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Global Insights

Forget Bacon: Breakfast Abroad

Forget Bacon: Breakfast AbroadiStockphoto

Taking the time to give breakfast the attention it deserves can be hard when you're in a foreign country.

Most will agree that, when abroad, indulging in the local cuisine is an essential part of the cultural experience. Lunch and dinner in particular are opportune times for exploring the flavors of your new home, but for expats on busy schedules, breakfast is an entirely different story.

Stumbling out of bed, still half asleep, expats far and wide find themselves yearning for a familiar morning meal that will set straight their sleepy bodies in preparation for the day’s hardships. Finding such food, however, is no easy task when you are far from home. Here’s a look at a few different types of breakfasts and their iterations across the globe.

Breakfasts on the Go

Most of us can agree that the body needs something of substance to get going in the morning. And yet, having hit the snooze button one time too many, half of us are in too much of a rush to sit down and enjoy a proper meal. You’re dashing for the bus stop, briefcase in hand, stomach growling. Fortunately, cuisines across the world have no shortage of edibles that perfectly lend themselves to a quick, convenient breakfast.

Across North America, for instance, breakfast sandwiches serve this purpose brilliantly. Stuffed with anything from chicken and tomatoes to salmon and arugula, they come in any variety your taste buds could wish for, and nowadays they are available almost anywhere in the world.

If you find yourself scrambling to make it to work in northern China, chances are you will pass a jian bing vendor on the way. Grab one of these spicy, savory pancake wraps and you’ll have saved your stomach a lot of morning grumbling.

Although not exactly a common breakfast, the same goes for the Korean kimbab. Easy to mistake for sushi, these rice rolls are indeed wrapped in dried seaweed, but rather than raw fish, they are filled with strips of cucumbers, radishes, and carrots along with some type of meat. Always conveniently sliced, they afford commuters an easy, one-handed breakfast.

In Spain and Portugal, meanwhile, the sugar-coated churros are a favorite among locals and foreigners alike, and they are easily consumed on the go. If you aren’t used to sugary stuff in the morning, these star-shaped, deep-fried pieces of heaven may be a bit overwhelming at first, but your sweet tooth will thank you soon enough – especially if you dip them in hot chocolate.

In the bakery department, many goodies across the globe will get the job done as well. Whether by means of Brazil’s pão de queijo (cheese bun), northern India’s flatbread, or toast with Australia’s vegemite spread, you won’t have to arrive at work on an empty stomach. At the more wholesome end of the spectrum, dark rye bread is very common in Scandinavia, dressed with various meats.

Full-Fledged Breakfasts

Quite possibly, your mornings are much more relaxed, and you have plenty of time to prepare or order a bigger meal. Maybe you’re one of those people who always wake up five minutes before the alarm goes off. Or, maybe you’re of the opinion that a breakfast that fits in one hand simply won’t cut it. Either way, there’s no reason to settle for an insufficient first meal of the day just because you’re away from home.

For many Westerners, the prevalence of rice in East-Asian breakfasts can be hard to get their head around. In Japan and South Korea, for instance, steamed rice is a staple of the morning meal, often served with a bowl of warm vegetable soup along with an abundance of other side dishes. Don’t let yourself be fooled, however; this is a rock solid way to get your day off the ground.

Similarly, China’s steamed dumplings can, quite literally, be a mouthful. Chock-full of seasoned pork and veggies, and served with rice, they’ll put an abrupt end to your hunger and a big smile on your face.

In Bavaria, Germany, Weißwurst (white sausage) and soft pretzels with sweet mustard are a traditional morning meal, even though it’s not as popular as back in the day. It’s still absolutely delectable, however, and a couple of these white wieners will fill you up fast.

Warm hearty oatmeal porridge can be concocted most anywhere, and it’s particularly popular in Northern Europe and even New Zealand. It probably won’t be the most enlightening culinary experience you’ve ever had, but it’s a sturdy meal that’ll get you through a good deal of your day. Besides, a sprinkle of cinnamon and slices of banana or apple do this dish wonders.

Of course, there’s no getting around the hot Full English breakfast, which is served all over the world. As an alternative to eggs of the scrambled variety, however, the soft-boiled egg is highly underrated. Hammer it open with a teaspoon, and be sure to get a slice of (generously) buttered bread on the side, brown or white. Don’t hold back on the salt, either.

Even heavier breakfasts can be had in the form of Costa Rica’s gallo pinto, a mix of rice, beans, chili, and onions; and Panama’s steak breakfast with a side of corn tortillas, onions, and eggs. Both are typically served with a hot cup of black coffee, and speaking of which…

Make It a Venti

Coffee. The one constant in many a morning routine. Whether it works wonders for you or completely throws off your inner clock, you certainly are not alone. There are as many opinions on this black gold as there are variants to choose from.

In Ethiopia, coffee is worthy of any sophisticated palate, brewed with hour-long, painstaking preparation. In Turkish coffee, found in most of Eastern Europe and North Africa, the ground beans are never filtered out, which for newbies can be a bit of a shocker. In Japan, Thailand, and many other parts of Asia, you can get your coffee canned and refrigerated. And, Mexico’s café de olla is brewed with a twist of cinnamon and a particular sugar, usually served in clay pots that give the blend an earthen finish.

For some, coffee is an indispensable supplement to an otherwise wholesome breakfast. For others, a cup of “mud” or “Joe” is all they need to kick-start their mornings. For the rest of us, it is a curse and a spanner in the works. Whatever your relationship to coffee is, though, you shouldn’t have much trouble finding it in some variation wherever you are. Much the same goes for tea, of course.

We all tackle our mornings differently, and the importance of the day’s first meal varies wildly from person to person. In the end, it’s for you to decide if you’ll chance breaking your breakfast habits and dive into the sea of unfamiliar flavors.


Thomas Sandbjerg is a Danish master’s student at Aalborg University. As part of his degree, he also studied at Korea University in Seoul, South Korea, and now resides in Germany.

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