Here’s a trade secret.
When recording an audio interview with someone, “what did you have for breakfast?” is often the first question that journalists ask. Sure, it’s for technical reasons – a way for you to test your microphone, by playing back the audio and sizing up the quality of your sound levels. But it’s also a nice ice-breaker.
Even the shyest person can answer the question – even if it’s just to declare that breakfast was a meal they skipped.
Their response also reveals a snapshot of their day – and how they’ve spent it. I once interviewed Ferran Adria, the legendary chef behind El Bulli (which topped The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list five times in its heyday).
He revealed that, despite getting up at 4am to catch a flight from Perth to Sydney for his book tour, all he’d had was a coffee. Even though he did not arrive at his destination until midday, he was not at all tempted by the airplane food (which says all you need to know about airplane food).
Chefs often share Adria’s minimal breakfast diet – admitting into my microphone that they’ve had either “nothing” and “just coffee”. By contrast, it’s often people outside of the food industry who disclose something decadent (like the musician who’d consumed home-made choc-orange muesli that day). I suspect it’s because chefs are too time-poor to endure the luxury of breakfast.
From Monday to Friday, my first meal is pretty unromantic – an efficient regime of “toast on the run”, three slices of sourdough, rye or something overrun with seeds, often devoured during a commute. There’s something comforting about having the first decision the day auto-filled for you; three crusty slices for company as you read the morning news or blitz through emails.
On the weekend, though, that’s when breakfast gets upsold into something more extravagant. It’s an invite to enjoy have-it-all extras (eggs plus hash browns, mushrooms, haloumi; the add-ons only limited by the size of your appetite); where the clock-watching stops and endless hours stretch across two entire mealtimes (hello brunch) and the variations across Sydney are as wide-ranging as a passport’s reach.
Vote with your table on which bamboo steamers you want from passing yum-cha trolleys; scoop bread through hot pans of shakshuka; or have “divorced eggs” (Huevos divorciados), a Mexican staple where the battle arises from two conflicting sauces and eggs kept apart by fried tortillas or beans.
And when you actually use your passport and board a plane, there are plenty of memorable ways to wake up in a different country and discover what they serve for breakfast.
I’ve eaten croissants 14 days in a row in Paris, undeterred by my friend’s warning (from her bakery days) that the pastry is basically 70 per cent butter. I’ve been amazed that, yes, people in The Netherlands do actually have chocolate for breakfast – and I’ve tipped cocoa sprinkles onto toast myself.
In a Kyoto ryokan, I’ve sat down to a bento of the most meticulously prepared breakfast – built from neat compartments of tsukemono (pickles), tamagoyaki (omelette), local vegetables, rice and miso soup. It was the kind of meal that you’d wish for every morning.
It was in Japan, actually, that I first came across World Breakfast All Day. This Tokyo café cycles its menu across the globe on a regular basis – one month dedicating itself to couscous, mint tea and tagines from Morocco to lamb, dumplings and cheese from Mongolia on another occasion. When I visited, Vietnam was the focus, with Finland’s take on morning meals as the next destination.
That’s part of the fun of breakfast – it can take you in any direction and your day’s only just started.
What’s your favourite breakfast spot?