pastry.

Of course, when you get them at the bakery down the road (and outside the Old City) and eat them on a park bench, you save on the extortionate prices they charge for restaurant breakfasts, which aren’t as tasty anyway.

And the flakes make for great bird feed. My wife, Jo, has taken to imitating Snow White, and crumbling flakes into her hand so sparrows will land on her and pick them off. That the flying beasts are filthy with disease is apparently not an issue.

Mariette Setton died in 2007, at the age of 95. It wasn’t the kind of death where you cry, “Why God why?” to the skies. But that doesn’t mean we don’t miss grandma anyway. So, if I take nothing else away from Croatia, at least I’ll take away morning memories of my grandmother, who has never been here.

Photo by: Jo Turner

Honor Your Ancestors With Their Favorite Food, Or Whatever’s Easiest to Carry

May.16.17

Honor Your Ancestors With Their Favorite Food, Or Whatever’s Easiest to Carry

by Charline Jao

Dragonfruit in Taiwan

The heavy cloud of incense overwhelms me. I’m not used to the smell. Thin wafts of smoke draw out memories of household shrines, street-side temples, and our most recent visit about a year ago.

“It is not good for you to breathe in,” my mother tells me, when I ask if she likes the smell. Qingming Festival isn’t officially until next month—April 5th in Taiwan for the day Chiang Kai Shek died and different elsewhere depending on the solar calendar—but some places of remembrance have already opened for Tomb-Sweeping Day.

The temple has prepared vases, plates, and cups for families to use as we remember our ancestors. A colorful dragon stares at me from the bright red plates, just a little damp from people rinsing them after use. We set our white flowers into a vase and lay out our offerings—dragonfruits, apples, cookies, and savory snacks. Having few memories of them, I ask if the crackers and fruits were chosen to suit my grandparent’s taste. My mother explains it is more because they are convenient to carry. Next to us, a family brings out an entire fish and a huge piece of pork belly that the red plate struggles to hold. Another carefully removes the lids off the takeout they brought. The generic packing suggests they are from a local shop.

For any situation, you can find a Chinese food idiom or phrase to match it. Every festival food typically has a story or pun behind it, elevating eating into a cultural activity full of history and mythology. Fish symbolize prosperity, bananas stand for brilliance, and apples mean peace. One verse from an old Song dynasty book comes to mind here: “Firewood, rice, oil, salt, sauce, vinegar and tea are the seven necessities to begin a day.” If we think of the sticks of incense burning unevenly into the white rice as some kind of firewood, we have all the components of an ideal morning. It’s almost like we’re having breakfast with the dead, though we ourselves are not going to be eating until later.

Here, my parents talk about their fathers in the present tense. “Dad must like it a lot here,” says my father. “The view is great, he has a lot of company.” This meal ends when the incense burns out, at which point the ashy rice is thrown out.

The food brought out for tomb-sweeping differs widely by region, with some focusing on dumplings or spring rolls. However, there’s just as much variation within this one temple. The family with the fish packs up and another takes their place, slowly pouring out rice wine into tiny cups. It’s easy to try and paint images of the deceased based on their offerings—this one loved drinking, this one enjoyed meat, this one really liked pea crackers—but I suspect it’s more telling of the families visiting.

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