Cover story: World on a platter

Cover story: World on a platter

It was not until the 15th century that the word ‘breakfast’ came into use in written English to describe a morning meal. The world feasts on this ritual in many ways.

Vegi pupps. Bred omplate. Sandwitch & Bugger. Keseri Bath. Tibetan moms. Dumb Biryani. Testy chole bhature. Double Hamlet. 

Like me, have you ever been served typos for breakfast? Abominable typos garnished with hearty laughter. The cook who stuffed chicken shreds in a pastry sheet but forgot the ‘o’ in the Tibetan momo. Early morning, he was rustling Tibetan moms in the kitchen. Or, a dumb biryani. Ever heard of biryanis being intelligent, too? Next time, I’d spurn the dumb biryani and order an intelligent one. And the streetsy chole bhature? Think of it, if humans can be testy and grumpy, even chole bhature has a right to be grouchy early morning. No? Whoever bred the bred omplate must be a gene genius with a hint of spirituality. And the double Hamlet? Shakespeare would sure thump his chest in literary grief. He fell short, he imagined merely one Hamlet. On the menu, there’s double Hamlet. Not the prince of Denmark, just a bourgeoise scrambled egg huddled with onions and chillies. I still do not know what’s Vegi pupps for breakfast? What? Really what? 

On glum days, I have typos for breakfast, laugh my gut out and lo! I am good to go for the day. Once you finish laughing at these, look at what people eat for breakfast around the world. The scrumptious. The bland. The horrible. And some so outlandish that maybe — just maybe — you’d appreciate a typo early morning. A double Hamlet on your breakfast table. 

The Netherlands


Early morning in The Netherlands, memorise the word hagelslag. Bit of a tongue-roller, but that is the sweetest thing on a Dutch breakfast. Imagine chocolate sprinkles on vanilla ice-cream. This is how it works: toast the bread brown, slather it with butter, and sprinkle the sprinkles on it. Almost dessert, but that is what the Dutch prefer for breakfast. Not all, though. The ones who love it, swear by it. Those who don’t, don’t. The Australian version of the hagelslag is the fairy bread. Same thing, just a different name. 

Ireland & UK

Black pudding

In Ireland, look for a black-sausage-like thing on your breakfast plate that comes loaded with eggs, bacon and baked beans. It is dark black and the gourmand would tell you it tastes like an old penny (I have never chewed on a penny, so can’t vouch). Do not go by its innocuous name: black pudding. There is nothing pudding-y about it. It is blood (pig’s blood) mixed with oatmeal and fat stuffed tightly into a sausage tube. Do not blame the Brits and Irish as inventors of the bloody-pudding. It is an ancient idea that even finds mention in Homer’s Odyssey, and early recipes date back to Roman cookbooks from around the 4th century.


Caldo de costilla

Think of two breakfast choices in Colombia — caldo de costilla or changua. Caldo de costilla is a hot broth made from potatoes, onions, cilantro, and beef ribs, while changua is a soup made from boiled milk, water, and scallions, with whole eggs dropped into the broth to cook. Touted as a Colombian cure-all, caldo de costilla is often eaten with arepa (a dense, slightly sweet corn cake), chocolate and bread. The other breakfast favourite is the cup of chocolate santafereno: a hot chocolate with a side of cheese that you’re supposed to drop into your drink before you enjoy it.


Leche de tigre

In Peru, there’s something of a first-thing-in-the-morning beverage. Called leche de tigre, it is basically made from fish juice, lime, onion, salt, pepper, and not a small amount of hot pepper. In simple terms, it is a glass full of the liquid that runs from ceviche, the Peruvian national dish. Leche de tigre has a mighty reputation — it is said to be packed with rejuvenating nutrients and is the perfect hangover cure. It is the calcium and phosphorus in the drink that works the magic. Not surprisingly, leche de tigre has another higher name and quality: levanta muertos (‘raise the dead’). 


Miso soup

The Japanese begin their mornings with grilled fish and miso soup, the traditional layout for the breakfast table. The fish is usually salmon which is high in protein, vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids. Miso soup is made with a base of soybeans with vegetables, rice malt or barley malt, and stock. The two together pack enough nutrients and keep one up and running for the day. 



In Mexico, the breakfast has a job to do — get rid of the massive hangover. And the perfect antidote is menudo, an ancient traditional Mexican breakfast that has tripe (essentially, cow’s stomach) as the main ingredient. There are many ways to make the breakfast soup, but the basic idea is to use everything from the slaughtered animal — even throwing the entire head of the cow in the pot. Not sure how the tripe or the head cures the hangover early morning, but in Mexico, everyone begins the day with menudo, an oozing, rubbery, and gelatinous soup. 


Ackee fruit

Serving up a breakfast of fruit and fish is odd but it happens in Jamaica, where the most common breakfast is a fruit called ackee served with salt fish. If you think the combo is strange, you have not heard of the ackee-warnings yet. When in Jamaica, remember that the strange-looking fruit should not be eaten before the sections of the fruit have separated naturally. This signals it’s now ripe and it isn’t going to kill anyone anymore. Unripe — and improperly prepared — ackee contain high levels of a toxin called hypoglycin, which can cause severe vomiting, pain, cramps, sweating, and diarrhoea. So, try the weird Jamaican breakfast combo, but be careful of the ripe/unripe ackee.  

Hong Kong & China


You sure have heard of the innocuous, staid congee, a liquidy rice porridge. Ever tried with a century egg? An egg that has been preserved for a century. With grey or green egg yolk. In Hong Kong and China, the day starts with congee along with century egg, also known as preserved egg, hundred-year egg, thousand-year egg, thousand-year-old egg, millennium egg, skin egg, and black egg. Simply put, it is duck, chicken or quail egg preserved in a mixture of clay, ash, salt, quicklime, and rice hulls for several weeks to several months, depending on the method of processing. The locals promise that if you can get past the strange colour and bad smell of the century egg, it is incredibly delicious.



The Spanish prefer their breakfast a little late. Around 10 am, they all pick a bocadillo, a type of sandwich served on a baguette. A bocadillo is usually a 6-8-inch-long portion of baguette, sliced in half and filled with Spanish chorizo sausage, cold cuts, tuna or Serrano ham. No dollops of mayonnaise, not many leaves of lettuce. In the favourite Spanish breakfast, it is a slice of tomato rubbed on the bread to moisten it. The best portable Spanish breakfast is an omelette bocadillo.  



Think Australia and a few things quickly pop in our minds: kangaroos and koalas. Those who know the Australian way of life would add the vegemite, too, a breakfast favourite on the island that the rest of the world isn’t quite sure about yet. This is what a vegemite is: a food spread made from leftover brewers’ yeast extract with various vegetables and spice additives. If you are curious about its taste, type ‘vegemite tastes like’ in Google and the search engine will attempt to finish it with ‘soy sauce’, ‘beer’, ‘crap’, ‘Australian campaign’. Even ‘sadness’. No one wants to begin the day with something that tastes like sadness, but never question an Australian about the goodness of vegemite on a breakfast plate. It is near-sacrilege.

Not-so-old Breakfast

According to Abigail Carroll, food historian and author of 'Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal', the concept of breakfast food didn’t exist in the US until the mid- to late-1800s. In the 1600s, breakfast was likely to be leftovers, cheese, and bread, or stewed grains. Beginning in the mid-1700s to 1800s, people started to add meat and fish to their morning meal. 

In 1863, James Caleb Jackson created Granula, the first breakfast cereal from graham flour dough that was dried and broken into shapes so hard they needed to be soaked in milk overnight. Some years later, John Harvey Kellogg invented his own cereal version, eventually calling it Granola. In the 1910s, the Quaker Oats Company began marketing puffed rice and puffed wheat as a breakthrough in food science, calling them the first ‘food shot from guns’ and ‘the eighth wonder of the world’.

Menu of the past

In ancient Egypt, peasants ate one meal daily - the breakfast comprising beer, bread, and onions.

Around 4-5th century BC, the Greeks would rise and eat barley bread dipped in wine.

Jentaculum. That’s the word the Romans used for breakfast that consisted of leftover meat with bread, cheese, olives, and raisins, often accompanied by wine, possibly mixed with honey and spices.

Around the 1800s, in certain Arab nations, locusts were
combined with butter and spread over unleavened bread for breakfast.

In 13th-century Europe, breakfast was a simple meal of rye bread and cheese, washed down with a quarter gallon of a low-grade beer.

Before the 1600s in Britain, the morning meal was bread, cold fish/meat, and ale.