ALL RISE
National Geographic Traveller (UK)|Food #11 Spring 2021
When it comes to breakfast, many of us have a routine we depend upon. Yet there’s always room for a bit of fresh thinking. From Bury black pudding and Mexican chilaquiles to Indian idli and Turkish menemen, here are 12 ways to shake things up — and add a little magic to your mornings
FELICITY CLOAKE, JENNIFER HATTAM, JESSICA VINCENT, CHRISTIE DIETZ, JOEL PORTER, JENNIFER ZYMAN, MEENAKSHI J, CAROLYN BOYD & LILIANA LÓPEZ SORZANO

A plump pork sausage, fresh from the grill; a salty, smoked kipper with a perfectly poached egg; shakshuka, bubbling on the stove; a hot English muffin, devoured on the way to work. When it comes to breakfast, there’s no shortage of options, particularly in a country as multicultural as the UK. On any given day, in kitchens and cafes across the land, you’ll find the full spectrum of morning meals, from simple snacks such as toast, yogurt, and cereal to more elaborate dishes like dosas, frittatas and breakfast burritos.

Over the past 12 months, we’ve spent more time at home than we’d ever have thought possible, but, for many, the silver lining has been the chance to try new things, particularly in the kitchen. If we’re to keep this spirit of adventure alive, where better to start than with our morning routine? With this in mind, here are 12 ideas to get you going: a dozen delicious ways to start the day, inspired by cuisines from around the world.

There are ideas for home cooks, naturally, including popular alternatives to the classic eggs benedict and recipes for Israeli shakshuka, Vietnamese pho and Jamaica’s beloved ackee and saltfish. But breakfast has always played a starring role in travel, too — there’s nothing like lingering over an elaborate morning spread to really underline that wondrous feeling of having escaped your daily routine. So, to this end, there’s also some inspiration for the future, when we can once again go wherever — and eat whatever — we want, whether it’s menemen with rounds of fried Turkish bread in Istanbul or an early morning fish sandwich from Hamburg’s Sunday market.

But we start a little closer to home, with a look at the array of delicacies that go into traditional ‘full’ breakfasts across the British Isles. So, grab yourself a Bury black pudding, a dash of Welsh laverbread or a Staffordshire oatcake and start breakfasting better.

1 Go further than a full English

Winnie the Pooh knew the importance of a good breakfast. So did James Bond, Sherlock Holmes, and countless other British heroes — after all, the first meal of the day sets the tone for everything to come. As the late, great restaurant critic A A Gill once wrote, ‘Breakfast is everything. The beginning, the first thing. It is the mouthful that is the commitment to a new day, a continuing life.’ Nowhere, I think, is that promise celebrated more solemnly than in the UK, a country whose culinary prowess in the breakfast department, at least, has never been in doubt.

Indeed, it was perhaps once true that to eat well here, as the novelist Somerset Maugham put it, one ‘should have breakfast three times a day’ — a fantasy made real by the joyful advent of the all-day menu, allowing us to indulge our craving for bacon and eggs at any time. Uncle Monty’s observation in the cult classic film Withnail and I, that this is a land where breakfasts ‘set in’ like the weather, holds true: even if we limit ourselves to muesli all week, when time permits, Britons still like to go the whole hog.

And hogs are almost always involved: in a 2017 YouGov poll, 89% of those surveyed cited bacon as the most important ingredient in a full English, closely followed by eggs. After that, things get contentious — even if you leave the full Scottish, Welsh and Irish versions briefly out of the equation. Should the bacon be back or streaky (once a matter of class, according to novelist Jilly Cooper, with the back being the premium option), softly pink or grilled to a crisp? And as for the eggs, do they need to be fried to make it a fry-up? (Not according to the 18-24-year-olds surveyed in the same poll, who were surprisingly keen on them scrambled.)

While tomatoes and mushrooms are very much considered optional extras across the nation, that’s pretty much where the consensus ends. Take sausages: we all agree there should be a sausage on the plate, but what sort very much depends on geography. Should it be a peppery Cumberland ring or a beefy Scottish square? Or should it be of that family of sausages known as puddings and, if so, what type?

In England, you’re most likely to come across a black pudding — made from blood, spices, and cereals, and particularly popular in the northwest, home of the famous Bury iteration, which features distinctive snowy cubes of white back fat. Although well-loved in Scotland and Northern Ireland, it has more competition north of the border, where puddings come in white, red, and fruit varieties as well. White pudding does occasionally pop up in England, too, most famously in the form of the spicy West Country specialty, hog’s pudding.

Wales, meanwhile, stands proudly alone in its traditional breakfast preferences. You’ll find many a standard fry-up here, but you’ll be lucky to find laverbread anywhere else (if you’re expecting something resembling bread you’ll be disappointed — laver is seaweed of the same type used to wrap maki roll sushi 5,000 miles to the east in Japan).

Bread does have a part to play in the fry-up, of course; after all, you need something with which to mop up that golden egg yolk. Down south, it usually comes in the form of toast or a crunchy fried slice, but Scotland embraces the tattie scone — made with leftover mash, which might be made into a bubble and squeak in southeast England — and Northern Ireland is known for serving up both potato bread and fluffy soda farls on the same plate.

You may have noticed I’ve made no mention of that most divisive of fry-up ingredients, the baked bean. The omission is deliberate: as chef Jeremy Lee once observed if you really need something to dip things in, add ketchup. Or brown sauce. Or even mustard. But that’s a whole other argument.

BEST OF THE BRITISH ISLES

Staffordshire oatcakes

Not to be confused with the Scottish biscuits, these floppy oat flour flatbreads are more akin to French crepes. Quick and easy to produce over the fire, they once provided sustenance for the region’s miners. They remain popular today, although most of the hole-in-the-wall spots from which they were traditionally sold have gone the same way as the mines. Nevertheless, they’re delicious wrapped around bacon, sausage and eggs for a fry-up on the go.

Laverbread

Laver, a type of seaweed, has been eaten by coastal communities for centuries, especially in southwest Wales and the West Country. It’s gathered from rocky shores, rinsed, and boiled for hours until the reddish fronds are reduced to an olive-green paste that can be mixed with oatmeal, formed into cakes, and fried in bacon fat. Laver’s high iodine content gives it a flavour somewhat reminiscent of oysters and other seafood, lending it the nickname ‘Welsh caviar’.

Kippers

Once a firm favorite at breakfast, kippers are more often to be found on hotel menus than being cooked at home these days, probably because of the strong smell. Though kippering is, in fact, the process by which a fish is split open, salted, and then smoked, it’s generally used in reference to herring and is most famously seen in the form of Arbroath smokies and Manx and Craster kippers, all of which are cured in slightly different ways. Kippers are particularly nice with a poached egg or in that Anglo-Indian breakfast favorite, kedgeree.

Soda bread

As the name suggests, this is bread raised by bicarbonate of soda rather than yeast, a process that gives it a soft, cakey texture, perfect for soaking up bacon fat or egg yolk. It’s particularly popular in Ireland, where it tends to be made with buttermilk leftover from making butter; the lactic acid reacts with the bicarb to produce gas that raises the dough when heated. It was traditionally baked in the embers of the fire and scored with a cross — to assist with the cooking and to let the devil out, of course.

2 Take a trip to Breakfastmakers’ Street

In a cloistered corner of central Istanbul, two small lanes wind together, so narrow that the awnings and bay windows of facing buildings nearly touch each other across the stone pavements. Hardly anyone uses, or even knows, the names of these lanes; instead, they’re collectively referred to as ‘Breakfast-makers’ Street’.

“It’s the only place like this in Istanbul: there are more than 20 establishments here, all serving breakfast all day,” says Cengiz Demir, manager of Çakmak Kahvaltı Salonu.

Breakfast (kahvaltı) is a big deal in Turkey, and Çakmak is where the breakfast explosion in Istanbul’s BeÅŸiktaÅŸ district began. Before it opened in 2002, the only restaurant in the area serving morning meals was Pando Kaymak, a tiny shop whose late owner, Prandelli Åestakof, taught his trade to the members of the Çakmak family working alongside him.

Hearty meals at reasonable prices brought in students from the city’s universities, and Çakmak’s booming success attracted imitators until Breakfast-makers’ Street became a destination dining spot for people from across Istanbul and beyond. Among the most popular dishes are kavurmalı yumurta (eggs with braised meat) and menemen (eggs cooked with tomatoes and green peppers) — both served in the scorching-hot metal pans in which they’re cooked — as well as the classic Turkish breakfast plate, an assortment of sweet and savory bites. The latter is Cengiz’s pick, and he likes to keep it simple: “Cheese, tomatoes, olives, an egg on the side, maybe some honey and cream,” he says.

More and more restaurants have opened here over the past seven or eight years, with Cafe Faruk and PiÅŸi among the other now established favorites. Some newcomers have added chequered tablecloths, fairy lights, and other decorative flourishes, or expanded their menus to include hamburgers and chocolate crepes, in attempts to distinguish themselves, but the classic Turkish breakfast dishes remain the lanes’ raison d’être. This type of clustering harks back to the guild system of the Ottoman Empire when practitioners of the same trade would be located in the same market or on the same street. Even in today’s Istanbul, there’s still a ‘music street’ lined with instrument sellers in the BeyoÄŸlu district and a nearby area that’s packed with purveyors of lights and lighting fixtures of all kinds.

With similar offerings all along the street, the quality of ingredients separates the outstanding spots from those that simply soak up the overspill when the weekend queues become too long. At Çakmak, the Tulum peyniri (a pungent, crumbly white cheese traditionally aged in a goatskin casing) comes from the eastern province of Erzincan, 600 miles from Istanbul. The restaurant’s honey hails from the same place, while its kaÅŸar, a mild yellow cheese, comes from Kars, near the Turkish-Armenian border. “We buy from the same places every year, so the quality stays the same,” Cengiz says with pride. And in fast-changing Istanbul, that’s as comforting as a good breakfast.

3 Take time and care over a Vietnamese breakfast

Thuy Diem Pham’s southern-style beef pho

Slow-cooked bone broth with rice noodles, fall-off-the-bone beef brisket, and rare steak might seem unusually hearty for first thing in the morning, but it’s a breakfast staple for millions in Vietnam. The flavours vary greatly depending on where in the country you’re from — and as I’m from the Mekong Delta, this recipe is in the southern style.

SERVES: 2 TAKES: 8 HRS

INGREDIENTS

3 onions, skins left on

200g ginger, unpeeled

10 star anise

5g cloves

3 tsp coriander seeds

2 tsp fennel seeds

3 cardamom pods, lightly crushed,

pods discarded and seeds kept

1 cinnamon stick

2 lemons, halved

205g salt

500g oxtail

500g beef marrow, chopped into 7cm

pieces (ask the butcher to do this)

2kg beef brisket on the bone

500g beef flank

500g beef ribs

1 daikon, peeled and halved

200g yellow rock sugar or rock

sugar, crushed

2 tbsp fish sauce

500g dried pho noodles

150g beansprouts

500g topside steak, thinly sliced

TO SERVE

200g coriander leaves

200g spring onions, chopped

200g Thai basil leaves

200g sawtooth herb (optional)

4 limes, cut into wedges

5 bird’s eye chillies, sliced sriracha sauce, for dipping hoisin sauce, for dipping

METHOD

1 Char the onions and ginger over an open gas flame until the skins are blackened (if you don’t have a gas stovetop, heat oven to 180C, 160C fan, gas 4, and roast for 20–25 mins). Set aside until cool enough to handle, then peel. Rinse in cold water and set aside.

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