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2010.03.12

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John McCollum

I can't tell you how much I love this. I'm bringing my whole family -- wife and kids 11, 12 and 4 -- to Cambodia and Northern Thailand for almost three months this summer.

I already have my favorite breakfast spots -- a pho stand across from a Cham mosque in Phnom Penh, a streetside stall between Chiang Mai and Doi Saket, and many more -- but I can't wait to explore and meet new people and eat new and unusual things.

For someone like me who spends months each year in SE Asia, your blog is unspeakably beautiful, a siren song wooing me back to my second -- and vastly more delicious -- home.

I think I might have a blog crush.

spondoolix

I agree with your experienced words and hugely enjoyed the post and it's food/mood photography.
The article took me back in time to past and memorable Asian breakfasts. I savored them again for free in my imagination.

Ling

As much as I miss the diner breakfasts the hubby and I had every weekend when we lived in Chicago, it's extremely hard to beat the breakfast treats from this part of the world. This is one of my favourite posts from your blog ever. I've just had dinner, but I seriously could scarf a bowl of those dumplings dripping in chilli oil. And those nem kao. Gah.

Sunny

Brava! Even more than your other (still excellent) posts, this one really moved me.

And just to demonstrate that the breakfast thing goes both ways: this Filipino had scrapple with maple syrup in the US for breakfast, thought it was bizarre, but really enjoyed it. (And even thought it would go really well with garlic fried rice.)

Charlotte

I totally agree with you. Which is why I refuse to eat Western breakfasts in Asia. Eggs, toast, potatoes, bacon... So boring and uninspired. The last time we were in Shanghai, we had sheng jian bao (pan fried, doughier version of xiao long baos) almost every single day for breakfast. Then we would cross the street to the xiao long bao place for dessert... (yes, breakfast dessert)

The hotel manager was puzzled as to why we left so early in the morning and, as we left, would ask us if we had breakfast already. In fact he gave us coupons for the hotel breakfast but we never used it!

I can get eggs, bacon, potatoes, pancakes, and whatnot when I return to the US. When I am in Asia, I want the things I cannot get easily when I am home!

Teri Y

Thank you for this great article. It accurately describes what a traveler is. I travel to gain new experiences and to immerse myself in another culture that I otherwise would not get to experience. If not, what's the point of being a traveler? Perhaps this is the difference between one who is a traveler and one who is a tourist? A tourist may be physically traveling but may not necessarily be willing to be immersed in another culture.

Jessie

bravo robyn! what a great post! 'I travel not to remind myself of where I come from, but to immerse myself in where I don't' - you said it in a nutshell!

and of course i couldn't agree more - in fact weiner's article is a little contradictory i think - he says that a western breakfast abroad transports him back to his childhood family kitchen; if so, i wanna know where he's dining! because as you say, most western breakfasts abroad are complete rubbish.

sometimes i crave something bland and light for breakfast i have to admit (i'm not such a chilli fiend as you!), but so do lots of people all over the world - hence why they have soymilk, rice porridge, dumplings...oh god i'm hungry.

John McCollum

My family traveled to China a few years ago to adopt my daughter, and we spent some time in Guangzhou, the birthplace of Cantonese cuisine. The variety and quality of food was extraordinary, yet we ran into a number of Americans there who ate every meal at the hotel restaurant or at Lucy's, a crappy Westernized "bar and grill."

I honestly don't understand this. Why travel if you hate the culture you're visiting?

Pete

Robyn, I just wanted to let you know what an absolutely beautiful piece of essay you just wrote.

Sitting here in Long Beach (where I'm going to be for the next month, and with PF Chang's, yech, providing the only "exotic" touch to my daily culinary experiences), your vivid description, and David's beautiful photos, of Sichuanese dumplings & noodles are bringing a tear to my eye!

Albert

I really like how fired up you got over this topic, fantastic.

Noodle in the morning, can't agree with you more.

In Taipei, on a side street next to the high school I attended, a young couple sold nothing but thin, handmade noodle toss in a little fish sauce and scallion (dark vinegar and chili sauce on the table) and 福州 style fish balls in a light broth (egg flower or poach egg optional), from a small cart. I don't know what time they started, I usually get there around 6:45am, they were usually done by 10, sold out.

for two years, I ate a medium bowl of noodle, two fish balls with a poach egg every weekday. this is a very atypical breakfast for taiwan, but judging from the number of people lining up and waiting for the dozen or so chairs around the few folding tables, a fairly popular one in the neighborhood.

while I definitely eat just about anything when I am traveling (or at home, for that matter). I still think about eating noodles and fishballs for breakfast all the time (good fish balls are impossible to find in north america). so I guess I partly agree with Weiner that some home breakfast food will always occupy a spot in the heart of even avid travelers.

but as some say, you have to let stuff go in order to gain ....

Diane

Oh - eating breakfasts in new places is my FAVORITE part of traveling! It really gives you a window into local culture. Dinner food can be tarted up and westernized, but most cultures want the real deal for breakfast. Kanom jeen to idlis to congee to kicheree - I love it all!

Plus, it doesn't hurt that I far prefer savory, spicy foods in the AM to cereal (blecch) or toast.

Marie

This is fantastic writing and expresses something I've felt for a long time. Unfortunately though, I'm reading before breakfast and now can't think of one place to get jiaozi this early in the morning in Auckland to appease my craving!

kirbie

This post was wonderfully written. One of my favorites. I've never given much thought about the topic, but I don't think I'll ever eat an American breakfast again while traveling.

Mila Tan

Wonderful article, and complete agreement about how limiting our world would be if all we ate was our own culture's food for breakfast. I never understood the idea that certain foods are only eaten at breakfast anyway. Rice, noodles, bread, potatoes, meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, sweet, spicy, sour, salty (ok, maybe not bitter), it's all good any time, any day.
I must go and try those pork floss dusted donuts I just saw....

Brian Asis

This topic was so heartfelt and well thought that I had to read it twice :) Tradition is something that you will really treasure. Now I'm craving for breakfast my mother used to cook.

Robyn

Thanks everyone for reading, and for your comments.

John - lucky you, three months! Do check out the Friday am Cin Haw market in front of the mosque in Chiang Mai. There are two 'Shan donut' sellers -- searchable on this blog -- the one closer to the entrance makes the best version. And the mohinga is excellent!

Ling - I agree. Breakfasts in Asia are wonderful as well as wonderfully varied. There's really something for everyone.

Sunny - scrapple ... good for you. Would go well with garlic fried rice, something like a longaniza!

Charlotte - I'll eat eggs and toast in Asia if it's part of the local scene. When we lived in Saigon a vendor outside our house made the best fried eggs and served them with toasted baguette. But if eggs and bread aren't part of the local morning vernacular ... no way.

Teri - Right. Maybe we should be talking about 'traveler breakfasts' versus 'tourist breakfasts'.

Jessie - good point. I've never had a contrived 'Western breakfast' abroad that was any good. Oh wait -- I admit to eggs benedict at a hotel many years ago in Siem Reap when we were in a rush before heading to the airport. (And they were the best eggs benedict I ever had!)

John - it's hard for some pple to get out there, especially when it comes to food. I understand that. But sticking a toe in with breakfast is a great way to set the tone for an immersive rest of the day. You know, you gotta walk before you can run, that sort of thing.

Thanks Pete. But we are sorry to drive you to tears!

Albert - I understand. But I think you're talking more about nostalgia for a certain food (that happened to be served only at breakfast time) than about a need to reconnect with your own culture on a daily basis. I bet if you were in Taipei you'd *still* be thinking about those noodles every morning (they sound fantastic, by the way. Saw nothing like that in 3 weeks on Taiwan.)

Good point Diane. Local breakfasts are usually very, well, local. When I'm in Asia I mostly prefer savory for breakfast. But if I am back in the USA during stone fruit season I quite quickly slip back into a Cheerios-with-heaps of peaches/nectarines/berries habit.

One thing I didn't note in this piece is that learning to eat most anything for breakfast in Asia turned me into an any-leftovers-for-breakfast person back in the US. Pizza, pasta, fried rice, potatoes gratin, you name it --- I'll eat any leftovers at all in the am as my first meal.

Marie, thank you. I suppose you could keep some jiaozi in the freezer for occasions such as these....

Thanks Kirbie. American breakfasts are for travelling ... in America.

Mila - I draw the line at floss-dusted donuts.

Cheers, Brian.

Pelin

i want to put my hand through the screen and eat it all up:) beautiful photos...yummm.

Christine @ Tea for Two Sisters

This post was wonderfully written Robyn. There are so many good eats, and as you pointed out, all you have to do is try unfamiliar things. Eat where the locals eat, huh?

I'm still trying to let go and venture outside of my comfort zone. I've always been a picky eater, and if I hadn't moved out on my own for school, I doubt I'd enjoy some of the things I've tried. For myself, I can't help but make assumptions about a dish before trying it, which ruins the experience for me. I'll be taking a trip to Taiwan and Beijing in May and I hope that I'll wake up sooner rather than later. Do you have any tips?

Jencrafted

Truly enjoyed this post. About eating leftovers for breakfast, that's what we always do in our household. Strange, I've never given it much thoughts. Reading your recent food adventure in Chiang Mai made me crave for Thai food; that's what we had for dinner last night and the leftovers of Pad See Ew and Basil Tofu for b'fast this morning :-)

Ann

I totally agree with you on breakfast, especially in Vietnam. In Hoi An my friends and I shared a delicious banh mi op la on the street that was only available at the wee hours of the morning. The baguettes were heavenly -- fresh out of the oven and delivered by a man with a basket full of them on his bike. Here in Malaysia, where I live now, breakfast is hands-down my favorite meal of the day. A good bowl of curry laksa and I'm set to start my day!

Rasa Malaysia

I agree with you, when traveling, you want to immerse in the local culture as much as possible, and that includes breakfast and other meals of the days, if possible. Plus traveling is always about that fleeting few days, so take in whatever the place has to offer because you will go back to the routine breakfast just as soon as you leave the place.

Katy Biggs

Albert, was your high school near or in 建國南路?

Katy Biggs

I just noticed 'Top posts' - is it a new feature or I just didn't notice before? Is it by the number of hits or what? China is 'in the lead', isn't it?!

Nate @ House of Annie

Beautifully written article, Robyn! I cannot see why anyone would want to subject themselves to mediocre Western hotel breakfasts when something delicious awaits just out the door and around the corner.

Here's the choice I faced one Wintry Beijing morning, many moons ago: flat eggs, lifeless sausage, overcooked bacon...or roasted sweet potatoes hot from the cart on the sidewalk right outside the hotel's revolving doors...no brainer!

Monica

As a first -year university student deprived of my mom's home-cooked Chinese food...reading your blog is torturous. I drool every.single.time.

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