Hint: Don't expect waffles. Traditional breakfasts from Mexico City to Singapore are a chance to experience culture through cuisine.
Ten years ago, when I went to Paris for the first time, I did many things, but what I did not do was enjoy the breakfast.
Admittedly, I might have been a bit hung over, and a croissant, coffee and glass of juice simply does not a remedy make. There’s also the fact that, as an American, I was used to a big breakfast complete with a variety of sweet and savory items all competing for space on my morning table.
Over time, and several trips abroad later, I’ve come to realize what many intrepid travelers already know: One of travel’s simplest joys is experiencing breakfast customs around the world. Read on for just a small sample of some of the most iconic breakfasts to be had in 10 of the world’s best cities.
CHILAQUILES IN MEXICO CITY
Like many breakfasts, this dish may have its origins in simple home economics. The question of what to do with stale items has led to ingenious inventions like French toast. In Mexico, this question may have led to chilaquiles. This ingenious concoction has helped many a late riser ease a little more gently into the day, and is known as a killer of la cruda (the hangover).
Think of chilaquiles like breakfast nachos. Stale tortilla chips are sauteed with salsa verde and a bit of crema fresca, and topped with poached or fried eggs, queso fresco and assorted additions like onions, avocado, meats and radishes. The result is a salty, savory, chewy, slightly crispy dish that’s one of the country’s most recognizable.
They’re available far and wide in Mexico City, from take-away windows like La Ventanita in trendy Roma Norte, low-budget dives like Cafe El Popular in the city center, or more upmarket cafés like Eno in high-end Polanco.
EGGS AND KAYA TOAST IN SINGAPORE
There are few things that come cheap in this most-expensive of metropolises, but breakfast is one of them. It’s a simple affair that will be familiar to most Westerners: eggs and toast — but there’s a local twist.
To start your day off like an actual Singaporean, those eggs need to be soft-boiled, and that toast better be slathered with kaya jam, a type of thick coconut custard. Add a dash of soy sauce to the eggs and pair everything with some kopi — thick black coffee — and the day is sure to be off to a good start.
Chains across the city crank out this breakfast staple, including Killiney Kopitiam and Ya Kun Kaya Toast, but it’s worth checking out traditional joints like Tong Ah Eating House as well.
DOUBLE BREAKFAST IN MARRAKECH, MOROCCO
Breakfast comes in many forms in Morocco. One can start like the French, with a toasted baguette, juice and coffee, thanks to the country’s colonial past. But one can also do as the Moroccans do and enjoy breakfast twice.
That’s right: Many residents of Marrakech eat two breakfasts. The day starts with mint tea and hacha — an English-muffin-like cross between a flatbread and a pancake — served with various jams and dips like amlou, which is made from argan oil, toasted almonds and honey.
This is followed up a few hours later by more tea or coffee, and dishes such as bissara, a dried fava bean soup that’s a favorite during colder months. Bissara is best found in the narrow alleyways and ancient squares of the city’s medina.
FULL IRISH BREAKFAST IN DUBLIN
In cold and damp Dublin, the full Irish breakfast is the perfect way to combat the chill (or the effects of perhaps one too many Jamesons). This filling spread consists of (at least) fried eggs, bacon and sausage, fried tomatoes, fried mushrooms, toast and baked beans. Some restaurants add blood sausages and liver to the mix.
With trendy neighborhoods cropping up all over, there’s a lot to explore in this city. The area north of the Liffey River, just east of Four Courts, has a particularly funky mix of bars, cafés and shops. For a traditional Irish breakfast, though, it’s best to eschew those bespoke, organic, artisanal establishments for the pubs and greasy spoon joints. Gerry’s, a block off of St. Stephen’s Green, is about as humble as it gets, and its staying power is in no small part attributable to its renowned Irish breakfast.
VADA PAV IN MUMBAI, INDIA
Landing in India is not for the faint of heart, and the frantically busy, wildly cosmopolitan, utterly traditional and ever-changing Mumbai is one of the more jarring and wonderful ways to get used to the country.
Of course, one of the biggest debates among travelers to India is whether or not one should eat the street food. The answer is a resounding yes — with a few precautions. Getting sick while traveling around India is almost par for the course, but so long as those street eats are hot and deep fried, the risk of food-borne illnesses is relatively low.
Luckily, Mumbaikers have perfected the fast and hot breakfast in a tiny carbohydrate-laden package known as wada pav. This deep-fried potato fritter is sandwiched inside of a soft flour roll and slathered with various chutneys or sweet-and-spicy sauces. Pair it with a cup of milky sweet chai and a dish of sambar — a type of gravy — for the full effect.
It’s available at various hawker stands and dhabas throughout Mumbai, though Ashok Vada Pav has made itself legendary by sticking around for nearly four decades.
A QUICK, BREADY BITE IN MADRID
Breakfast is a fast thing in Madrid. Options include pan con tomate — a toasted baguette that’s been rubbed with crushed tomatoes, a bit of garlic, salt and olive oil — or pastries like napoletanas, which Americans know as pain au chocolat or chocolate croissants.
There are cafés and pastelerias in every neighborhood offering these dishes, taken with coffee and a bit of juice. While some might be left needing a little more food, thankfully it all comes quite cheaply by European standards and a second round won’t put much of a dent in your wallet.
VEGEMITE IN SYDNEY
The Aussies refer to the day’s first meal as “brekkie,” and brekkie in Sydney will look familiar to most North Americans, as it includes staples like eggs and potatoes.
However, one thing Aussies — and Aussies alone — enjoy is Vegemite. This brown spread isn’t for everyone: It’s bitter, salty and leaves the tongue feeling dry. Still, locals love the stuff and spread it on various toasts with a bit of butter. Wisdom says the key is to spread it thinly, otherwise the yeast paste overwhelms all of one’s taste buds.
JOK AND KANOM KROK IN BANGKOK
Like with all Thai meals, there’s an almost limitless amount of options to choose from at a typical Bangkok breakfast. Everything from skewered meats to stir-fries to soups make up the morning dish in Thailand’s chaotic capital.
For a quick street-eat, the slightly chewy kanom krok is like a cross between a pancake and pudding, made with rice flour and coconut cream. Pair it with the country’s thick, sugar-sweet coffee for a truly jolting start to the day.
For a savory start, seek out jok, a type of Thai congee or rice porridge. This is Thai comfort food at its finest, and the loose rice meal is served with pork, egg, ginger and scallions. It can be found in almost every market in the city.
MEDIALUNAS IN BUENOS AIRES
Maybe it’s this city’s unabashedly European roots, but breakfast is a light affair in sprawling Buenos Aires. To be sure, those looking for organic rolled oats with chia seeds and goji berries will find them — the trendy Palermo barrios are packed with hyper-twee restaurants.
However, to start the day the old-school way, it’s time to carb load. Medialunas are a city staple — picture smaller, slightly denser croissants that come in sweetened and unsweetened forms. For the full breakfast experience, these are paired with tostadas, jam, butter, juice and a café cortado.
Breakfasts like this are available in nearly every classic café in the city, but the best will be in San Telmo or Recoleta, two of the city’s oldest barrios. For a more modern take, Pride Cafe is a favorite in historic San Telmo. It’s wildly popular with the city’s LGBT community, though all are welcome.
DUTCH PANCAKES IN AMSTERDAM
Known as pannenkoeken, the Dutch pancake can be eaten at nearly any meal — and why not spend at least one whole day doing just that? But for those looking to be a little more sensible and a little less indulgent, it’s at least worth kicking off one day the right way by eating a Dutch pancake.
These days, pancakes in Amsterdam come in all manner of sweet and savory varieties. The Dutch version is much thinner than its Americans cousin, and the crepe-like dish can be topped with almost anything, though the classic apple, cinnamon and sugar variety is hard to beat.
For some of the city’s best and most diverse check out Pancakes! Amsterdam, whose name (and crowds) tell you everything you need to know about what’s going on inside.