“The Most Contentious Meal of the Day”
In 2016, The Atlantic (magazine) published a fascinating history of our morning meal, from the Middle Ages through Victorian times to modern day. The article detailed how attitudes and opinions about breakfast have changed dramatically over time — shaped by everything from the economy to scientific discoveries. Countless studies have been done on the merits of eating breakfast — many declaring it the most important meal of the day and an equal number reporting that “there’s nothing magical about breakfast.”
More than 31 million Americans skip breakfast by choice every day, and most say it’s because they’re just not hungry in the morning. Fair enough. But what about the rest of us? Maybe we’re just bored with traditional American breakfast fare. If you enjoy breakfast, and you’re up for a culinary adventure, try something out of the ordinary for your next morning meal.
Consider an (Inter)Continental Breakfast
If you’ve ever traveled outside the U.S. and stayed in a small hotel, inn, or other accommodation not associated with an international brand, you’ve likely discovered that breakfast looks very different, perhaps even exotic. You may still find eggs, bread, and cereal on the menu, but that the presentation and preparation may be different than what we’d find in the U.S.
Here are a few popular breakfast dishes that are enjoyed in other parts of the world. You can easily find recipes online for these and other international breakfast favorites.
Mexico – Breakfast in Mexico might include “empanadas” or “chilaquiles” (chee-la-KEE-lays), a savory dish consisting of fried tortilla strips simmered in red or green salsa, topped with cheese and often a fried egg. Some cooks add thin strips of beef or chicken to the pot. Beans and sliced avocado are typical accompaniments. Chilaquiles is a hearty, satisfying food that can be made from scratch or with convenience foods, and it’s a great way to use up leftover chips and salsa to make something new.
South America – Breakfast fare varies greatly from country to country in South America. There are regional versions of many breakfast dishes, but coffee is ever-present in most places and enjoyed throughout the day. Breakfast is a lighter meal in most South American countries, consisting of small sandwiches like “empanadas”, “cachapas”, or “arepas” and fruit. Breakfast breads are usually savory — cheese breads and quinoa breads are popular at breakfast time. Sweet pastries are generally eaten only in the late afternoon, as a snack, and accompanied by coffee.
Middle East, Israel, Jerusalem – “Shakshuka” is believed to have originated in North Africa, but it is also a popular breakfast dish throughout the Middle East. Onions, bell peppers, and garlic are simmered with spices and chopped tomatoes to make a thick, savory base. The cook makes slight indentations in the surface of the sauce and cracks an egg into each one. The dish is finished on the stovetop (covered) or in the oven (uncovered) and garnished with cilantro, mint, feta, or whatever strikes the cook’s fancy. “Labneh”, a thick yogurt — thicker than Greek yogurt — is also popular at breakfast, along with falafel, hummus, pita, and other breads.
Africa – As in South America, each African country has its own specialties and there are regional variations of many dishes. Bean and egg dishes show up nearly everywhere, and two popular items from Egypt are “ful medames” (stewed fava beans) and “eggah”, a thick, spiced omelet filled with zucchini and mint, topped with feta cheese, and served with tomatoes. Breads are also popular at breakfast in most African nations.
Scandinavia – Breakfast in Scandinavian countries is often served as a Smörgåsbord with several dishes offered on a buffet. You will usually find sliced cheese and cold cuts, fresh vegetables, smoked fish, soft-boiled eggs, muesli (oats, dried fruit, nuts), and yogurt for drinking or eating with cereal or fruit. In typical Scandinavian fashion, a walk after breakfast is recommended.
Japan – An authentic Japanese breakfast is as wonderful to look at as it is to eat! The meal consists of many small dishes with a wide variety of textures, colors, and flavors. Japanese breakfast is designed to wake up your senses and energize you for the day ahead. A small portion of grilled fish or tofu serves as the main dish. A bowl of miso soup or a clear broth may be offered, along with a variety of side dishes such as rice porridge, an egg pancake, a cooked vegetable, pickled vegetables, or seaweed and always, green tea. Portion size is key. The idea is to provide a balanced meal that won’t weigh you down.
You may Become a Breakfast Fan!
If you’ve never considered vegetables or beans for breakfast, be brave and take that step! You may find you enjoy savory flavors in the morning and the nutritious boost that comes with many of these meals. Most of the Middle Eastern and African dishes featured here are also enjoyed at lunch and dinner in their respective countries, and you could try them later in the day if you prefer.
Whether or not breakfast is the most important meal of your day, it need not be the most predictable. Mix it up by having shakshuka, a Scandinavian Smörgåsbord, or seaweed on your breakfast table sometime soon!