I like breakfast almost as much as my mom. Who doesn’t love pancakes or waffles? French toast? * Eggs scrambled or poached or soft-cooked or boiled? Bacon and sausage and ham? Biscuits or toast? Fruit juice? Mugs of steaming (preferably strong) coffee?
* In France it’s called pain perdu “lost bread.” Baguettes get stale quickly. Slices are soaked in milk then fried. I’ve only seen it once on a French menu.
My first time to fully appreciate different cultural approaches to breakfast occurred in London in 2006. Bill and I were famished and seated at a table in a large restaurant one morning. But when we read the menu, the foods that interested us were served with baked beans and grilled tomatoes.
Bill isn’t a bean fan (I am) and so I ate his. Even so… I remember looking at my plate when it was served. I felt as if those beans were an error. Someone has made a mistake. Who wants a scoop of beans with breakfast? (Tomatoes with breakfast aren’t uncommon in Texas when they’re fresh from the garden.)
But that was the beginning of my education about breakfasts in other cultures.
Considering the UK connections in Australian’s history, it’s no surprise that their breakfasts include beans and grilled tomatoes, too. When we were in Sydney we also noticed that the portions were huge.
When it comes to breakfast, huge is cool with me.
But Australians like to eat Vegemite in the mornings (any time of day really.) I liked it the first time I tried it at Marty’s house probably 25 years ago when his Australian friends Ken and Bob visited. It’s very salty and has a vaguely burnt taste. It’s also black.
In Asia, there really aren’t breakfast foods. Families often serve whatever was left over from the night before — curries or soups or fried meat. When we became hungry for breakfast (as we understood it) we located restaurants advertising American breakfast.
But then I noticed restaurants with signs offering Japanese breakfasts. These include white rice, natty (fermented soybeans), miso soup, salad. At the breakfast buffet in the hotel in Helsinki there were chilled bowls filled with torn lettuces and chopped raw veggies. The only people I saw eating from them were the Japanese guests.
What were the Finns eating? Dark, dense breads including rye. Black bread. Egg butter (boiled eggs mashed to a paste then folded into fresh butter.) Cheeses. Black sausage (blood sausage) along with items those of us from the U.S. would recognize — cereal, fruit juice, eggs.
In Colombia? They often eat leftovers from the night before.
Here in Paris? Espresso and croissants or pastries.
And cigarettes. The French smoke. A lot.
I like espresso — drink them quickly and in no time at all: zippy-zippy.
I’ve always liked zippy.
And they’re served in little cups that still make me think dollhouse.
But I’ve been hungry for served-in-a-restaurant bacon and eggs. A couple of days ago I ate at a cafe called Breakfast in America in the Marais district: two eggs cooked over-medium, bacon, sautéed potatoes with onions and peppers, toast and butter with strawberry jam, tomato juice and a big American ** coffee.
And ketchup for the potatoes! (Please, don’t judge me.)
God it was good.
** Cafe Americaine. Coffee (cafe) for the French is espresso, or espresso served with hot milk.
It was a revelation that Coffee-As-I-Know-It would present such a challenge. In Asia, they served instant coffee, if you asked. Otherwise, tea was served. To my surprise, I developed a taste for it. 90% of the time I want my coffee as we make it at home: whole beans freshly ground each morning that drips into a steel carafe that keeps it piping hot but avoids that coffee-on-a-burner taste.
But at the college there isn’t a coffee machine in the faculty room so if I want a cup (only on Wednesday afternoons for my 2 to 5 PM class) I’ll make a mug of instant coffee. My students can smell it’s instant, and sometimes give me funny looks.
(Isn’t that right, Courtney?)
Today I took the train to Montmartre. Before I hiked up the hill to see the Basilica of Sacré-Cœur, I was hungry and didn’t want to sit and order at a cafe. There was a McDonald’s at the Metro stop, so I ordered a quarter-pounder with cheese and a diet Coke. (I said don’t judge me.) In France, it’s called a Royal Cheese and Coca-Cola Light.
God it was good. And it tasted just like the ones in the U.S. And maybe that’s what I get hungry for sometimes — the familiar, the known. I’m almost certain that’s what was going on when I looked online for a place in Paris that served an American breakfast.
And as I coast into my fourth week, I guess I’m feeling the need for foody comfort.
And tomorrow? I’m planning to return to that cafe to order a big pile of pancakes covered with melting butter and warm maple syrup.
I can hardly wait.