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Breakfast time! Or is it time for a "little lunch," or just an "early piece" of bread? Christiane Warmbein takes us on a tour of the most important meal in the day and suggests a couple of recipes - if you're brave enough to abandon your national traditions and start the day like a true cosmopolitan...

brioche
Photo: public domain
Jean Siméon Chardin, Still Life with Brioche

English ham and eggs, French croissants or Swiss muesli - the variety that can be found among European breakfasts is remarkable. Although eating habits and tastes have changed in the course of time, no other meal combines culinary diversity with national identity as much as the first meal of the day.

The meaning of this first meal is different in each country, as is shown by the name of the meal in the various European languages. The English "breakfast" stands for breaking the fast – the "fast" being the period without food since yesterday's dinner. A meal after such abstinence traditionally has to be rich and satisfying: bacon, eggs, sausages, porridge or grilled tomatoes. The same principle can be found in Spain, where one of the traditional fast-breaking desayunos consists of chocolate con churros (hot chocolate and sweet pastry), which is another filling breakfast.

In France, one doesn't break an awfully abstinent fast, but begins the day with pétit déjeuner instead. This "small lunch" is what it describes: a light meal, to stave off hunger until lunch. Therefore it consists of coffee, orange juice and a piece of pastry like a croissant or brioche, often plain.

A German Frühstück sounds even more stingy: this expression means only a piece of bread eaten early in the day (früh = early; stück = piece). Luckily, the Germans added butter, honey or jam, cheese, sausages, boiled eggs, fruit and Swiss muesli. But still, everyday German breakfasts are far from comparable with the richness of the British meal. And perhaps that's what led the British writer Somerset Maugham to say rather cunningly, "to eat well in England, you should have breakfast three times a day" - we'll leave it to our readers to decide whether he meant this as a compliment to British cuisine!

fried_eggs
Photo: freephoto.com
Fried eggs: just one element of the infamous "full English"

Generally, breakfasts are more complex and richer in the Northern countries than in the South, where people start the day with light meals. This is related to the climate. If you have to work hard outside when it's freezing, it's much better to have eaten a warm, protein-rich meal than only a piece of bread. But as with any rule, there are exceptions like the Spanish churros or petla, a rich fried flat cake made mainly of flour and yoghurt that is served in Kosovo. The latter is reminiscent of Russian blinis, but is a lot fluffier.

Although people often find breakfasts different from their national ones disgusting (ever tried to serve porridge to a German or churros to a Dutchman?), it's always worth trying something different from the foods you know. If you're really in the mood for experiments, why not try a Scandinavian breakfast dish like roasted moray or scrambled eggs with smoked salmon? Naturally not every European can manage smoked fish in the morning like some people do in Scandinavia, but why not try Turkish menemen or English porridge? It's delicious!

menemen
Photo: Christiane Warmbein
Turkish menemen

Turkish menemen (scrambled eggs with vegetables)

Ingredients (to serve two people):

3 eggs, 4 tomatoes, 1 onion, 3 chillies (not too spicy), 1 tbsp butter, a pinch of salt, a pinch of paprika, lots of pepper

Peel the tomatoes and cut them and the chillies and onion into small pieces. Heat the butter in a pan and fry the chillies and onions. Add the tomatoes as soon as the onions are golden. Let all braise lightly and add the eggs. Mix everything gently and let the eggs cook. Season with salt and pepper and serve with some light bread.

Porridge

Ingredients (to serve two people):

1 cup of oat flakes, 1 cup of milk, 1 cup of water

Boil up milk, water and oat flakes. Afterwards, simmer at a low heat until the porridge is mushy. Now you have basic porridge. You can add whatever you like: try some honey, bananas and almonds, or raspberry and maple syrup in summer; plums in autumn or orange slices in winter.

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