Every time I interview someone for a documentary I start with the same question: "What did you eat for breakfast?" Whether they say eggs or Fruit Loops or leftover pizza is generally of little importance to me. Inquiring about what they ate is actually a common practice among filmmakers. It's just a simple way to get someone to talk so that the sound recordist can make any necessary adjustments to the audio levels. But when filming around the world, the answer to this question actually becomes a rather fascinating survey of how different our morning meals can be.
As someone who tends to start their day with a bowl of Quaker Oats and berries, I'll admit that it's hard for me to imagine a bowl of boiled mutton for breakfast, but if I was in Mongolia, this would be a fairly typical way to rise and shine. On a recent Korean airlines flight my husband woke up to a plate of kimchi (xxx), a bowl of congee (xxxx) and vegetable soup. While on a film shoot in Botswana a few years ago I discovered that the answer to "what's for breakfast?" was ting - fermented sorghum porridge mixed with milk and sugar, which made for an interesting substitute for my usual gruel.
You can learn a little about the place you're in if you take a moment to consider why people eat certain things for breakfast. The most obvious answer is that most meals are shaped out of foods that are regionally harvested and abundant. It's why Brazilians often start their day with passion-fruit juice, Chinese breakfasts tend to include rice, and why Jamaican breakfasts often include callaloo (a spinach-like vegetable). And lest you thought that the classic American pancakes and orange juice combo was an IHOP invention, these morning staples actually took root in mid-western wheat fields and Florida orange groves. The maple syrup, of course, is courtesy of Vermont.
Dig a little deeper and you'll discover that our perceptions of what breakfast should be can be as different as the foods themselves. In some countries, breakfast is a grab-and-go mini meal (Pop Tarts anyone?). For others, it's a time for more substantial nourishment. It can be a time for social or family gathering, a meal to awaken the taste buds, or just some food geared towards refueling after the long night.
Pick any place on the map and you'll uncover multiple reasons why particular foods became breakfast fixtures there. Stop and think about the origins of your own breakfast for a moment and you will realize that even a bowl of Frosted Flakes can be a tool for gaining some cultural insights.
Here are a few traditional breakfast offerings you might encounter around the world:
- labneh, hummous and falafel are all popular choices, often served alongside lamb sausage or beef mortadella.
- steamed rice, miso soup (a clear broth made from fermented soybeans and seaweed), and a side of broiled or steamed fish
- Halim Halim is a mixture of wheat, cinnamon, butter and sugar cooked with shredded meat in huge pots. You can eat it hot or cold.
-waakye, which consists of rice cooked with beans.
- Nasi Lemak is a popular, portable breakfast consisting of rice cooked in coconut milk, wrapped in banana leaves with fried anchovies, sliced cucumber, hard boiled egg and a slightly sweet spicy sauce called sambal.
- Pannkakor is a thin flat cake made from batter and fried on both sides - much like a crepe. It's usually served with a sweet, fruity filling.
- Johk is a thick rice soup with pork.
- Halva Puri Cholay consists of two separate dishes: halva - a sweet cake made from semolina, and Aloo Cholay - a spicy chick pea and potato curry eaten with a small round deep fried flat bread called puri. This is often accompanied by a lassi, which is drink made from yoghurt that can be salty or sweet.
- a cup of coffee and a tartine (sliced/toasted baguette) with jam or a pastry such as a croissant or pain au chocolat.