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Breakfast Abroad

June 30, 2011

We seriously need to invent taste-o-vision.  I say this, usually out loud, to whoever happens to be in the room when I’m watching the Food Network.  My favorite show on TV is Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, but every time I watch it, I just want to dive through the screen and steal food away from Guy Fieri.  I know Guy wouldn’t  give up his snack without a fight, but I think I could take him – or at least outrun his flip-flop wearing behind after I’ve snatched away whatever taste treat he had in front of him.

Anyway, to talk about the second day of our 2011 adventure through Spain and Portugal will be just like watching the Food Network.  I’ll do my best to walk you through the day, but without taste-o-vision, it’s definitely going to be one of those “you had to be there” kind of stories.

Today we’ll start with breakfast, because it is the most important meal of the day, and for American’s traveling in Europe – it’s

These are the faces we usually see at our first breakfast abroad. Danny looks confused, while Kirk has some of those eggs, and Austin appears to have eaten some.

the meal that’s the hardest to get used to.  A typical breakfast for me at home will usually just be some toast and cereal.  If I’ve got a little time, I have oatmeal.  On Sundays, I like to walk to the downtown area of my little town with my sons and eat at a local diner, so weekend breakfasts are more of an ordeal.   I get the Butcher’s Skillet every time – crisp potatoes smothered in cheese, topped with huge chunks of ham, sausage, and bacon, with a pile of scrambled eggs on top and two huge pancakes on the side.  My Sunday morning breakfasts ensure two things: 1.  I won’t be hungry til sometime on Tuesday, and 2. There’s some heart medication with my name on it somewhere in the near future.

After a year studying abroad and now five trips overseas with TAP, I’m used to the breakfasts over there.  I’ve even come to enjoy them, but for the kids European breakfasts are a whole new ball game, so I always make sure to wake up before all the kids on our first morning in Europe, because I love to see the looks on their faces when they step up to the buffet for the first time.  My favorite part of running TAP is seeing the kids adapt and grow as they experience the idiosyncrasies of a foreign land.  Nothing about those lands is more foreign than their breakfasts.

First, up on the buffet is the hot stuff:  Not much to choose from here.  Some days there’s nothing hot, but in Lisbon we were lucky enough to get bacon and eggs.  Bacon and eggs you say?  I know what you’re thinking.  The American mindset is real simple – you read the words buffet, bacon, and eggs and thought, “I can do this.  What’s unusual here?  Eggs are good.  Bacon is the meat of the gods.  European morning meals rock.”

Not so fast.  They don’t cook their eggs quite like we would.  When you get your Grand Slam at Denny’s, a very surly waitress with a weird twitchy eye asks you how you want your eggs.  The majority of America is either going to say, “scrambled” or ask for some variation of the fried egg (over easy, sunny side up…).  First of all, your European breakfast just has a big pan of eggs, so you don’t get to choose how/if they’re cooked.  Second…  If what you see is scrambled eggs, it’s not going to taste like it does at home.  I don’t know if they have different ideas of what “cooked” means or if there’s some different breed of chicken overseas, but your eggs will be… odd.

Let’s just say that a scrambled egg in the United States takes three or four minutes – that’s if you like the light fluffy eggs – maybe eight minutes if you like those weird folded in half sheets-o’-egg they put on the McDonald’s breakfast sandwiches.  In Europe, a typical scrambled egg appears to have been cooked for approximately nine and a half seconds, leaving them in that not quite liquid, but not quite solid state that is usually reserved for Jello or members of the pudding family.  Unbelievably, they are somehow cooked all the way in that short period of time, so the Europeans must use some sort of frying pan fueled by lava or something.  What seems to happen, though, when you heat a scrambled egg to the temperature of the Earth’s core rapidly is your left over with a byproduct unique to the other side of the world, because in that pan full of scrambledish eggs is something else – something that, no matter how hard you try, you can not avoid getting on your plate with your eggs.  That something is called “egg juice.”

As I said earlier, I like the European breakfasts, but this odd, buttery fluid that your eggs are swimming in takes some getting used to.

And, while the scrambled eggs, in some way appear to be somewhat undercooked, if you get yourself a fried egg it’s the opposite dilemma.  A fried egg here at home might take two or three minutes to cook.  You flip it and cook it for an appropriate amount of time on the other side – depending on your tastes, that might be anywhere from a handful of seconds to a few minutes.  In Europe, a fried egg is cooked for a year and a half.  Now they cook it at a very low temperature, so somehow they manage to make the white part the same consistency of a French croissant – flakey and falling apart when you touch it, but the yolk is like five ounces of gooey liquid encased in a very thin membrane capable of holding only four ounces of goo.  Taking a fried egg out of the pan in Europe is only possible if you mastered the game Operation as a kid.

That brings us to the “bacon.”  Notice those quotation marks, they are also known as sarcasm indicators, because European “bacon” is not bacon that you know and love.  It’s not the stuff you get on your double cheeseburger, or on your pizza, or wrapped around a really nice steak, or event the stuff that you find on your Croissandwich at the local BK.  This not the bacon that’s inspired t-shirts, scented bookmarks, or bumper stickers here at home.  “Bacon” in Europe is not crisp, it’s not smokey, it’s not finger food.  Europe “bacon” would be more aptly named if we called it “ham’s overweight, diabetic, desperately in need of a call from Jillian Michaels or maybe a Wii Fit cousin.”  To say that’s it’s fatty would be an understatement in the same way that calling Michael Jackson kind of eccentric is.  Saying European “bacon” is limp is like saying it’s a bad idea to build a suspension bridge out of felt.  To say that it’s greasy is like… let’s just leave that one alone.

Now, it sounds as if I’m saying it’s bad.  It’s not.  It’s delightful, but if you’re told that it’s bacon, and you’re expecting American bacon, you’ll be unbelievably disappointed.  However, once you get used to it for what it is – mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm,  Especially if you dip it in the egg juice.  MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM.

The rest of the buffet is the cold stuff.  Kind of.

There’s almost always a variety of breads, cold cuts, and cheese.  Choritzo, ham, other ham, and another meat that was a different kind of ham were all common in Spain.  Once you get used to making yourself a little ham, ham, ham, and cheese sandwich for breakfast – you’re golden.  I typically make an extra hams sandwich on my way out of the buffet and tuck it into my backpack for a snack later.  Nothing unusual about a ham sandwich, other than over there they eat it about four hours earlier than we’re accustomed to.

Fruit usually makes an appearance, and we can’t recommend enough that you grab an orange or an apple for the road.  Since it’s not nearly has portable, the canned pineapple, fruit cocktail, or pears are a great way to balance out your morning meal, then you can wash it all down with some juice.  Juice is generally served too,and most of the time there’s a few choices, but they are definitely not what you’re thinking of.  At home, I give my sons apple juice, orange juice, or even grape juice – sometimes we live on the edge and have some sort of Cranjuice, in which cranberries take the buddy system to the next level and jump into the juicer with an assortment of other fruits before being shipped out to the stores.  However, in all my years of traveling abroad, I keep encountering the same two juices.  Yellow juice and yellower juice.  I have no idea what fruit they come from, or if it’s a fruit I could even identify in some sort of fruit-line-up, but they both the yellow and the yellower taste pretty good and wash down the aftertaste of the egg juice pretty well.

Finally, we get to the cereal.  All the hotels in Europe must shop at the same Aldi, because in Germany, Greece, Italy, Ireland, and now both Spain and Portugal, I keep seeing the same three cereals.   You always get the corn flakes looking stuff.  It’s pretty basic, just like Corn Flakes here, but perfect for the picky eaters and the homesick.  The second one is an almost Rice Crispies.  Again, pretty basic, but not bad.  The place you can get adventurous is the weird chocolate flakes.  They look like Special K meets Hawaiian Tropic, but taste kind of like little crunchy Hostess cupcakes, which will turn some folks off, but may have some people already looking for plane tickets.

In the end, cereal is cereal, but where the Europeans throw you off is the milk.  It’s hot.  Sometimes you might get lucky and it’s just kinda warm, every once in a while it might be just room temperature, but it is never ever never never ever cold.  I’ve gotten used to the eggs, the bacon, the cold cuts, and the odd juice, but I can’t/won’t/shouldn’t ever get used to hot milk on my cereal.

So, as they say, breakfast is the most important meal of the day – and to me, that first breakfast is the most important meal of the trip.  It sets the tone.  It separates the men from the boys…  If you can wake up that first morning, fight off the jet lag, and shovel egg juice, pseudo bacon, and hot cupcake cereal into your face, wash it down with a nice tall glass of the yellower juice, and be ready to start your adventure – you’re going to be just fine.   Just make sure you pack an extra hams sandwich for the road.
Next we’ll take a look at Portuguese lunch and the most delightful cookie ever created.  If you’ve got anything to say about foods you encountered during your foreign travels, please feel free to speak up in the comments section.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. danielle davis permalink
    July 1, 2011 7:48 pm

    i say that the milk i never got used to and the watery eggs no a fan of for me i didnt really like the breakfasts but lest say that the apple jelly i had in lisbon was heavenly:)

    • July 1, 2011 7:56 pm

      I had the peach jelly every day. That was awesome too. I’ll have to look for that at Jewel next time I’m there.

  2. Ivy Diaz permalink
    July 3, 2011 2:28 pm

    I didn’t really try the eggs over there as I hate eggs. The milk was quite a different experience on its own especially when I mixed it in with the weird-shaped chocolate cereal (to be honest it looked like half of a cocoa puff). Let’s just say those 2 components put together resulted in a milky hot chocolate like residue. I’m not a big breakfast person but the fruit was fresh & pretty good each time. Orange juice seemed to vary taste & color wise.

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