Five of the best breakfast ideas from around the world

When it comes to breakfast, many of us have our standard routine — yet there’s always room for a bit of fresh thinking. From Turkish menemen to Indian idli, here are five ways to add a little magic to your mornings, whether you’re at home or away.

By National Geographic Traveller Food
Published 10 Mar 2021, 12:16 GMT, Updated 17 Mar 2021, 09:37 GMT
For many, the silver lining of having spent most of the past year at home has ...

For many, the silver lining of having spent most of the past year at home has been the chance to try new things in the kitchen. Idlis (a type of savoury rice cake and a staple in South India) are easy to make at home.

Photograph by Getty Images

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. On any given day, in kitchens and cafes around the world, you’ll find the full spectrum of morning meals, from simple snacks such as toast and cereal to more elaborate dishes like dosas and burritos.

Breakfast has always played a starring role in travel — 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, we’re offering 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.

For many, the silver lining of having spent most of the past year at home has been the chance to try new things in the kitchen. And so, while it will be a little bit longer before we can spend time further afield, we hope these five ideas will help you keep the spirit of adventure alive at home too.

1. Discover India’s probiotic breakfast, idli

Idlis are a type of savoury rice cake. But unlike other rice cakes, they’re steam-cooked, never toasted. A traditional South Indian staple, they’re made by grinding soaked rice and dehusked black gram. The batter is left to ferment overnight before being ladled into idli moulds, then cooked in a steamer for around 10-12 minutes. This renders them soft and spongy.

Slow fermentation is key to their pleasant sourness and fluffiness. The black gram is the main source of microorganisms, which release lactic acid and carbon dioxide upon fermentation — both of which aid in the leavening process. The fermentation of the batter makes idlis a probiotic food, meaning they incorporate essential amino acids. This makes steam-cooked idlis extremely nutritious, so much so that they’re often used in bespoke ayurvedic treatments.

They taste best when slathered with mulagaipodi blended in sesame oil. While idlis are most commonly accompanied by chutneys and sambar (a tangy lentil broth), they’re arguably at their best when broken into small pieces and dipped in a liberal dose of spicy mulagaipodi (also known as idli podi, or powder) mixed in sesame oil. In this combination, the nutty texture of the podi perfectly complements the earthy flavour of sesame and the subtle sourness of the idlis.

Their cheapness makes them special. Light and healthy, idlis are the go-to breakfast in India, especially in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. Wherever you find this dish, be it food stalls or restaurants, it’s almost always the cheapest thing on the menu, alongside its many variants, such as button idli, fried idli and rasam idli.

Madurai is the ideal place to try them. Its idlis are so soft and fluffy, they’re often compared to the city’s delicate jasmine flowers, Madurai malli. For those new to the dish, the Murugan Idli Shop is a great starting point; the chain has many restaurants in India, including two in Madurai.

Idlis hold a special place in temple cuisine. A foot-long cylindrical variant of the dish, known as Kanchipuram idli, is served as a divine offering at the Varadharaja Perumal temple in Kanchipuram, near Chennai. It’s spiced with curry leaves, crushed peppercorns, ginger and cumin seeds in clarified butter.

They’re also a space food. Ready-to-eat idli sambar is on the menu for the astronauts of Gaganyan, India’s first manned space mission, scheduled for flight in 2022. Meenakshi J

Pando Kaymak, the first restaurant in Istanbul’s Beşiktaş district to serve breakfast.

Photograph by Alamy

2. Take a trip to Istanbul's Breakfast-makers’ 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 Beşiktaş 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, Pandelli Şestakof, 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 savoury 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 Pişi among the other now-established favourites. 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 Beyoğlu 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, 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 kaşar, 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. Jennifer Hattam

Hamburg's 300-year-old fish market in the morning. 

Photograph by Alamy

3. Share a Sunday morning snack with Hamburg’s clubbers

In a country renowned for its sausages, a fish sandwich might not be the first thing that springs to mind when you think of breakfast in Germany. But at the weekly fish market in the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg, you wouldn’t want to order anything else.

A cultural institution as well as a popular tourist attraction, the 300-year-old fish market forms part of the large, sprawling fresh produce market held by the River Elbe every Sunday. It’s here that Hamburg-born fish trader Dieter Bruhn has had a stand here since 1959. A local institution himself, loved for his loud, jovial approach to auctioning his wares, 82-year-old Dieter specialises in smoked salmon and eel. “A fish sandwich first thing on a Sunday morning is the classic fish-market snack,” he explains.

The humble fischbrötchen has been sustaining the residents of Germany’s coastlines for many years, and its origins come down to practicality. “You can put anything on a bit of bread,” explains Dieter. “So at some point, a fisherman put a bit of fish on it.” The classic Hamburg version involves “soused or pickled herring, fishcakes, smoked salmon or brown shrimp”, the latter often mixed with mayonnaise and dill. Other options, which Dieter describes as “a little more refined”, include pollock and smoked eel. The fish, shrimps or patties are sandwiched between two halves of a crusty white bread roll, often with a frilly lettuce leaf, pickled gherkins, pieces of raw red or white onion, a slice of tomato and even a lick of creamy remoulade.

Starting at 5am during the summer months and a few hours later in winter, the market is a lively affair. The air fresh and the atmosphere cheerful, the harbour is not only busy with locals haggling for salmon and eel, but those out for a bracing morning walk. The market is also popular with partygoers making their way home after a long night out. “It’s a broad mix of people,” says Dieter. “But that’s part of what makes the market unique.” Here, fischbrötchen aren’t only a snack for early shoppers, but also a cult hangover dish. As to why they appeal to both early birds and night owls, Dieter reflects for a moment. “Soused herring with raw onions? Well, it just tastes very good.” Christie Dietz 

Tamagoyaki (traditional Japanese rolled omelette) with fresh chives. 

Photograph by Stock Food

4. Roll your omelette the Japanese way

What is tamagoyaki?
In Japanese, tamago means egg and yaki means fried. But this dish isn’t your average fried egg. More closely resembling an omelette, tamagoyaki consists of several layers of whisked egg, cooked and folded together to create a light, fluffy roll that’s sliced before serving.

How is it made?
The dish is so popular in Japan that there’s even a special rectangular pan, a tamagoyakiki, which makes it easier to create perfect sheets of egg. For a basic tamagoyaki, eggs are beaten then seasoned with salt, sugar, soy sauce and mirin. Some of the mixture is added to the hot pan, then, when it starts to solidify, it’s folded over to cover one half of the pan, before another ladle of mix is added. This process is repeated, folding one layer on top of the other.

How is it usually served?
It’s commonly dished up as part of a traditional breakfast along with miso soup, fish, pickled vegetables and rice. It can also be found as a street-food snack at markets, where slices are served on skewers. While it’s popular for breakfast, it’s also often served in bento boxes for lunch, and over rice at sushi restaurants.

Is it always the same?
Aside from the basic version, there’s also dashimaki tamago, which adds dashi (a type of stock) to the egg mix. The result is a smoother, silkier texture and an extra boost of flavour. Both versions can be sweet or savoury depending on the amount of sugar and other seasonings.

Where should I go for decent tamagoyaki?
Yamachō at the Tsukiji Outer Market in Tokyo is one of the best places to get it — as evidenced by its huge queues of locals and tourists. Here, you can watch the chefs hard at work as they expertly fold over the layers of egg in multiple pans before serving the dish to guests on skewers. For a taste of dashimaki tamago, pay a visit to Miki Keiran at the Nishiki market in Kyoto, which has been serving a great version since 1928. Joel Porter

Teurgoule is a rice pudding dish from France's Normandy region.

Photograph by Stock Food

5. Wait six hours for the perfect French rice pudding

Many countries have a version of rice pudding, but none quite like teurgoule. A speciality of France’s Normandy region, it has a six-hour cooking time, which indirectly gives the dish its name — the phrase ‘se tordre la gueule’ means ‘to pull a face’, the idea that those who’ve been too hasty burn their tongues.

The dish is made using rich, creamy milk from cows that graze the region’s verdant pastures, along with rice and cinnamon, both originally brought back to the harbour at Honfleur in the 17th century by corsairs who had sailed the globe. When the wheat harvest was devastated by poor weather in 1758, the corsairs were ordered to intercept British ships and commandeer the cargo. One of the ships requisitioned by Captain Nicolas Quinette was laden with rice and spices; as the story goes, he ordered his cook to come up with a dish that would introduce local people to the ingredients. When combined with Normandy’s milk, it was a hit, and bakers took to cooking it on the dying embers of their bread ovens after baking.

The long, slow cooking time creates a thick caramelised skin on top, which was popular among sailors going to sea as it would preserve the dish for days. Peeling off the skin while it’s still warm and letting it melt on your tongue is a chef’s privilege, but in general, teurgoule is served cold, either as a dessert or more often for breakfast, accompanied by the local brioche, fallue.

For those too impatient to make it, it’s often sold in Normandy markets. Plus, each year, the local guild or ‘brotherhood’ of teurgoule-lovers comes together to host cooking competitions and take part in festivals. Their recipe is wonderfully simple: rice, milk, sugar, a pinch of salt and cinnamon. Carolyn Boyd

Published in Issue 11 (spring 2021) of National Geographic Traveller Food

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