Breakfast: it's the most important meal of the day. I mean, actually studies are showing it's not, but try telling me that when I wake up on any given morning with a hankering for something delicious.
I love breakfast, particularly breakfast when I'm travelling. It's a chance to steer away from the formulaic Western style and get into something more interesting, to shake your tastebuds into action with spice or salt or delicious grease. It's a time to observe local life, to sit back and ponder the day ahead, to enjoy food that everyone should really be enjoying at all times of the day.
This is by no means an exhaustive list – there are so many great breakfast dishes and traditions around the world. But it's a good start.
Nasi lemak, Malaysia
This is the king of breakfasts. Well, one of them anyway. In Malaysia they start the day with an explosion of flavour, with rice cooked in coconut milk and pandan, with dried anchovies, peanuts, boiled egg, cucumber, maybe some beef rendang, maybe a fried chicken leg, and a big dollop of a chilli-and-fermented-shrimp sambal that's spicy, pungent and incredibly addictive.
Photo: CHRISTOPHER HOPKINS
Another one of the kings. Is there any better way to begin a day than with a warming, nourishing, delicious bowl of Vietnamese noodle soup? The flavours aren't too punchy here: pho is more of a gentle shake into wakefulness than nasi lemak's slap in the face. The noodles are filling, the meat is tasty and the subtle spice mix is just right. Good for what ails you.
Full English, UK
This isn't exactly a challenge for many Australian travellers, but it's still a thing of beauty. An artery-clogging plate of bacon, sausage, eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms, maybe baked beans, maybe fried bread, and maybe even black pudding, will set you up for the day. Or maybe it will set you up for a morning nap, who can say? Still, this is one fine breakfast.
Full Irish, Ireland
A full Irish breakfast is not dissimilar to a full English, only with the addition of both black pudding (a sausage made using pork blood, above) and white pudding (a sausage made using pork fat and liver). If that doesn't get your day started right, nothing will.
Full Japanese, Japan
There's actually no such thing as a "full Japanese", I've just used it as shorthand to describe the set breakfast that the Japanese sometimes indulge in when they're staying at a fancy hotel or ryokan. And what a breakfast this is: fresh, seasonal, complex, amazing. There's grilled fish, Japanese omelette, miso soup, pickles, and usually multiple small bites of all things zesty, funky, umami and delicious. This is a serious treat.
Full Turkish, Turkey
Photo: Wolter Peeters
Again, not a real thing, but my shorthand to describe the simple breakfast that's served through much of the Middle East. At its most basic you'll find fresh tomatoes, sliced cucumber, local cheese, olives, boiled eggs, and maybe "simit", the donut-shaped Turkish bread coated in sesame seeds. Fancier versions include cured meats, savoury pastries, and scrambled eggs with sausage. Oh, and a heart-starting Turkish coffee.
Café e cornetto, Italy
Breakfast is probably the least important meal of the day to Italians. This isn't something to sit down and savour, but rather something to smash and go. Plenty of Italians will call into a bar in the early morning for a coffee and a "cornetto", a croissant filled with sweet cream, eaten while standing up and chatting, with little to no ceremony. I'm a fan.
Photo: Darrian Traynor
Saying "congee" is a bit like saying "soup"; saying "China" is a bit like saying "the world". Yes, there are many different styles of congee being served in many different parts of China, and India, and everywhere in southeast Asia. But we haven't got time to cover them all, so I'm just going to say that rice porridge with various toppings and seasonings is a truly excellent way to begin the day.
Churros con chocolate, Spain
Photo: Christopher Pearce
Most people would consider fried sticks of donut batter dipped in thick chocolate to be a dessert dish, but not the Spanish. In Spain and also in Portugal, churros con chocolate are eaten first thing in the morning, the breakfast of champions. They're a sweet, sticky and perfectly lovely way to get things going.
Here's another southeast Asian noodle soup worth a mention. Mohinga is an ethnic Burmese dish, eaten across Myanmar in the early morning, dished up at street stands and small shops everywhere you look. This spicy, pungent fish-based soup is served with vermicelli noodles, crispy fried onions, fresh chilli and various other toppings depending on where in the country you are. Delicious.
Again, "curry" is not a thing. It's the catch-all Western word for the spicy stews of India, and not something you'll ever find yourself ordering in situ. I'm using the term as a blanket one for the sort of dishes Indians tend to eat for breakfast, spicy, flavourful sauces designed to be sopped up by fried chickpea fritters, or steamed rice cakes, or rice-flour pancakes, or fresh, flaky bread. There are so many different combinations and flavours, but all make an excellent and exciting way to start the day.
Such an absolute classic that it has spread around the world, from Tokyo to Tunis. A croissant is a simple, buttery pastry that's almost alchemical in its brilliance.
Photo: Simon Schluter
Mexico has some great breakfast dishes, as full of flavour as so much of their cuisine: huevos rancheros, fried eggs with beans, smothered in spicy sauce; tamales, steamed cornmeal with various fillings; huevos divorciados, eggs with two sauces. But my favourite is chilaquiles (above), fried corn tortillas topped with plenty of spicy sauce, queso fresco cheese and sometimes shredded meat. So good.
Eggs Benedict, USA
Photo: Pat Scala
This classic breakfast dish originated in New York City, and includes a few of Americans' great loves: English muffins, eggs, ham, and rich, buttery Hollandaise sauce. You can now find eggs Benedict served throughout much of the Western world, and it's almost always good.
Ful medames, Egypt
You know what they say: Ful me once… OK, terrible pun, but Egypt's national breakfast dish is a good one. Ful medames is a thick, hearty fava bean stew, served with chopped parsley, and sometimes boiled eggs. Anyone who doesn't try this while they're in Egypt – well, I pity the ful.
What's your favourite breakfast dish from around the world? What do you miss most when you get back home?
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