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Breakfasts around the world: sweet vs. savory

Sure we have bacon and eggs, but we also have cereals.

Every time I watch a travel food show that goes someplace other than Western Europe, it strikes me how different, and often savory, the breakfasts in other parts of the world are.

Have you noticed more emphasis on savory? What really different kinds of breakfasts in other countries do you really like, and what don't work for your palate?

(I know plenty of countries have buns, but there are also places that emphasize things like spicy fish stew... I think it was fish... items I'm not often ready for till dinner somehow.)

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  1. Vegemite, to be eaten on toast as we in the US eat jelly - Thanks, but No Thanks. While visiting Australia, I was told it's a staple on the breakfast table; and that was the case, as every morning, it would be on the table of various hotel restaurants - in those individual jelly-type containers (as found in the US). Thankfully, for my likes, jelly/jam was along side.

    (Certainly no offense intended to those of you down-under! I loved the Snowy Mountains in (your) early spring!)

    1 Reply
    1. re: CocoaNut

      That was my first reaction when my father brought back a jar of Vegemite from Australia on his last trip. However, learned to put a thin layer on a (heavily) buttered piece of toast and now it's something I crave ;-)

    2. My tastebuds have really changed over the years—particularly as I've moved toward Chowhoundism—and now I vastly prefer savory breakfasts: leftovers, soup, cheeses...I'll eat just about anything for breakfast, though I still prefer (despite current nutritional wisdom) that it be the smallest meal of the day. It's not the thought of any particular flavor that puts me off early in the day; it's the thought of a large portion.

      1. In order:

        Tamales and atole in Guatemala and Mexico
        Six courses, Hainan Island, China
        Pho in Vietnam
        Capybara and rice, Pucallpa (Amazon), Peru
        Dal, naan or roti, mutton, atchara, and tea in India
        Guinea pig and rice, highland Cajamarca, Peru
        Miso soup and rice in Japan or my house
        Black beans, rice, fried cheese, Costa Rica
        Full English breakfast

        3 Replies
        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

          khao tom in Thailand - boiled rice porridge with ginger, onion, garlic, egg, meaty bits

          thukpa in Bhutan - another version of rice porridge

          aloo paratha with curd in India - spicy potato flatbread & yogurt

          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

            Roti canai or roti telur in Malaysia, YUM!

          2. In Singapore, anything goes; for example, it's perfectly ok to have nasi lemak (savoury) and kaya toast (sweet). Because hawker centres offer a diverse array of items, families may share a number of different items.

            1. I've always preferred savory to sweet, no matter the meal. I hated Cream of Wheat as a kid because of the sweetness; now, as an adult, I eat it with parmesan cheese and olive oil for breakfast on camping trips. Yum.

              I adore a traditional Japanese breakfast. Rice, pickle, miso soup, an egg or bit of grilled fish. And yes, natto!

              I think I'm one of the rare Americans who really likes Vegemite and Marmite on buttered breakfast toast. And in Sweden, our hotel breakfast buffet included tiny tubes of preserved cod roe to spread on toast, also several types of pickled herring. And cheese, and sliced meats. All of that was great. I didn't even touch the sweet stuff. Oh, and in Taipei, our hotel breakfast buffet had a Western section--we avoided that (bacon and eggs, pancakes, etc.)--and an Asian section. Congee, noodles, other foods you'd expect to see at lunch. Great way to start the day!

              2 Replies
                1. re: happycat

                  What a great idea for cream of wheat; thanks!

                2. My "like" foreign breakfast is Dutch (or Flemish Belgium) - cheese, ham, bread

                  My "don't like" foreign breakfasts are American sweet and savoury. I can handle one or the other but not a mix on the same plate (say the pancake, syrup, bacon type).

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Harters

                    The cheese, ham, bread (with really good butter), and sometimes salami or smoked sausage is common in germanic countries as well. I think it's my favorite breakfast.

                    One breakfast in my travels that I really didn't get was at a London bed and breakfast, where they served baked beans with a fried egg for breakfast. Not my cup of tea.

                    1. re: DanaB

                      I opted to stay at a hotel on my last visit to Berlin even though I had an epic deal on a serviced apartment in a more interesting part of town (hotel room in Charlottenburg pension vs an apartment in much more fun Prenzlauer Berg) for one reason: I'd be missing the joys of a German hotel breakfast buffet in Prenzlauer. The best bread I've ever had, butter, Fleisch mit Käse, and that slay-me-it's-so-good German yogurt with Müsli. I don't even EAT breakfast most days at home but Frühstück in Deutschland is worth the price of a plane ticket from Canada.

                    2. re: Harters

                      I seem to remember a few mornings when Nutella visited the breakfast table when I spent a year in Belgium...and it was Mama who put it there...

                    3. I like fried... a good Belfast fry!

                      1. I don't generally like anything sweeter than fresh fruit for breakfast, but the main thing I've noticed is I want it pretty bland and starchy. Biscuits, grits, rolls, rice, that sort of thing. No leftover curries for me thank you - I need to ease into the day slowly!

                        1. when I married an American 20 + years ago I was shocked to see him putting maple syrup on his bacon/pancake/eggs breakfast. The Brits don't mix sweet and savoury for breakfast, though we will put jam on our toast after eating the fry up.

                          1. Gam ja tang in Nam Dea Mun Market in Seoul! Great breakfast! (Pork neck bone soup with potato and greens). Savoury and hearty, great start to the day.

                            I have come to appreciate black pudding in an English fry-up for breakfast. When I was a teen, not so much but now, I love it.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: moh

                              Thumbs up to the black pudding! Never quite "got" baked beans on toast--prefer the Marmite. But broiled tomatoes, mushrooms...oh, yeah. Don't even need the meat (though a rasher of good bacon is pretty swell once in a while)

                            2. Beans are part of the English brekkie, egg, bacon, sausage, toast, grilled or fried tomato and beans, then a liberal helping of red or/and brown sauces. Black pudding optional depending on which part of the country.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: smartie

                                Beans are a fairly recent addition to the "full English" and often offered either/or with tomato. Don't forget the fried/grilled mushrooms and fried bread. And, I think only in the London area, "bubble & squeak".

                                Black pudding (or white pudding, in parts of the UK) is well-nigh essential in my part of the world - and needs to be a a recognisble sausage shape (or, more likely, one half, sliced along the length) not the sliced catering rounds you often see.

                                So often done really, really badly, with cheap crappy ingredients, the full fry-up can be a thing of joy - dry-cured organic bacon, proper butcher's sausages, organic eggs bought at the farmers market, black pudding made in Bury, etc, etc........drool, drool.

                                1. re: Harters

                                  bubble and squeak is not a breakfast food and would not be seen on a breakfast menu. It's more likely to be seen for supper.

                                  1. re: smartie

                                    Sorry, smartie, but you're wrong.

                                    It's an extremely common item on the breakfast menu of London area greasy spoons.

                              2. There are other cultures that enjoy sweets in the morning, particularly in Europe, though the Continental breakfast has never been much of a selling-point for me when picking out my hotel. I'm far more interested in a hearty, savory start to my day:
                                Nihari, haleem, chapatis (Pakistan)
                                Ekuri (Parsi India)
                                Eggs, longaniza, tinapa, fried rice (Philippines)
                                Kippers, eggs, bacon and toast (Scotland)
                                Weisswurst, Brezn (Bavaria)
                                Char siu bao, jiaozi, lo bak go, tea (Hong Kong)
                                Soft-boiled egg, croissant, coffee (Vienna)
                                Manoushe, feta, labne, fatayer bi sabanekh (Lebanon)
                                Menudo, huevos con chorizo, chilaquiles (Mexico)
                                Ulster fry up (Ireland)
                                Everything bagel and lox (New York)

                                2 Replies
                                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                    What struck me when I made that list was that that combination, which seems so exotic to many Americans, is little different from kedgeree among Anglo-Indians or the British, and just a hop, skip and a jump from Scottish kippers for breakfast.

                                1. My favorites:

                                  -- masala dosa and iddly with sambar in s. india
                                  -- jiang bing (millet flour crepe with an egg, cilantro, chives and chinese barbecue sauce, all wrapped around a crispy cracker and eaten like a burrito) with a glass of cucumber juice
                                  -- and pho, of course!

                                  All are light enough that they don't put you in a food coma right after breakfast and are a well balanced mix of protein + carbs + a bit of vegetable matter.

                                  Here at home in NYC, my favorite breakfast (which I'm having right now) is grilled fish, in this case, bluefish. Today, I'm having it with a lovely, juicy grilled tomato and coffee... my first cup in about a month. It's heavenly.

                                  6 Replies
                                    1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                      *hug* thanks -- i have to confess it's nice to be back in the states. really missed cheese (and coffee)!

                                    2. re: cimui

                                      Dosas & idlis, I second that. We go back to India every few years to visit family & after a week the rice/rasam lunches get old; but not dosas. Of course I pay for it when I hit scale back home at the gym :-)

                                      Haven't been back in a while but in the past what I've missed most from the U.S. was a good deli sandwich.

                                      1. re: ceekskat

                                        last winter in goa, i ate dosa at least once a day for two weeks and it never got old. dosas are the oldest form of crack, i think.

                                        1. re: cimui

                                          Glad it's finally getting the attention it deserves in the U.S. If you're ever in SF & have a hankering for a refreshing cocktail along with your dosa...


                                          1. re: ceekskat

                                            thanks! banana-strawberry uttapam? i'm intrigued. i do head to SF regularly, so i'll look into these. even though we make dosa at home pretty frequently (and they're not too uncommon in the nyc area), everyone knows that food tastes better when someone else makes it. :)

                                    3. A sunday staple amongst Indians in Kenya - Jalebi, gaathia and sambhal - a tooth-achingly sweet fried pastry soaked in syrup, flavoured with saffron and cardamom eaten hot, savoury deep fried gram flour strips and a spicy sambhal made from cabbage, carrots and green chillies. Often served with deep fried green chillis on the side

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: waytob

                                        crikey. i think i would need the rest of the day to recover from a meal like that.

                                        1. re: cimui

                                          When entertaining, a full brunch/ breakfast would also include huge pots of stewed Indian masala chai, bateta pawa (savoury, spicy potato and flattened rice mix), kachori, aloo paratha and idli sambhal and saata (sweet or savoury flaky pastry). However this then remains the main meal of the day, and very little else is eaten after

                                          1. re: cimui

                                            Oh, and there's also always a huge selection of 'naasta' - deep fried savoury offerings that include chevda, chakri, sev, bhusu, mathia etc etc complemented by platters of home made cookies

                                        2. Enjoy savory rather than sweet breakfast. That said, I do like a big breakfast most of the year (not in hot, hot summer) - favorites are big English or Southern breakfast. I like different courses and often will prepare grits, bacon, eggs, fruit, muffins/bagel just for myself (hate cleaning all the pots & dishes!) When we travel in France, we need way more than croissant & cafe au lait. DD ate turkey sandwiches every day in France, we got a few strange looks. Some of my favorite breakfasts were in Mexico or the Caribbean, usually eating breakfast on a balcony or terrace overlooking a body of water, that seems to add to the tastiness of the food.

                                          Do enjoy soup for breakfast in the winter, like a won ton, hot & sour or egg drop soup. Have been known to eat leftovers for breakfast (not cold pizza, but have re-heated it!)

                                          1. I find that in most countries I've traveled to, breakfast usually means savory:

                                            Huevos rancheros
                                            Huevos mexicana
                                            Prawn mee soup
                                            Dim sum
                                            Mee pok (gee, I wish I could find some where I live)
                                            Roti canai with curry sauce along with hot black tea sweetened with sweetened condensed milk
                                            Mee siam
                                            Nasi goreng (with trasi--without it, just isn't worth it)
                                            Bakmi goreng
                                            Miso soup with rice, grilled fish
                                            Wonton-sui kao soup (I know I haven't spelled that right)

                                            One exception: Toasted mochi with sugar and kinako

                                            All this is making me hungry . ...

                                            If I ever have a kaiser roll with apricot jam again, it will be too soon . . . .

                                            I once was on an environmental project in Africa--there was an American team and a UK team. The teams got together for breakfast once and discovered: all the Americans gravitated to the peanut butter and all the Brits gravitated to marmite.

                                            4 Replies
                                            1. re: PAO

                                              At home, for breakfast, piece of ripe Brie and flatbread - juice and coffee. Occasionally oatmeal, but nothing sweet on it; just a tab of butter and salt.

                                              I''ve enjoyed breakfasts ini various places - In Finland, herring pickled in red wine, with cheese and Finnish rye bread, In Mexico, huevos divorciados - two fried eggs, one covered with red chile sauce, the other with green, and separated by a row of chilaquiles.
                                              Israeli hotels often give you a buffet spread, usually including a huge bowl of cottage cheese.

                                              Incidentlly, I was once told by an Italo-Canadian frind that a favorite Italian name for a North American is "mangiakake" - cake eater, because of our love of little bits of sweet cake (muffins, Danish, etc.) for breakfast.

                                              1. re: ekammin

                                                I forgot one breakfast I had at a local "greasy spoon ". It was neither sweet nor savoury. It was unsavoury.

                                                1. re: ekammin

                                                  Perhaps, but contemporary Italian packaged "croissants" are grossly sweet and it is hard to source enough protein at breakfast. I love food in Italy with a passion, but not the overly summary and sweet "prima colazione", except the coffee of course. When there, I squirrel away some cheese or other protein to start the day.

                                                  I'd say (modest) Germanic breakfasts are my favourite. British and North American ones too heavy and fatty, classic Continental lacking in the protein I need not to have a headache.

                                                2. re: PAO

                                                  In Kenya, the standard breakfast offerings outside of Western norms include Uji (a red millet porridge) stewed arrow root, mbarazi (cocounut stewed lentils), mandazi (deep fried pastry similar to a donut but not as thick) and huge greasy chapatis. The Mandazi or chapatis are rolled around thick pork or beef sausages and are eaten in tandem with large mugs of overly sweet stewed tea.

                                                3. Northern Chinese breakfast is my alltime favorite, with youtiao (long savory doughnuttish thing) inside shao bing (flat rectangular flaky bun with sesame seeds on top), flaky pastries stuffed with braised meat, salty doujiang (soybean milk) or ideally dounao (fresh-made soft doufu with soy, pickled veg, hot bean sauce, scallions...). Umami city! (Japanese concept highly applicable to Chinese foodl.)

                                                  1. I adore the full range of breakfast meats, including any and all pork products, fish and other seafood, corned beef hash or whatever. Grits, either plain or with garlic and cheese, cottage fries, hash browns, mashed potato cakes or latkes gravy or not. Fried or scrambled egg, though a stuffed omelet is nice too. Or we could go get dim sum, or in a pinch I can steam a bunch of frozen Chinese/Japanese/Korean dumplings and have those with a side of scrambled eggs.

                                                    And sourdough toast, please.

                                                    1. The only consistently disappointing breakfast I've encountered (covering North and South America, S.E. Asia, North Africa, Middle East, Australia, Great Britain, and the Continent) have been in Italy -- usually a dry (not sweet) bread roll placed on the table the morning before. Yuck!

                                                      FWIW, I don't remember encountering beans on toast as a breakfast item in the UK until recently; this was considered a quick and easy supper.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: pikawicca

                                                        pikawicca, the sweet pseudo-croissant versions are worse. Usually I got decent bread in Italy, not horrid bread rolls, but while studying there, I scrupulously saved up wonders from the other meals at student cafeterias, or simply ate at home - lovely cheese, fruit etc.

                                                        I'd just like to mention that both in Italy and here, in the traditionally Italian neighbourhood where I live in Montréal (though there is everything now), there are many "healthier" versions of the slightly-sweet cookies and rusks Italians often ingest with coffee as a quick breakfast: whole grain, no sugar, no gluten etc. Even if you might not want these as breakfast, they can make handy snacks for people with the relevant health restrictions, or simply wanting not too much sugar or white flour etc.

                                                      2. See Bittman's "Your Morning Pizza" - There are many reasons to rethink breakfast.

                                                        1. As I've gotten older, I can't tolerate sweets for breakfast, usually, though I love them later in the day. I usually want protein for breakfast. This morning I had a lean cuisine swedish meatballs and noodle entree! Also sometimes like crackers and cheese or even have been known to have left over thai curry for breakfast, ha ha.

                                                          1. Definitely savoury for me. My favourites include:

                                                            - full English/Welsh/Scottish fry-up with proper free-range eggs, laver bread in Wales, tattie scones in Scotland, farmer sausages, etc.
                                                            - the wonderfully hearty cold cuts, breads, pastries and cheeses in the Czech Republic, Germany, Austria and Switzerland
                                                            - Burek in Croatia and Bosnia - heavy pastry filled with cheeses or meats; Palacinke or crepes (usually filled with yummy things such as whipped cream, chocolate, nuts...) OK - those are sweet but my one exception besides fruit.

                                                            Least savoury would be all the pre-packaged croissants in Italy. Those suckers are common in many B&Bs. Agriturismos have more substantial breakfasts, luckily.

                                                            1. Wow, tough to see a dated thread to which both a lost brother and sister contributed.
                                                              In Mexico I skip the pan dulce and turbocharge every style of eggs with fresh habanero sauce: migas, rancheros, motulenos, fritos -cualquier. Usually begs a frosty cerveza after the cup of Joe.

                                                              3 Replies
                                                              1. re: Veggo

                                                                Seriously? Oh, wow. I did not realize - that is so very sad.

                                                                1. re: chefathome

                                                                  Sam and Moh, not our siblings by birth but loved friends to many here, and Sam will always be my brother.

                                                                  1. re: Veggo

                                                                    I had gathered they must have been very close friends. That would certainly be an emotional thing, seeing their names in print again. :-(

                                                              2. Although this is an old thread, I am still a little surprised by how many similar threads there are on Chowhound expressing wonderment that there are breakfasts outside of the US in the rest of the world, that are savory and unlike the generally sweet breakfast or the standard bacon & eggs or cereal that folks in the US seem to think are standard. For that matter, many folks within the US eat breakfasts other than danish or bacon&eggs or porridge or cereal...
                                                                A search on Chowhound for 'breakfast' turns up HUNDREDS of threads, many of which basically cover identical ground.

                                                                FWIW, perhaps some might be interested in a few related threads here:

                                                                1. Didn't see Turkey mentioned. I had simple breakfasts of Turkish bread, goat cheeses (think feta, though I'm sure not all of them were), and green olives with either strong coffee or Chai. OMG they were wonderful. The cheese bureks were food you ate while out drinking.......served with curry ketchup. Again, very very tasty!!!!!!!!!!!

                                                                  1. In Nepal, the same meal of "dal bhaat" is eaten twice daily: once in the morning and once at dusk. It consists of a huge mountain of rice with sides of lentils, a vegetable and an "achaar", something with a stronger taste. In wealthier homes, you might also find additional vegetables, a yogurt made of water buffalo milk, a fried egg, lemon slices, garlic cloves or ghee. This meal is eaten with the right hand. At first, that was difficult, but after some time, I couldn't imagine using a utensil.

                                                                    1. How about the traditional "Morning After " breakfast, the day after thanksgiving. Completely savory, all the leftovers from the meal on one plate!

                                                                      There's also grits and cheese - savory. And matzo brie with salt and pepper (not jelly and sour cream as some do.)

                                                                      And let's not forget the classic breakfast of my grandmother - coffee with milk (no sugar) and rye toast, buttered, no jam. I did not understand it as a kid but now as an adult? Perfection.