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World's Most Classic Breakfasts

Dim sum breakfast spread at the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong in the Harbour room.

Photo: Berton Chang

The Americas

United States

Grits! Biscuits! Redeye gravy! These, of course, are the staples of a Southern breakfast. Plus, andouille sausage, pain perdu (French toast to you), and beignets (gilded, if you wish, with praline dipping sauce) in New Orleans. Peppers are in everything in the Southwest, while the region’s pancakes are made with blue-corn flour and sweetened with agave syrup. New England is all about maple syrup, perhaps poured over hotcakes made with Maine’s wild blueberries. And in the Pacific Northwest there’s salmon, smoked and made into hash. Loco moco is Hawaii’s decadent fast-food answer to the Egg McMuffin: white rice with a hamburger patty, a fried egg, and gravy.


Puerto Rico’s yeasty egg bread, pan de mallorca (from the Spanish island of the same name), accompanies café con leche. In Jamaica, ackee with saltfish looks like scrambled eggs, but ackee is a fruit; callaloo, served on the side, is a leafy green. The dish often comes with bami (cassava flatbread), johnnycakes (fried dumplings), breadfruit, and Jamaica’s famous Blue Mountain coffee.


Huitlacoche, a fungus considered a delicacy, is stirred into omelettes. But the breakfast Mexican mothers make to use up day-old corn tortillas is chilaquiles: the stale bits are fried in oil, then mixed with salsa, eggs, and a side of beans or nopalitos (the paddles of the prickly pear cactus).


Along with the country’s famous coffee, most hotels offer a basket of small round pão de queijo (cheese breads made with tapioca flour) that are surprisingly addictive despite having the consistency of chewing gum.

Costa Rica and Nicaragua

The national breakfast dish of these two nations is gallo pinto (painted rooster), a reference to the speckled appearance of the mixed beans and rice, but also an attempt to conceal the fact that it’s frugally meatless. A more luxurious version would be served with stewed meat and chorreadas, Costa Rican corn pancakes.


Sweet rolls called chancays (named for a small port town) are anise-flavored and often served with Paria cheese from the Andes. Jams are made with elderberries or gooseberries, and pancakes are quinoa-based, with a hint of oporto (port wine).


Don’t expect eggs; they’re not served before lunch. Instead, order colaciones pastries filled with dulce de leche or fruit, and yerba maté, an herbal beverage with antioxidant properties that’s made by steeping the leaves of a South American tree. Hotels, however, may not serve it in the traditional way: from a shared hollow gourd with a metal straw.

Aimee Lee Ball is the co-author of four books and writes frequently for the New York Times.


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