08 April 2008
Breakfast in England
Last week we celebrated that annual rite of families everywhere, Spring Break. This year my son’s break from school happened to coincide with a trip my husband needed to make to England and so we all got on an airplane together and headed toward London.
Some 19 hours later we arrived at our destination in Oxford. After a walk around the town, to get my bearings, I came back to the hotel and fell into a deep sleep.
Early the next morning the wake-up call shook me from my bed. Disoriented by jet lag and the disruption in my body’s circadian rhythm my head swam toward consciousness, grasping for something to pull me to shore. My stomach, feeling as though it had missed dinner, answered the call and urged me on toward the dining room to see what was for breakfast.
What a wonderful custom, this British concept of Bed and Breakfast! Besides a comfortable room with a tea kettle and biscuits I found that a Full English Breakfast, and then some, was served in the dining room every morning. I was shown to a table and then brought a pot of coffee or tea as well as toast, served in a proper English toast caddy, and invited to help myself to the buffet breakfast.
The buffet included all of the makings of a hearty British Fry-Up. Everything was there. There was a large pan of fried eggs with dark runny yolks as well as a pan of scrambled eggs. There was bacon. This was not American style strips but rather great British slices, much more like sliced ham, but perhaps a bit thinner and crispier. There were also plump British sausages and mysterious slices of black pudding. As if that were not enough, there was also a pan of fried potatoes and fried bread. For color, there were broiled tomato halves and diced mushrooms. And, of course, what would a Full English Breakfast be without a great pan of baked beans, Heinz no doubt, with bottles of ketchup and HP sauce by the side.
I was intrigued. I was also hungry. It looked good and I was up for trying most anything. I sampled the eggs, the bacon and sausage, the fried bread and potatoes, the tomatoes and mushrooms, even the baked beans. The only thing that flagged my caution was that pan of dark sliced pudding. What exactly was that anyway? I had my suspicions and yet I saw other people scattered around the dining room eating it with gusto. I put a piece on a plate. I took a picture of it. Still I could not quite find the courage to taste it. Maybe another morning. Today, there was more than enough to satisfy me without worrying over those crispy spotted dark discs ominously labeled “black pudding.”
I enjoyed my breakfast immensely. It was delicious as well as satisfying. It was close enough to what I might eat for a special breakfast at home and yet it was different enough to be interesting and adventurous. Of course food has such potential to be an amazing experience when you are truly hungry. These factors combined to make it impossible not to notice how rich the dark coffee tasted with a spot of real cream from a nice pitcher or how full the flavor of the deeply yellow egg yolk tasted. I admired the crisp crust of the fried bread and the soft centers of the fried potatoes. I marveled at the texture of the English bacon and the unique and distinctive flavor of the sausages.
My son, ever an enigma, declined the British fry up and instead gravitated toward the fully known. He went to another table and chose from an assortment of packaged cereals. Even these were fun. There were several names that were quite familiar to him but I loved the unique ones. There were packages of Weetabix and Muesli.
The next morning I turned to a different table to try another version of breakfast in England. This time I chose continental fare, yet while I have often seen a continental breakfast interpreted as a hard roll or nearly stale Danish pastry and a piece of fruit or juice, the continental spread our hotel offered was much more generous. There were bowls of a variety of fruits, mixed fresh fruit, canned pears, mandarin orange sections and prunes. There was also yogurt and a selection of cheeses and deli meats, as well as rolls, croissants and other pastries. These were all good and provided a different, but still satisfying, start to the day.
Having tried every option, by the end of our stay we settled into enjoying a simpler British breakfast. As it turns out, that toast caddy is an amazing thing. A mixed order, both white and wheat, of dry toast, served between the individual dividing rungs of the caddy, remains crisp and substantial for spreading with butter and honey or jam, rather than softening in a melted puddle of margarine as it is often served in the US. It is a small thing but significant. In the end it is the simple pleasures you discover that make traveling so special and satisfying.