The Way of Breakfast
End the Tyranny of the American Morning Meal
Eggs. Bacon (maybe ham or sausage). Potatoes (hash-browned only). Cereal (maybe oatmeal or grits). Fruit. Fruit juice. Pastries. Doughnuts. Bread (either toast or pancakes). This list, plus or minus, contains all of the basic ingredients in the average American breakfast. If you grew up in the US, chances are you’ve eaten some variation or preparation from this list almost exclusively since you started solid food.
This list of ingredients is so culturally ingrained that it’s almost background noise. You can walk into any restaurant that serves breakfast and expect to find some kind of combination of the above list on the menu. If you walk into an average eatery in the U.S. and tried to order something different before maybe 11 am– say a plate of pasta or a salad– and you’ll get some serious stares, if not total confusion.
Folks, I’m here to tell you that this practice is breakfast tyranny, and it has to stop!
It’s not just the limited ingredient list. As with everything else here in these Yoo-nited States, the problem with our Way of Breakfast is that there’s either too little or too much. We’re busy people; we’re in a society where for many of us, it’s hard enough to find time for a quick breakfast bar in the morning, let alone something more than a bowl of cereal and glass of juice. No wonder doughnuts are so ubiquitous right now– they’re fast and easy (and arguably delicious), even though it’s basically a slice of cake you’re eating right there in your doughnut hand.
Conversely, if we do have the time for breakfast, we’ll tend towards a massive spread that doesn’t just contain a few of the traditional ingredients, but features ALL of them. Bacon omelet with a side of sausage and grits, toast and some fruit and juice? Would you like some mortar with that pile of bricks?
Granted, we don’t have a monopoly on this practice– see the traditional English Full Breakfast for an equally monstrous meal from across the pond:
First of all, unless you’re hand-tilling the fields or doing heavy construction every day, there is absolutely no need for the kind of enormous carb and fat load you’re getting from a spread like this. This breakfast was designed for laborers who likely wouldn’t be able to break for lunch and had to get through the entire day working, burning calories and such. But, when we eat a breakfast like this, it’s usually in addition to our usual meal routine of a full lunch and a full dinner (plus snacks). CRAZY!
DON’T GET ME WRONG: I LOVE A GOOD BACON OMELET WITH HASHBROWNS. There’s nothing more satisfying on certain days than some delicious bacon pancakes. But if you’re interested in the alchemy of food, you have to be willing to step outside of the boundaries of your cultural inhibitions, and for Americans, breakfast is an easy– and awesome– way to do this. It’s also a good place to start thinking about eating less, and eating better!
Thankfully, there are many breakfasts you can try. Check out this amazing list of breakfasts from around the world, courtesy of wikipedia:
Breakfast — Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Breakfast foods vary widely from place to place, but often include a carbohydrate such as grains or cereals, fruit…
You could try an open-faced sandwich with pickled fish, like they do in Finland. You could eat some greens cooked in coconut milk with salted cod, like they do in Jamaica. You could have dosas with chutney, like they do in parts of India.
The choices are limitless!
If you’re looking for a good, easy place to start, why not make some congee? This is a rice porridge that’s served in parts of China and Asia, and the nice thing about it is that if you can make rice (and you can), you can make congee. You can even make it the night before and stick it in the fridge. Just add one part long grain rice to six parts water and bring to a boil (like you’re making dinner rice), then turn down the heat to simmer and let cook until it’s creamy. Serve hot with a fried egg on top, some delicious sardines, and some pickled greens!
My favorite of late is breakfast soup, again in the Asian style. In Japan, miso soup is quite common at the breakfast table, and it’s super-good for you. And easy! Just bring a couple of cups of water to a simmer and add some diced carrots and green onions, and maybe some seaweed (kombu for umami flavor, but remember to take it out before serving, or sliced nori strips). Maybe some diced tofu would be good, too. When it’s been simmering for a little while, add miso paste to taste, a tablespoon at a time. Serve with cold noodles or white rice!
Another of my favorites is completely off-the-cuff: 1/2 cup of plain yogurt (full fat, none of this fat-free nonsense) mixed with 1/2 cup of spicy kimchee, served with a little bacon on the side. Mmmm!
Now, I realize that this essay is geared towards my substantially American readership, but if you’re not in the U.S. and you’re interested in branching out for your morning repast, you totally should! The point is, you should experiment with breakfast and find something easy that you like. It doesn’t have to conform to a cultural list, or even a standard template.
This is real, actual, honest to goodness Alchemy: turning ingredients into interesting meals, regardless of the time of day.