Considered by many to be the most important meal of the day, breakfast comes in myriad forms, with local traditions and produce, as well as the customs of neighbouring or colonising countries, influencing both the content and the manner in which it is eaten.
With international trade making it possible to source ingredients from distant lands, there’s a huge amount of scope for experimenting with unfamiliar breakfast dishes. That’s why Dr. Foodle has – with a little help from his friends – compiled this inspiring list of dishes that are eaten across the globe, after the break of dawn.
What’s on the breakfast table in…
AFRICA: As the continent’s size and geography suggests, various morning meals are eaten in different parts of Africa. In the North, close to Egypt and Tunisia, a bread of some sort (usually made with sorghum or millet) is washed down with a hot drink, whereas in South Africa, what constitutes breakfast (cereal, eggs, bread, coffee…) is heavily influenced by decades of colonisation by Europeans. In the parts of Africa that are stricken by poverty, it’s common for people to eat gruel made from whatever grains are available, along with fresh fruit, coconuts, and bananas.
AUSTRALIA: As you might expect from a nation that thrives on outdoor activity and fitness, the Australians have got healthy breakfasts down to a tee, serving up “wholesome, healthy, filling, veggie-forward food” according to Bon Appetit’s creative director, Alex Grossman, who discovered a pleasing combination of offerings, including mashed avocado, fermented kimchi, fresh fruit, and wholegrains during a recent trip. But Dr. Foodle was reminded by one citizen there that they’re also keen on a simple breakfast of toast and Vegemite, too!
CAMBODIA: It’s not unusual to see a Khmer person washing down a buttered baguette with a cup of locally-produced coffee – a legacy of the country’s former French protectorate status. But the local dish, ku teav (a pork broth-based rice noodle soup, served with side dishes of coriander, Kampot pepper, and lime juice, to be used as each person desires), is still very popular.
CHINA: Chinese breakfasts, like the regions of this vast land, vary a lot, with Northern Chinese breakfasts including steamed breads and buns stuffed with meat or vegetables, and those in Central and Eastern parts featuring the likes of fried tofu, noodles, duck eggs, and pickled vegetables.
CUBA: It’s said that the Communist Revolution changed the standard breakfast fare previously enjoyed by Cubans, with coffee no longer so freely available. Now, it’s not uncommon to be served a bowl of bright green pea soup, known as Sopa de Chicharo. One traveller we spoke to said the soup often comes with other items, too – like spaghetti (minus sauce) and a piece of cake!
ENGLAND: The “full English” breakfast consists of eggs, bacon, and sausage, along with various other items, including mushrooms, tomatoes, and fried bread. The English can’t lay claim to it all, however, with the Irish, Welsh, and Scottish bringing their own variations and additions to the dish – namely, white pudding, laverbread, and soda bread, respectively.
FRANCE: Whilst many French people are too health conscious nowadays to start their day in the stereotypical way (with coffee and a cigarette!), there’s still a strong culture of eating buttery pastries, such as croissants, brioche, and pain au chocolate, in the morning. Contrary to popular belief, however, there are claims (in two books – The Taste of Bread and The Healthy Voyager’s Global Kitchen) that it was, in fact, the Austrians who invented the “typically French” croissant.
GREECE: The Greeks, like the French, also enjoy pastries at breakfast, although theirs tend to be filled with savoury ingredients like cheese, spinach, and minced meat – the most popular being tyropita, spanakopita, and bougastsa (particularly in Northern Greece) – although a healthier alternative of wholemeal bread covered in honey, Greek yoghurt, and fruit has become popular in recent years.
INDIA: Various dishes are served at breakfast across this vast land, as you might expect. In Bengal (and in neighbouring Bangladesh), you’ll find something akin to Rice Crispies and milk, alongside vegetable curries and deep-fried flatbreads – the latter also being popular in the North, where they tend to stuff them with spicy vegetables. Down in the South, the breakfast table might be covered with an assortment of curries and chapatis, as well as idlis – a favourite amongst travellers, who tell us these steamed mounds of rice batter are excellent when served with coconut chutney and sambhar.
MALAYSIA: The Malaysian breakfast of choice for Amanda Mountain (an English illustrator with Malaysian roots) and many others, is a dish known as Nasi Lamak, which she describes as “coconut rice served with one fried fish, sambal, and a couple of prawns.” On Sundays, however, it’s customary to eat Chinese-style dim sum (baskets of bite-sized goodies, including dumplings and sweet cakes) as early as 6 AM!
MIDDLE EAST: Breakfast in this part of the world can range from “Ful Medames” (fava beans, either dried and boiled or eaten raw) in Egypt, to oil and bread covered in a mixture of fresh thyme and crushed sour berries, known as sumac, in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.
SCOTLAND: As well as their own variation on what’s commonly referred to as an “English” breakfast, the Scots are well-known for eating a much healthier dish of salted porridge. But it’s not made with any old porridge, according to the online guide Scottish at Heart, which points out that “Pin Head, steel-cut oats are the best choice, followed by premium quality rolled oats.”
SPAIN: One British expat, now enjoying life in sunny Spain, told Dr. Foodle the traditional breakfast there goes by the name “Churros,” which he describes as “lengths of sugary deep-fried doughnut-y cake, dipped in a thick, thick (thick enough to walk across) dark chocolate ‘drink.’ Not for those of a nervous disposition!” Elsewhere in the country, the Spanish enjoy more savoury plates of toast, olive oil, and meats, including “sobrasada,” a spiced sausage that can be spread easily, due to the meat being cured.
SRI LANKA: Along with the ubiquitous “rice and curry” served up at mealtimes throughout the day, a popular breakfast dish amongst the population of this teardrop-shaped island (as well as visitors like Santosha Society’s Kori Hahn) is the humble string hopper – an edible “bowl” made of rice flour pressed into noodles, and often filled with eggs, chopped vegetables, and cheese before being cooked.
SWEDEN: Although many Swedish people eat a “continental” style breakfast of bread, cheese, and meat, many still enjoy a traditional spread of pickled herring or shrimp, paté, and pickled cucumber, and soups made with blueberries and rosehip.
SWITZERLAND: If there’s one thing this country is known for other than its landscape and perfectly-timed trains, it’s museli. Already a filling and nutritious dish, it was further enhanced by a Swiss doctor called Maximilian Bircher-Benner. Developed for his patients at the start of the 20th century, this healthy combination of oats soaked overnight in cream or milk with grated apple and nuts is now popular around the world and has inspired variations including this oat-free “Bircher” recipe from Madeleine Shaw.
THAILAND: As in many Southeast Asian countries, rice “porridge” – known in Thailand as “joke” – is a staple breakfast dish, due to the ready availability and affordability of rice. It’s often served with an egg in the middle, along with pork meatballs, and garnished with ginger and coriander. A more protein-rich breakfast alternative served up in Thailand is “tom luad moo,” which translates as boiled pork blood – although it often contains other parts of the pig, including its intestines, liver, and lungs!
USA: Although grains are eaten across the globe, if there’s one country that can lay claim to breakfast cereals, it’s America – the birthplace of Dr. John Harvey Kellog, who introduced a granola made of baked wheat, oatmeal, and cornmeal to the population in 1878. Nowadays, citizens of the USA enjoy a wide variety of breakfasts, many of them influenced by neighbouring countries such as Mexico and Canada, whose tortillas and maple syrup were readily adopted.
Over to you!
The list isn’t exhaustive, by any means, so please be sure to tell Dr. Foodle about the things that are eaten in the morning where you are – and let’s enjoy what each of us can bring to the table!