2018 Primetime Emmy
& James Beard Award Winner

A Surfer Life Breakfast for the Type‑A Cubicle Set

A Surfer Life Breakfast for the Type‑A Cubicle Set

Açaí Bowls in San Diego

I tapped my feet impatiently outside the locked door: I was going to be late to work again. Finally—15 minutes after the posted opening time—keys jingled to let me into the tiny Brazilian café so I could order the beach version of a power breakfast: the açaí bowl.

With its proximity to the San Clemente headquarters of Sambazon—the company which first imported açaí to the U.S.—as well as a bustling Brazilian community, concoctions made with the exotic berry* were thriving in San Diego long before the rest of the country began to struggle with the pronunciation (for the last time, it’s ah-sigh-EE, dammit). Even in its native country, most Brazilians haven’t seen the actual fruit, which grows deep in the Amazon and does not travel well. However, the frozen pulp is ubiquitous at lanchonetes, snagged in small plastic cups as a snack or dessert.

I can’t speak to açaí’s “superfood” health benefits, touted by Oprah, then challenged when we reached peak açaí in 2009. And the much-lauded “energy boost” it provides is partially due to a calorie count that would send diet-conscious Californians into fits. But I’m simply a fan of cold fruit in the morning, and have mentally linked açaí bowls to the relaxed surfer lifestyle I long for. If it reduces my body’s free radicals, great.

The pursuit of perfection is frustrating. My neighborhood café requires a painful wait, as if each piece of fruit and flake of granola is set with tweezers for maximum aesthetic value. On weekends, that’s fine: I loosen up, often toting my bowl to the beach. However, on weekdays, I am not well-adapted to a flexible concept of time. That day, Very Important Spreadsheets required my attention, and I needed the cogs to get moving so I could make it to my cubicle on time.

The artiste finally presented her finished product in a styrofoam bowl, which I was able to pay for this time: also at odds with my Type-A self: the credit card machine is perpetually broken, and sometimes she can’t make change for cash.

Sure, there are other, more organized places that made decent bowls, emptying plastic pouches into blenders and decorating the icy slush. This might even be more similar to Brazil’s treatment of açaí, where the dirt-tasting pulp is often sweetened with guarana syrup to an almost sickening degree, the final product resembling a gritty Amazonian slushee. But I like my açaí bowls thick. Don’t pretend the thin, soupy abominations creeping into “healthy lifestyle” cafés worldwide are comparable: in San Diego, açaí bowls should be something to sink your spoon into. Give me my neighborhood bowl any day.

Sneaking into my desk with seconds to spare, my coworkers and their #saddeskbreakfasts looked on with envy as I dug into the sweet purple mash, letting my mind temporarily drift to the beach. The açaí spooned out like smooth ice cream, and traditional toppings of bananas, crunchy granola, and sticky honey were joined by the Americanized additions of strawberries and blueberries. Maybe today I was staring at a computer monitor instead of the waves. But to me, it was a way to start the day with a reminder that soon my toes would be back in the sun-warmed sand, spoon in hand.

*Technically a drupe, not a berry.

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