The Full English
One of the very few things I liked about living in Los Angeles were the breakfasts, vast profligate platefuls in Carmen Miranda colours, sometimes also sporting bits of fruit. Before I went there I had never heard of a three egg omelette, let alone an egg-white one (hey, if you’ve that big a cholesterol problem, don’t have the eggs!). The alien bacon, thin, sweet and streaky, was magnificently matched with syrup-covered waffles, reducing the need for marmalade.
But a true English breakfast inspires national arguments. Do you, or do you not, include baked beans? For me there’s no question, of course you do, but put them in a pot. Kidneys? For toffs, or Borough Market porters perhaps. Black pudding? Dear God, no – I live in the South!
There are a huge number of books about breakfast, but I favour the pseudonymously written Breakfast Bible, firstly because it suggests that the Full English requires eggs, bacon, sausages, mushrooms, tomatoes, fried bread and beans – but it also moves on to more exotic fare such as kedgeree, omelette Arnold Bennett, waffles, American ‘English’ muffins, porridge, roast peaches, channa masala from India, borek from the Balkans and pães de queijo from South America.
One of the best breakfasts I ever ate was on the roof of a palace in India – spicy parsee eggs with steaming chai, and the breakfasts at Dishoom in London are wonderfully reminiscent of great Indian breakfasts. There’s a passion for Kiwi-run joints at the moment, with Saturday morning queues in London’s Charlotte Passage, which is full of New Zealand cafes, and Brixton Market, which has breakfasts from all around the world, but mean you need to rise sharpish in order to get your brekker before noon.
The most complicated breakfast I ever attempted to consume was in Japan, where the table came with 16 separate pots of fish. This is not breakfast, it is a sushi banquet.
There are clearly rules around the consumption of English breakfasts; Saturdays and Sundays only for the big ones, print newspapers, not digital pads, coffee, not tea, toast and marmalade reserved for the home, not dining out. Just as the Sunday Roast survives (nay, thrives) across the UK in an unimaginative parade of beef, lamb, pork and chicken the breakfast recipe is enshrined in stone, rules that seemingly cannot to be broken.
But if one is to accelerate through the day from these starting blocks of fat and protein, why not go the whole way? My super-spicy huevos rancheros are a thing of beauty (above) even with the shameful addition of Cumberland sausages (breakfasts have grown bigger – in Victorian times a single egg was deemed acceptable).
Reading Caryl Brahms’ book on Gilbert & Sullivan, ‘Chords & Discords’, it appears that England – that is, its core – doesn’t change very quickly, and breakfasts are not to be tampered with. The US ambassador said he was looking forward to returning home at the end of his tenure so that he could get back to eating steak – too many hostesses serving lamb, apparently.
But many Americans find our dining rules arcane – we do not eat before eight, only ever order steak in a steakhouse, eat pizza with cutlery, use both a knife and a fork simultaneously and would not countenance the folly of drinking cola with a meal unless it was the kind you picked up with your hands. We don’t send bad or cold food back often enough (think the ‘Waldorf Salad’ episode of ‘Fawlty Towers’) and don’t regard tipping as a component of paying waiting staff wages.
Even local cafes now seem to have grasped the nettle and gone upmarket. Where once you heard a cry of ‘Double EB, fried slice & a cup of Rosie’ you’ll now here ‘Two poached, smashed avocado and kale on five-seed brown’ (kale being a trick by the Inedible Vegetable Marketing Board).
One last point; weekend breakfasts are, like Sunday lunch, intended to be almost continental in their leisurely tranquility, especially in winter, where a fine lunch should never end before it’s dark.