Greeks don’t know from a bagel, but on almost every street corner in the center of Athens you’ll find stands selling koulouria, a sesame seed-sprinkled bread stick-slash-roll. Athenians grab them on the go for a quick breakfast in the early morning while they’re fresh. But don’t be turned off if you see some still for sale after lunch – by afternoonÂ theÂ koulouria somehowÂ morphs into a satisfyingly crunchy snack.
Doubles is the breakfast of Trinidad champions – or at least the cure for an all night Carnival party: bara or fried bread, topped with chana, chandon beni, a local herb similar to cilantro, and scotch bonnet peppers. It does the body good. And goes a long way towards ameliorating a sunrise hangover.
But first, snacks. Tom Yum crisp: an addictive, crunchy mix of dried shrimp, lemongrass, squid and cashews – and surely the oddest airport breakfastÂ I’ve ever eaten. Good as it is, I’ve a sneaking suspicion I’ll be tasting it again at 35,000 feet.
This being the UKÂ traditionÂ generally dictates that breakfast at a B&B is equally important, if not more so, than the bed. To be considered proper it must be cooked, too: eggs, bacon, sausage, tomato, mushrooms and invariably some type of fried bread. But if you look at the small letters at the bottom of the breakfast menu at Harbour View B&B you can also opt for a Thai Breakfast, which turns out to be a mutable thing, dependent on the whims of the market and the chef for that matter. (This being an island off the coast of an island off the coast of continental Europe, creativeÂ substitutionsÂ for certain Thai ingredients must often be made) After expressing an interest in Thai food, however, my hostess, Swan Tomkinson, took a certain vested interest in me. “It’s spicy, you know,” she told me on the first morning, trying to warn me off a plate of scrambled eggs with rice and curried rashers. “I love Thai,” I countered. “The spicier the better.” And with that she recognized a kindred spirit:Â “I will cook you real Thai food.” Over the next five days a challenge ensued. Each day I would ask forÂ somethingÂ unattainable for breakfast theÂ followingÂ morning -Â green papaya salad one day, pad prik king another – and she would counter with a pretty good approximation,Â for exampleÂ substituting cucumbers in place of the green papaya and adding an extra dose of the Thai basil which grows prodigiously in her garden. OnÂ day four I was surprised with a plate of larb, the spicy ground pork salad popular in northeastern Thailand. “I’veÂ been craving larb but had nobody to share it with,” Swan confided, revealing aÂ pang ofÂ longingÂ every stranger in a strange land must eventually feel. “Cooking for people makes me happy,” she was quick to add. “Especially food that they like.” Like Thai, I gestured, pushing a plate of freshly picked herbs out of the way, inviting Swan to join me in the most unexpected – and tastiest – Â breakfast of my life. “One time, a Russian couple came into the kitchen as I was cooking dinner for me and Alan,” she began. “I was making Beef Stroganoff and they said the smell reminded them of home. ‘Could we have the leftovers for breakfast,’ they asked me.” She laughed at the memory. “Yes,Â I said, I will make you Beef Stroganoff for breakfast.”
On safari you experience a near constant reminder of just how small your place in the biosphere really is. That’s part of the bargain, part of the rush. Mostly it comes in gasps of wonder and awe. Yet today’s run in with an unhappy elephant was a heart-pounding example that sometimes the reminder comes hand in hand with a dizzying fear. Watching this beautiful creature devour a thorny Acacia was mesmerizing until we were distracted by the howls of a jackal, whose cries signaled a lurking danger. It turned out to be a pair of male lions on the hunt, and seeing them cross our line of sight we decided to make pursuit.Â What the driver failed to notice, however, was the big ditch separating us from them – until we went kerplunk. Thoroughly stuck, we sat there immobile, our rear wheel unable to gain any traction whatsoever.Â As the driver gunned the engine, the axle emitted a high-pitched squeal which not only set my teeth on edge but also seemed to rattle the brain of an animal in mid-meal.Â Add the howl of the jackal and the smell of the lions and we suddenly had a skittish and visibly unhappy pachyderm not twenty feet away.Â With perfect timing a branch feel from the tree, thwacking it on the back. As if we were to blame it reeled on us like a bull, using its muscular trunk to toss branches left and right in a display of displeasure, if not downright aggression. It’s at this point that I became almost hyper-conscious of the animal’s large tusks – and my unfortunate positioning in the car, which puts me at the direct point of impact should we be charged. I flash back to the terrifying drive back from the condor nests in Patagonia last winter: a white-knuckle journey in which we narrowly escaped skidding into a ravine multiple times. My friend told me afterward that from the back seat she was wishing for death because she knew if we went over the edge she would never survive getting out of the gorge on her own. I’m wondering what we would do if this elephant charged the car? Where would we run? Outside are a pair of lions which would quickly pick up our scent. Plus, there’s not aÂ substantial tree in sight – and even if there were it’d be no match for a rampaging elephant.Â It is so silent I can’t hear anything: I feel my heartbeat, however, and what I think is a low guttural rumbling coming from the elephant. If the driver fruitlessly guns the engine one more time, I think I might get hysterical, but he’s reaching for his walkie-talkie and radioing back to camp for reinforcements.Â How anyone will find us is beyond me but at this point all we can do is wait – and watch. Time bends. The anticipation is agony. We are rescued, of course, by a pair ofÂ laughing Masai who, no doubt, will mercilessly rib and cajole our driver for weeks, if not years, to come. Almost incidentally they scare the elephant off with a machete. Trying to get some traction to the back wheels they attack a fallen log. The metallic ping as the machete hits the wood is enough to freak the elephant out: it whinnies and runs away as expeditiously as if we had pointed a shotgun at its head. I am pretty sure I exhale audibly, while simultaneously realizing that I am ravenous. We’ve spent all this time staring down death and managed to miss breakfast.
Even with expectations of a Spartan culinary spread, the bush breakfast promised during this morning’s game drive sounded too cool to pass up – and well worth the extra-early rise. A thermos of coffee arrived at my tent with the sunrise and next thing you know we were off in search of wildebeest. “In search” might be a bit of a misnomer, however. Across the river from Sala’s Camp a mega-herd had come to graze, whichÂ made the whole enterprise less White Hunter, Black Heart and more Jeeves and Wooster as we, in effect, toured theÂ greatÂ herd. Nevertheless, driving in a hundredÂ thousand-strong herd ofÂ animals brings is its own thrills and sense of adventure. Alighting on a large rock in the middle of the herd, the driver and tracker set up a proper table, chairs, a wash basin and I breakfasted on fresh fruit salad, yogurt, muffins and good, strong coffee amidstÂ theÂ most unbelievable surroundings. When the driver asked me how I liked my eggs IÂ thoughtÂ he was joking – until I noticed the sweet smell of bacon and sausage coming from the direction of the Land Rover, where they had hooked up a small gas stove. Who was I to argue? I went for two: sunny-side up, please.
Despite a fondness for jerk, Jamaica’s true national dish – the food expats crave to a degree so obsessive that’s it’s canned and shipped around the globe – is something called ackee and saltfish. Ackee is a fruitÂ whichÂ when ripe splays open in an act of self-immolation to reveal a shiny black seed the size of an olive. Only then is the flesh fit for consumption and still it first needs to be boiled. Once cooked it has the deceptive texture and appearance of firm scrambled eggs,Â whichÂ might be one reason why the dish is a popular staple at both breakfast and brunch. Another is the fact that salt fish is the Caribbean’s answer to smoked salmon, and here it’s sauteed with sweet redÂ peppers, onions, a healthy amount of allspice and the boiled ackee. Like a good plate of hash it satisfies the palate’s craving for savory and sweet, while the starchy ackee functions like potato, soaking up the residual cooking flavors whileÂ pleasantly tricking the eye.
The Hotel Del Coronado sits across the bay from San Diego on the misnamed Coronado Island – it’s technically a peninsula – and harkens back to a time when people summered by the sea. (or in this case along the Pacific) A sprawling, late-Victorian ensemble of cottages, spa, villas, shops and a proper hotel, too, it’s as architecturally distinguished as anything you’re likely to find in Southern California. For movie aficionados, however, it’s held in especially high regard as a former playground for the stars of Hollywood’s golden age – in addition to being the scene of Billy Wilder’s classic comedy Some Like it Hot. And while these days the hotel is family friendly to a degree I would describe as just this side of unpalatable, an early morning breakfast overlooking the ocean made for a very pleasant high-calorie way to greet the day. Across the street from The Del, as it’s commonly called, I was able to yet again indulge my near insatiable passion for fish tacos at Brigantine. (Hours later, thank you. Not right after breakfast.) And since it’s my last day in San Diego, I opted to go whole hog. Or er, fish. Tacos three ways:Â classic batter fried, grilled tilapia, and pan-seared cod, all on soft corn tortillas.Â Life in San Diego is swell – and very much as it should be.