I can and have eaten snake´s blood for lunch and worms for dinner but breakfast is sacred. On a weekend, ideally it would include lashings of Bovril drizzled over hot-buttered brown toast…I could push it to the Holy Grail of crispy crumpet at Christmas….or perhaps even a sneaky scone with a full height glacier of Rodda´s clotted cream on a whistle-stop trip over to the UK.
However, let´s face it, we´re less adaptable at this mealtime.
Felipe González, Spain´s Premier from 1986-1992, shrewdly observed at one heated European Summit he hosted in June 1989 that it wasn´t surprising the delegates couldn´t agree on the agenda, considering the diversity of breakfasts they had all undoubtedly consumed that morning. Whilst their heads locked horns over the EU monetary system, the attendees’ bellies were busy digesting anything from German Bircher Muesli to French Pain au Chocolat, Greek Spinach Pie, Irish sausages or even a British Triple Whammy of eggs, beans and black pudding on toast. “How can we settle on common policy at the end of the day when they start it so differently.”
According to Julio González de Buitrago, head chef at La Moncloa Felipe González, enjoyed taking over the kitchen to prepare bream baked in sea salt. Although, “he loved a tuna-and-tomato sandwich when he was watching a soccer game”.
What happened to fried bread? I would like to start a Bring Back Fried Bread Movement. I could happily ditch those deep-fried mars bars; just bring me back those crispy caramel-brown triangles drenched in oil. Their sharp tip makes for the perfect weapon with which to go pricking those runny fried egg yokes.
Whereas every high street from Canterbury to Calcutta showcases global “To Go” brands such as Starbucks and Subway most nationalities tend to stick to home turf when it comes to breakfast in their own kitchen.
In the Middle East falafel and hummus bulge out of freshly-baked pita bread. Whereas in China and other Far Eastern countries a steaming bowl of rice porridge congee and pickled mustard stems is the preferred matutinal choice.
One of my most exotic daybreak meals was a spicy coconut noodle soup with fried beef lung at a roadside stall under a flyover in Kuala Lumpur. Just the ticket to tickle those sweat glands into action in the oppressive humidity.
Whilst lunch is the star culinary attraction, most Spaniards settle for biscuits and instant coffee dissolved into microwaved long-life milk of a morning. I am proud to divulge that I have managed to tempt my husband into following my Scottish ancestry by loading up on rolled porridge oats, or Scottish cement as he calls it with a dash of banana. I have fond memories of my grandmother stirring pinhead oats on the stove, spurtle in hand, until they congealed homogenously on our annual summer pilgrimage to her house near Dornoch. Once in a bowl, she would then sprinkle over some brown sugar, a pinch of salt to accentuate the natural earthiness of the oats before pouring a generous white moat of single cream round the edges. All in all a tantalising tingle of contrasting flavours and textures that ensured we stayed out of the raspberry cage until lunch.
My family and I have embarked on a pledge to complete the Camino de Santiago with a group of Spanish friends by doing 3 sections or “etapas” a year. Having started in 2019 and been rudely interrupted by the pandemic we shall probably all be elderly grandparents by the time we stagger into Santiago de Compostela on zimmer crampons. At times we have congregated together for breakfast and I have not found many takers for scrambled eggs at 7 am on a Sunday morning or for a bowl of mushy beige oats either. Instead, our friends favour a potato tortilla sandwiched into a white baguette and by 10.30 am they are sharing packets of almonds and Oreo biscuits or squeezing tubes of condensed milk down their children´s gullets in a bid to stave off those gastro grumblings.
The other point to note about Spanish breakfast is that it´s often eaten nearer the British lunchtime. Office workers start on an empty stomach before congregating at the nearest bar for the three C´s (coffee, croissant and a cigarette) at about 11.30. When I worked in the sherry industry I used to watch enviously as the strapping bodega workers perched on the barrels while they devoured orange sobrasada slathered generously onto baguette, washed down with dry oloroso to cut through the porcine fat at 11.30 am while my stomach rumbled through the second tasting of the day of 30 sherries before 12 noon. As the Jerez saying goes, “If you haven´t had one by 12 you will have to have 12 by 1pm”. Incidentally, farmworkers in the UK and Ireland were the initiators of the great Breakfast Fry up now equally ubiquitous in cafés in coastal Spain and the islands.
Perhaps one of the main reasons Spaniards can´t eat a heavy meal early in the morning is because they´re still digesting their dinner that they may have only finished around midnight the night before. And that´s another story…..