Alternative breakfasts

Since my first trips abroad I was all for trying local food. However, I couldn’t be convinced to have anything but a sweet breakfast. In some places, though, I had to make a virtue of necessity and came to enjoy a different approach to kicking off a new day.

For example, in some South East Asian countries I had breakfast in the form of a bowl of soup and in parts of China I ate a dish of jiaozi dipped in vinegar or a spicy sauce. When my craving for a sweet breakfast couldn’t really be stopped, I resorted to instant coffee and packed sweet buns. However, they often came with very unhealthy-looking antioxidant tablets that didn’t inspire much confidence, so it was still better to rely on steamed pork dumplings.

In some Arab countries, where patisseries are not lacking, I sometimes ordered sweets under the impression that I was upsetting their schedule, as they are eaten mostly during the afternoon. Their breakfast is also often a salty one.

On my first visit to Syria, I was first enthralled by the charm of Damascus old city watching people having breakfast. In a beautiful courtyard some workers were sitting under a trellis at mid morning guzzling a stodgy fetteh, or chickpea and bread soup doused by olive oil.

I have fond memories of a breakfast sitting on a stool in a farmhouse courtyard around Tartus. In the crisp January air I was given delicious orange juice and crushed boiled eggs sprinkled with salt and ground cumin. On the big saniye, a round metal platter, there were fuming glasses of heavily sugared tea. We would call it black, but they consistently call it red. Next to it were plates with a dash of olive oil and za’tar, or ground thyme mixed with other spices, and crumbled fresh cheese. A real feast for the eyes and the palate.

In the meantime, my hosting family were busy finding out on which market citrus fruit was selling best that morning before setting out with their van. My friend’s grandmother, a tiny old lady all dressed in black could hardly come to terms with the presence of an overseas visitor. Her grandson described me as coming from a country that she sometimes heard of in the news, which was as much as her representation of Italy could lose its abstractness.

Last week I received Palestinian friends who brought me a bag of za’tar. With the image of this Syrian breakfast in mind, I have made good use of it and have had Arab breakfasts complete with raghif bread from the local supermarket. Today, Easter day, I have added some sweets too and have made a very special one.