The Subtle Pleasures of Solo Breakfast Dining
Sup ekor pedas in London
As a traveler, I would consider myself pretty green. All of my jaunts rely on riding the coattails of the carefully-laid plans of others: a study-abroad program Italy, a romantic weekend in Paris with a paramour, and a family trip to Puerto Rico, to name a few.
In January I took a trip to London, solo. It was purposefully timed around Inauguration Day—it seemed like the perfect time to get away. I was always craving something warm to eat, as it was the dead of winter, but couldn’t stomach a Full English breakfast. The idea of black pudding and sausages with my morning coffee felt gluttonous compared to my usual eggs and toast. On top of this, having to eat alone at every meal felt daunting, because sitting down to eat is synonymous with socializing. Most meals consumed on a daily basis are in the presence of friends, colleagues, or even just my curious cat, hoping for a scrap.
My first morning, I left the tiny flat in Paddington I was renting, wandered down Leinster Gardens with my stomach as empty as the facades at numbers 23 and 24, and set out to meet my self-inflicted demands.
The first shop that welcomed me was a Malaysian restaurant nestled between an aggressively-lit tourist trap of vibrant, cheap baubles and a family-run pharmacy. Tudkin sat unassumingly on Craven Terrace, a mere 10-minute walk from Hyde Park. Plain wooden tables and chairs lined the walls like students at a middle school dance, and the rich smells of tamarind and coconut drifted inside.
It was there that I had sup ekor pedas—spicy oxtail soup—for the first time. For breakfast. Legend has it that a version of this soup originated at Spitalfields, in East London, soon after the British established the Straits Settlements in the 18th century, which were later dissolved in 1946. The soup, and Malaysian cuisine, retained an influence on British culture.
Nothing was more satisfying than chasing my three or four morning espressos with the thick broth dotted with splashes of spicy oil and meat so tender that my spoon felt like the sharpest knife. It was clear someone had taken much care with this dish. A pile of delicately bias-cut green onions floated on the surface.
Toward the end of my meal, a group of bawdy businessmen sat down to my right for an early lunch. Debates on politics in America and the future of Brexit hung, smoldering, over their plates of curry.
I was very grateful to be dining alone.