Breakfast is for champions

Franka Philip tucks into some winners, from a Caribbean variation on porridge to the Trini favourite, doubles

–Trinidad doubles. Photograph by Shirley Bahadur

This morning, I had what’s known in these parts as a full English breakfast.

I leisurely chomped my way through eggs, sausage, black pudding, bacon, mushrooms, hash browns, baked beans, tomatoes, and toast. Don’t be alarmed – this isn’t a typical breakfast, but a treat that I have every once in a while! I don’t know many people who eat like this every day.

In fact, though breakfast has been called the most important meal of the day, as our lives get busier, are people taking breakfast seriously at all? In London, I’ve noticed the ubiquity of the coffee cup, at chains like Starbucks, usually accompanied by a croissant or a sandwich among fellow commuters. I’ve realised it’s pretty much the same in the Caribbean, where local upmarket coffee bars are becoming more popular.

Doubles: tops in Trinidad

When I lived in Trinidad, there were many options for a hearty (but not necessarily healthy) breakfast. There are many cafes offering reasonably priced sandwiches and pies. However, based on a (thoroughly unscientific) poll of my friends, it seems the Indian delicacy doubles, which is two barras (small, turmeric-spiced, deep-fried rounds of fluffy dough) with curried channa (chickpeas), is a hot favourite. These are sold up and down the country by roadside vendors for about US$0.50.

Puerto Rican pan

I asked Puerto Rican chef Daisy Martinez about breakfast when she was growing up.

“Breakfast in the cities in Puerto Rico today is very different from the breakfast that I remember as a little girl, although in the countryside you still see the traditional-type meals.

“There is always fruit, of course, whatever you have growing in your garden: oranges, acerolas (West Indian cherries), guanabana (soursop), grapefruit, bananas and mangoes. My grandmother would send me to climb on the roof of the house with my cousins to gather fruit.

“Then there would be cafe con leche [Puerto Rican coffee with lots of milk], or hot Cortes chocolate for the kids, with eggs from the henhouse that we would soft-boil, and a piece of hot pan de manteca [bread made with lard] that we would buy from a man who went around with a cart full of fragrant, fresh loaves and rolls.

“Sometimes my grandmother would make avena, a thin, sweetened oatmeal, or hot rice cereal scented with vanilla and cinnamon sticks, or even hot cornmeal cereal.”
Martinez, a Food Network chef, said leftovers were often choice breakfast fare as well.

“My older cousins would make breakfast sandwiches they would eat on their way to work, with ham and cheese, or a fried egg. Sometimes they would scramble eggs, and serve that with a side of rice and beans left over from the night before. Nothing was ever left to waste – and beans always taste better the day after!”

Shaherah still loves smoked herring

London-based fitness competitor Shaherah Jordan described her approach to breakfast as “schizophrenic”.  She’s got a Trinidadian father and a Bajan mother, and grew up in the US and the UK.

“In the early days in the UK, breakfast was all about porridge or Weetabix.

“After moving to the States, weekday breakfasts could be anything from scrambled eggs and toast to a Pop Tart, and I always looked forward to Saturday breakfasts:  bacon, eggs, sausages and pancakes with syrup!”

As a competitive bodybuilder and active volleyball player, Jordan sticks to a very strict diet, so her breakfast can be egg whites, turkey rashers and brown toast, or turkey rashers and spinach in brown pita bread, or oatmeal with protein powder.

She succumbs to her weakness for Caribbean food when she’s visiting family. “I have smoked herring and bake! I also love scrambled eggs from the chickens in the yard.”

Franka’s favourites

I hear you asking, “So what do you have for breakfast?” Admittedly, if I had to give myself a grade for breakfast, it would be a B-: could do better.

My first choice is always porridge, a divisive dish that makes as many people go “ewww” as “yum”.  More often than not, I’ll have porridge made from jumbo oats, but I’ve been successfully experimenting with grains like barley, spelt and quinoa. The key to great porridge is the addition of spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and clove, as well as nuts, linseed and raisins.

My other favourites include omelettes or black pudding washed down with fresh vegetable juice. On the weekends, I’m also partial to a quick fish broth, with a warm slice of homemade bread or bake.

It’s a bit sad that a lot of people don’t have the chance to enjoy breakfast any more, not only because of the hectic pace of life, but because there are so many distractions. I heard a parent of teenagers complain recently that it’s hard getting her family together for breakfast because the young ‘uns are more interested in a bowl of cereal in front of the computer while they check out their friends on Facebook.

I won’t ever give up those Saturday mornings when I can head out to a great pub, sit with the newspapers and enjoy a hearty and indulgent breakfast. It’s one of my most cherished pleasures.

Recipe: Caribbean Porridge

Adapted from Levi Roots’ book Caribbean Food Made Easy

720 ml water
10 allspice berries
½ cinnamon stick
Good grating of nutmeg
5 cloves
1 bay leaf
400 ml can coconut milk
Large pinch of salt
175g rolled porridge oats

To serve
Milk or cream
50g ready-to-eat mixed fruits or 2 bananas
50g nuts of your choice
Demerara sugar or honey, to taste
Allspice berries to serve (optional)

Method
1  Put water in a pan and add spices and bay leaf. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. At this stage you can take out the allspice berries and cloves if you don’t want them in the final porridge.
2  Stir in coconut milk and salt.
3  Add porridge oats and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring often.
4  Put porridge into 4 bowls, add milk or cream, and sweeten to taste. Top with nuts and fruits.

Useful links:

Daisy Martinez: http://www.daisymartinez.com/
Dinner with Julie: http://dinnerwithjulie.com/
Shaherah Jordan: http://semantixx.blogspot.com/