Cross-cultural pollination means that both the croissant and the bagel have traveled far from home, and the “continental breakfast” still reigns supreme at hotels all over the world. But only in Japan will the morning meal offer dashi-maki tamago (a rolled, soy-flavored omelette), and only Costa Rica can stake a claim to delicious chorreadas (corn pancakes). Confronting an array of exotic ingredients, it’s easy to go for the familiar, but breakfast offers a chance to eat as the natives do, to celebrate the customs and traditions that make travel so illuminating, and to start the day, literally, with local flavor. Read on for a taste of the world’s best morning fare.
When it comes to the Chinese breakfast, the sheer number of regional variations can be intimidating; but regardless of where you are, the steamer is an essential tool. For chawanmushi, eggs are beaten with chicken broth, soy, and sake then steamed until silky, while buns are filled with barbecued pork before hitting the steamer. A typical Shanghai breakfast is youtiao, a deep-fried doughnut shaped like a hot dog; Taiwanese fritters and sesame-seed cakes come wrapped in paper and are to be eaten with your fingers. Dim sum, a hallmark of Cantonese cuisine, always includes shu mai dumplings. It’s considered more “modern” to eat congee with a ceramic spoon rather than slurped from a bowl; one of the most unusual condiments for this rice porridge is “century eggs” that have been “cooked” in an alkaline mix of clay, ash, lime, and salt.
The classic bento box meal includes miso soup, grilled fish, a rolled omelette, rice, Japanese pickles, and green tea. You may scoop squares of tofu with a metal utensil that looks like a miniature gardening tool, and sheets of nori (seaweed) stay crisp in sheer tissue packaging.
The palate-awakening sensation of kimchi starts early, when it’s served alongside porridge with shredded chicken or various soups made with dried pollack, beef ribs, or seaweed.
The centerpiece here is pho, the fragrant (and nearly impossible to pronounce) noodle soup with star anise, cinnamon, cardamom, and basil. A spicier variation is bun bo hue, with lemongrass, banana blossoms, shrimp paste, and—wait for it—chiles. Locals also favor banh mi sandwiches: baguettes filled with various meats, meatballs, and pâtés. Vietnamese coffee is high-octane, mixed with sweetened condensed milk and often poured over ice.
Rice noodles (flatter and wider than those in pad thai) appear with mouth-tingling condiments such as fresh or preserved chiles in vinegar. In Bangkok, jasmine rice is boiled as khao tom or fried as khao pat, with shrimp, pork, or chicken.