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Breakfast taboos

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Hiroyuki's terrific food blog includes photos and descriptions of some wonderful, multicourse breakfasts, including marinated fish, pickles, and meatballs. I posted the following:

"It seems to me that in Japanese cuisine, the distinction between foods appropriate for breakfast and foods for other meals might be less strong than, say, most American's feel. I myself am not a fan of American breakfast foods in general (I agree that granola is better as a snack food), but my husband winces when I nibble on a piece of chicken or fish-that's-not-lox for breakfast. What Japanese foods would be taboo at breakfast?"

Of course, my husband would not be taken aback by sausage or bacon or pickled herring at breakfast, although we don't generally have those things. He would think it odd for us to have pancakes for dinner. (I'm using him as a straw man, here.) Leftover pizza for breakfast has a whiff of transgression about it.

So . . . I started wondering whether there are various levels of differentiation between meals among cuisines. And whether there are any syntactical rules to be found. I don't think it's the level of spiciness or blandness, exactly. Alliums might figure in the American rules. Fattiness? Sweetness?

Why do we associate eggs with breakfast and chickens with dinner?

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I, for one, am greatly in favor of pizza for breakfast. I love the Japanese breakfast even though I don't do it often.

Leftover Chinese food turned into fried rice is another great breakfast when one is bored with eggs or cereal.

On the other hand, I don't care for pancakes for dinner and they're one of my favorite breakfast foods.

I don't want sandwiches for dinner either. SANDWICHES ARE LUNCH!

Edited by BarbaraY (log)
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I love cold pizza for breakfast.

Growing up, my mother often favored savory foods for breakfast and would fix us bagel sandwiches with tomatoes, turkey, cream cheese and lots of black pepper.

Except for weekends, we usaully ate cold cereal for breakfast and I always loved it.

I did love the times we would have breakfast for supper. Osmetimes it was biscuits and gravy, or sos, or eggs, sausage and bacon.

Today, I don't usually eat breakfast, but when I do, I either want cold cereal or something light and savory. I have eaten salad before (yes, for breakfast).

Preach not to others what they should eat, but eat as becomes you and be silent. Epicetus

Amanda Newton

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I don't want sandwiches for dinner either. SANDWICHES ARE LUNCH!

Reminds me of my cousin, who married a nice Norwegian girl.

When he would come back to the states, he would pack his suitcase with cereal and junk food, saying, "They eat frickin' open-faced sandwiches for every gosh darn meal. I can't stand open-faced sandwiches for breakfast!"


Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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I don't know ... One of the best dinner I've ever made was sourdough blueberry pancakes (with berries fresh off the bush), cooked in applewood bacon grease on a hot griddle, served with said bacon and some grade B maple syrup (the best for such an application).

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As far as I'm concerned, anything is fair game at breakfast (although I tend to eat traditionally American "breakfast-y" foods out of habit). One of my favorite breakfasts is leftover Thai curry and rice. Breakfast for dinner is great, too.

Nikki Hershberger

An oyster met an oyster

And they were oysters two.

Two oysters met two oysters

And they were oysters too.

Four oysters met a pint of milk

And they were oyster stew.

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That's what I am trying to get at--our underlying idea of what makes breakfast breakfast.

I would guess that the concept of which foods belong at what particular meals springs originally from native availability of foods shaped to physical desire (as in, if you work outside on a farm doing hard labor you are likely to be more hungry at certain hours than other people who might rise in the morning to go tend flocks or do food gathering) (obviously I am speaking of "olden times" for the most part here :wink: ). . . then simply, tradition.

What our forebears eat, we eat, to some extent. Even though we need not, really, today. It's part of what makes us "us" and them "them", whomever we may be and they may be. And it makes the world a interesting place. People like to know what they are "supposed to do" and when they are supposed to do it, and people like to gawk at people who do otherwise.

And gosh that does make it more fun to break the rules, too. :smile:

There is a wonderful essay that touches indirectly upon this question by MFK Fisher. From "How to Cook a Wolf", it is titled "How to Be Sage Without Hemlock". Slightly different, as the question is of meal balance, but thoughts she espouses are useful in thinking of both questions.

One of the stupidest things in an earnest but stupid school of culinary thought is that each of the three daily meals should be "balanced". [. . .] In the first place, not all people want or need three meals each day. Many of them feel better with two, or one and one-half, or five.

Why do we eat the same things we always have at breakfast? Because "that is the way it has always been".


(Edited for spelling because "each" is not "ech".)

Edited by Carrot Top (log)
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Last Saturday, I used some leftover paella and made a paella fried rice with egg and chicken. Fried rice is one of my favorite breakfasts, but this one was a little odd. Of course, my other favorite breakfast is chicken fried steak or chicken.

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I eat anything, anytime, but I'm Asian. I grew up with the idea of what breakfast foods "should" be (cereal, toast, eggs), and what we ate (stuff with rice). I think most Asian cultures eat a lot of savoury foods for breakfast, but nothing too heavy, at least not traditionally, and always some protein. Western cultures seem to have more of a tradition of lighter fare for breakfast, heavy on the carbs (bread, cereal).

I remember Little House on the Prairie episodes when Pa had steak and eggs for breakfast, so "light" fare hasn't always been the tradition in the US, has it? Or was that kind of breakfast restricted to the hardworking folks on farms?

I'll eat anything, though--fried, heavy, light. I don't have any food rules, in general, other than "fried food is good" and "mushy things with chunks are too vomit-like to eat."

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The only things I really won't eat for breakfast are things that are overly spicy and rich or overly sweet. I don't not understand, for example, how anyone could eat a Poptart for breakfast. That's candy! Conversely, at Hoover's here in Austin, one of their breakfast items is a plate of buscuits covered with fried chicken strips smothered in shrimp etoufee. Ugh. Just... ugh. How anyone can scarf that down before noon is beyond me.

That said, I do eat "weird" things for breakfast from time to time. My friends think I'm strange for liking fried rice for breakfast, but I think it makes a great breakfast. Especially a simple egg fried rice: egg for protein, carbs to give you a little more energy, and a little flavor (but not too much) to wake up the palate and stomach for the day.

There is also a taco truck that stops by our office every morning, and I love getting their chicken tacos for breakfast. Much more than the ones with egg. The chicken ones have grilled chicken, caramelized onion, and cheese. They are wonderful.

I love breakfast for dinner. French toast, pancakes, omelettes, etc are my favorite weeknight dinners. Since I don't get to cook nice breakfasts that often, it's fun to do so at night.

Edited by MissAmy (log)

-Sounds awfully rich!

-It is! That's why I serve it with ice cream to cut the sweetness!

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On second thought, one food that definitely doesn't jive for me on the breakfast table might be oysters.

Several years ago, Dad reminisced about a cook at one of the snooty Richmond, Va. clubs who used to occasionaly prepare something called the "Rush Special." According to Dad's perhaps tainted memory, it consisted of cornmeal pancakes, oysters sauteed in a pan with butter, and real maple syrup.

So with much fanfare on Sunday morning, Dad made us a Rush Special. The combination of briny, rich oysters with their unmistakeable sea funk, and the penetrating sweetness of maple made me gag. Nobody finished their plate.

No oysters for breakfast, particulary doused in sweet syrup.

I don't think lamb would be my morning choice, either.

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I skip sweets in the morning, it's just not for me. Because I live in my own little land, I really eat whatever I want (or did until the concept of eating healthfully crossed my mind) I ususally like the sam ethings for breakfast that I like for dinner. Pizza, things with cheese, ground meat foods, things that have been smoked etc. Never crave cereal, or really anything an ihop type place would offer unless chicken fried steak is on the menu.

I have no problem with shellfish in themorning but a salmon fillet might freak me out.

I'm American. What does this mean? My mom didn't cook breakfast really, and when she did I didn't like it.

I've clarified nothing and lent no particular insight. Oh well.

does this come in pork?

My name's Emma Feigenbaum.

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There are actually healthful chakras, rituals, and foods that are advised in adurvedic medicine among other ancient advisements for breaking the fast in the morning as well as for other times of the day in order to be more healthfully aligned both physically and mentally to the rhythms of the sun and moon and earth cycles.

Speaking of IHOP, surprisingly they serve none of these foods.

How could that be? Boorish of them, I say.

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The only thing I can think of that's taboo for breakfast for me is anything I can't choke down. The earlier the hour, the longer that list is. I am NOT a morning person.

My stomach is not good about accepting food early in the morning. When I was going to high school I ate breakfast about 6:30 am, and about the only thing that would sit well was was cereal. (If I didn't eat, I'd be ravenous by about 10 am...middle of classes.) It was simple and sweet. So that's why cereal became my breakfast of choice.

But if we're talking a late breakfast at 10:30am, or better yet, brunch at 12:30, I say bring it on!


Don't forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he wanted...he lived happily ever after. -- Willy Wonka

eGullet foodblog

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I'm of the school that believes: 1) breakfast is important 2) protein is important 3) leftovers rock.

Our kids (twin boys, age 11) haven't experienced 'packaged cereal'. If we aren't up to make breakfast, they make their own, ranging from eggs over easy to turkey scrambles. When I bring home Chinese take-out, it's the next morning's favorite breakfast.

I just don't get high carb breakfasts.

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I remember Little House on the Prairie episodes when Pa had steak and eggs for breakfast, so "light" fare hasn't always been the tradition in the US, has it?  Or was that kind of breakfast restricted to the hardworking folks on farms?

Well, during the era in which "Little House on the Prairie" was set (the late 19th century), a large proportion of the US population lived--and worked hard--on farms. And my understanding is that breakfast was indeed a heavy-duty thing for lots of rural folk back then--that is, if they had the wherewithal to afford that kind and amount of food.

Re: what Americans of yesteryear used to eat for breakfast: a little websurfing turned up the following fascinating site: Feeding America. Searching the collection of historic cookbooks archived on that site with the term "breakfast" turned up a huge number of references, including both familiar and unfamiliar breakfast foods (oysters are definitely represented, as are all sorts of fish, fowl, and game we modern Americans no longer think of as breakfast foods). Here's just one example, a list of foods considered appropriate for breakfast according to one of the cookbooks in their collection: clickie (section on breakfast foods starts halfway down the page).

Edited to add: I have gratefully given up all notion of mandatory vs. verboten breakfast foods. Sometimes my breakfast looks sort of breakfast-y (yogurt, fruit, coffee); sometimes not (turkey sandwich on pita bread). I am most glad of never having to eat cold cereal ever again. Sometimes, however, I do eat hot cereal--but usually as a late afternoon snack. I greatly admire the Vietnamese custom of eating pho for breakfast--now that's the way to kick a day off right! :biggrin:

Edited by mizducky (log)
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I love eating Chinese leftovers when I lived alone in The Netherlands too. In Malaysia though, I nearly never eat leftovers because breakfast can be eaten very cheaply and taste even better than leftovers!

For example, breakfast today was eaten at an Indian coffeeshop. My parents had teh tarik (pulled tea) and I had Milo (the unhealthy yummy kind with condensed milk etc yum) to drink, roti canai with fish curry and sambal(me), appom with some liquid coconut dip(mother) and roti telur with sambal and some dry curry chicken (dad).

Here in Malaysia, warm meals are probably more common (however, only if you actually go out for breakfast which lots of people normally do) but plenty of people do take cereal or granola bars . Bread and sweet things like kuih, pastries and cookies are also normal. Anything goes really!

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I would always choose leftovers from dinner for breakfast--but it's still clear to me that it's not supposed to be breakfast. That's what I am trying to get at--our underlying idea of what makes breakfast breakfast.

Well just to get this out of the way, just about anything goes for any meal for me. However, if I could have a personal chef prepare a different savory soup everyday from any Asian culture--Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Korean, etc.--that would be heaven for me for breakfast.

But to try and address your original question, my heritage is Southern and as far as I can remember sweets were never the main focus of breakfast. It would always be a "grits and fill-in-the blank" breakfast: ham or sausage or bacon with eggs OR liver, onions and gravy OR fried fish or salmon cakes. Doughnuts, cereal, poptarts and the like were definitely not traditional. The closest thing to sweets would be the jelly, jam, fruit butter, or syrup you would put on biscuits. Even that old American standby of pancakes would be a special thing on Sundays only. Perhaps it's because my parents and their parents were raised on farms without those processed convenience foods? I don't know.

I do know that I distinctly remember the heavy marketing of breakfast cereals as a "balanced" breakfast and I remember, as a child, being very influenced by that marketing. Since this marketing was shamelessly directed at children, I recall that my brother and I, both city kids, would bug my mom to buy things like Cocoa Crispies, Apple Jacks, Captain Crunch, and my favorite, Lucky Charms :wub: which we gobbled up. Mom, being a good old farm gal wouldn't touch the stuff.

The other food, actually a beverage, that seems so American and "right" for breakfast is coffee. I know our nation started out as a bunch of hot tea drinkers, but there's just something completely unnatural to me about drinking hot tea in the morning or as a part of breakfast. I'm sure one of the learned members of eG can explain that phenomena--new trade routes, coffee is American and tea was the beverage of the English Empire, who knows--but the vast majority of people I know are coffee drinkers for breakfast, with only a few "oddball" hot tea drinkers in the mix. :hmmm: And I mean oddball in a most affectionate way, of course. :biggrin:

Edited by divalasvegas (log)

Inside me there is a thin woman screaming to get out, but I can usually keep the Bitch quiet: with CHOCOLATE!!!

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I love eating Chinese leftovers when I lived alone in The Netherlands too. In Malaysia though, I nearly never eat leftovers because breakfast can be eaten very cheaply and taste even better than leftovers!

For example, breakfast today was eaten at an Indian coffeeshop. My parents had teh tarik (pulled tea) and I had Milo (the unhealthy  yummy kind with condensed milk etc yum) to drink, roti canai with fish curry and sambal(me), appom with some liquid coconut dip(mother) and roti telur with sambal and some dry curry chicken (dad).

Here in Malaysia, warm meals are probably more common (however, only if you actually go out for breakfast which lots of people normally do) but plenty of people do take cereal or granola bars . Bread and sweet things like kuih, pastries and cookies are also normal. Anything goes really!

yunnermeier, I'm glad you brought up roti canai, because if you hadn't, I would have! That's a nice spicy AND starchy way to start your day! Do you or your parents ever have lempeng or jemput for breakfast? (Those are sweet Malaysian pancakes; lempeng has some featured ingredient like jackfruit, coconut, or banana in the flour and jemput has it for filling.)

Michael aka "Pan"


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My aunt makes apom balik (sounds a bit like jemput? usually durian flavoured small,thick pancakes) sometimes and they'd have that with coffee in the afternoon. I don't care much for Malaysian pastries or kuih so I don't eat any! The only kuih I like is pulut teratai/taitai (the blue and white glutinous rice you eat with kaya).

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I never had durian-filled jemput, but cempedak was often used. (For the record, I hated cempedak when I was a kid and didn't have a chance to try some as an adult.) Perhaps lempeng and jemput are more characteristic of the East Coast than the West Coast. Apom sounds smaller than the jemput I used to eat for breakfast, which were really pretty much the same width as an American pancake (maybe around 6 inches), but wider because of the filling.

Michael aka "Pan"


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Typical Indian (if there is such a thing!) breakfasts aren't usually of the sweet variety either, tho an Indian sweet may well be taken after the savoury, and whether you're vegetarian or not, breakfast tends to be a vegetarian meal. However, in terms of the other ingredients taken at breakfast time, they don't differ very much from meals at other times of the day.

In Kolkata, typical breakfasts are things like hing-er kachori and aloor dom - fried flat doughbreads flavoured with asafoetida with potato curry thats flavoured with yoghurt. But equally you may have aloo paratha (another type of flat Indian bread, this time stuffed with spicy mashed potatoes). In Indian hotels, idli, vadai, sambar dahl, dosa and the like seem to be in all the breakfast buffets etc, and in South Indian style cafes throughout India, ppl do seem to enjoy this sort of food at breakfast time.

A common theme here seems to be leftovers at breakfast, and this is certainly true in my household in India but not so much in London. Whilst some people on this thread have expressed suprise at spicy/rich foods for breakfast, I can assure you that an equal number would be suprised by fried breakfast meats, particularly at the thought of salt or smoke preserved meats at any time of day!

Me, I eat either what I'm in the mood for, what I have time to make, or whats available. I love the posh American idea of a bountiful breakfast table filled with baked goods, pancakes, waffles, and any number of egg and potato preparations, and I also love the Englishness of the full monty, the continental ease of croissants, breads, cheese and cold cuts and fruit and yoghurt, and the asian breakfasts of whoever is doing whatever well at the nearest hawker stalls early in the morning!



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