Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Breaking one's fast in foreign lands

In the last months when we've had the good fortune to be travelling a lot, I've confirmed my belief that breakfast isn't just the most important meal of the day for our health - it's the one that gets people most fractious if they can't have what they like or what they're used to. It doesn't matter what they have for any other meal of the day, but messing with people's breakfasts is a risky business.

This observation is something I've made several times over the years. We've had guests here from England who've grumbled about being given ham and cheese for breakfast instead of cereal with toast and marmalade. Cereal is a pretty rare commodity in the Netherlands, with the exception perhaps of meusli, and marmalade - well that's almost unheard of. Then I've seen other people muttering about the way the French make tea or serve coffee at breakfast time, well tampered with chicory. Of course no one can object to their delicious flaky croissants, but maybe you don't know the Dutch are famous for taking their own food on holiday to France and Spain, and I suspect that the desire to have their own cheesy breakfast is part of it.

I've always chuckled at the mutterers and scoffed at them for their lack of adaptability - that was until I went to Romania and Moldova this summer and found that breakfast there was at best dry and uninteresting and at worst, almost inedible - for my tastes that is.

And much of my disappointment came down to the bread. Isn't it funny how bread can vary so much in different countries? The trouble is that wherever you go, it's generally what's eaten in the morning unless you come from China where they eat rice and can't fathom why anyone would want to eat anything else…yes well. But anyway, back to bread, I just love it (usually) and could eat an entire wholewheat loaf fresh from the oven all by myself - I really could. I also love French baguettes and Italian ciabattas. I even like German rye bread, but my preference is definitely for slices of yummy crusty wholemeal brown.

So imagine my dismay, followed by deep disappointment and then severe disgruntlement when in Romania and Moldova, I couldn't find any kind of brown bread anywhere on any breakfast menu. Everywhere we went, we were only offered white, rather dense and distinctly un-yummy slices of what can best be described as fibrous cardboard. Occasionally, we could get something from the street stalls that was rather like Turkish bread, but then they filled it with odd stuff like cabbage. Yes. Cabbage...

On my first breakfast in Romania, I couldn't even get a cup of coffee. If you wanted it, you had to pre-order, but we didn't know this. Well, scroll down several posts and you will learn that I am not nice to know if I cannot have at least two cups of caffeine laden brew first thing in the morning. What made it worse was that our dining room seemed to be next to an in-house chapel so while we were chewing on our cardboard and swallowing glasses of tepid water (I really cannot stomach tea), a church service started up in the next room complete with chanting. Now I don't have anything against religious services as a rule, but everything has its place and at my breakfast table is not it.

After repeating this (the repast not the church service) for several days, I started being a slightly unhappy bunny. No matter that we had other decent food and often sampled the local fare, I just couldn't get my system used to the sterile way I had to break my fast. I'm ashamed to say I even started becoming a bit petulant and complaining that there was nothing worth eating at all, which was patently not true. But then I realised that I was being a typical mutterer - just like my testy visitors in Holland who couldn't have their cereal.

And why? Because breakfast is…I know, I've said it already, but yes, it's the meal not to be messed with, and I wasn't getting what I wanted, or what I liked. Sound familiar?

So the moral of the story is: when going abroad and it comes to being faced with a less than appealing morning fare…erm…actually, I don't know. Give it up, maybe? Say you're on a diet? Smuggle your own food in? It's a hard one, isn't it?

But what do you think? Was I being pathetic? No, you don't have to answer that, but I'd love to hear your thoughts on this supposedly all important meal of the day. Just don't be too hard on me...


16 comments:

  1. Val!
    Breakfast. For years I never ate breakfast and then Mrs H insisted that I did, so being dutiful I obeyed and now I cannot start the day until two cups of coffee are drank, followed by a bowl of muesli moistened with water.
    The golden rule on visiting foreign lands is "When in Rome do as the romans do" sound advice methinks.

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    1. You are right, I know, Mel, but in some countries it's harder than others :)

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  2. Hi Val - breakfast is my worst meal ... I hate it - and it doesn't like me .. never has. So a cup of coffee and some fruit does me well. I do know breakfast is meant to be the best meal of the day ... for me = no! I'm not sure what I'd do in those eastern countries ... but forewarned is forearmed! Cheers Hilary

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    1. Ah, Hilary, if you don't like breakfast, then you'll probably be fine - as long as you order your coffee in advance!

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  3. I've had some interesting breakfasts over the years. But what I really can't manage is rice and vegetables and maybe a bit of curry for breakfast - I do understand than in many countries rice is the only cheap food that is readily available. But it just feels like having supper to me.

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    1. I totally agree, Jo. I know some people who even put chopped chillis on their breakfast. There's no accounting is there? My Chinese students can't fathom why we would eat bread for breakfast though. Different strokes indeed.

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  4. I agree with you entirely. In Japan I found it hard to get used to rice and salad at breakfast. At least I could get coffee even though it wasn't great. Dutch breakfasts don't bother me too much, but German ones are the best.

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    1. I must say we had wonderful breakfasts in Poland, but maybe we were lucky in that where we were in the south east was quite German influenced, Jenny.

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  5. Not pathetic at all, Val, and it is all so true. I might be Australian, but must be English at heart because I always want the cereal, the toast and the marmalade, or at least one of them. Although I love cheese, I find it inexplicable when served with cold sausage meats at hotel breakfast. Also don't like the sweet pastries I see in some breakfast buffets. I missed my wholemeal toast a lot when travelling, and don't find white bread at all satisfying! When I find oatmeal porridge, I am filled with joy :))

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    1. Ah, I wondered about that, Patricia. So in Australia, English style breakfast is quite usual - rather like South Africa then!

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  6. I can certainly relate to how you feel about a caffeine laden start to the day! I rarely eat breakfast these days, though used to enjoy toast and marmalade once upon a time. Also once upon a time, I used to enjoy congee rice for breakfast. And probably with some chillies added to it, please and thank you very much!
    I think the worst breakfasts I ever ate were the ones on one particular trip to Tuscany. The bread was so hard, so rough and dry that it tore the lining on the roof of one's mouth.
    All that said, if I had to choose a breakfast these days, it would probably have cheese and cold meats, tomatoes, cucumber slices etc, and/or yoghurt as part of it. I rather like the Dutch breakfasts in hotels. And feel the same about Scandinavian breakfasts too.

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    1. I'm not surprised you quite like Dutch breakfasts now, Veronica :) But you are braver than most…congee rice with chillies? My goodness! The coffee is all important though, isn't it?

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  7. Each to their own I suppose Val. I can forgo breakfast but don't know how I'd be able to manage without coffee.

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    1. Actually, I normally don't eat breakfast either, Jane, except a biscuit with my coffee, but then I'm a great snacker and since I can't snack so much when I'm away, I do at least like a piece of edible bread in the morning.

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  8. You are right about breakfast Val. On holiday in a few hotels hotels where breakfast is buffet style we have seen some strange things. People say,it's because Russians,or Dutch,or Germans frequent these hotels,but chips for breakfast? and cold meat cuts,in the morning? yuk!

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    1. Ham and cheese, or even salami and chhese are standard breakfasts here in Holland, Anne. I'm used to it, but Romanian brakfast was hard to get down!

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