Saturday, August 13, 2011

Café da Manhã: Breakfast Brasileiro

In the portuguese language, breakfast is referred to as "morning coffee", which I think a most pleasant term to describe the breaking of our evening fast to have the first meal of the day.

Café da Manhã in Brazil is usually light fare consisting of a small sandwich, some fruit and if time permits, a freshly-made juice and of course, coffee. For some of you, this kind of breakfast is also de rigueur. And while I understand, appreciate and partake in this healthier morning meal, I miss big breakfasts.

I was always a big breakfast fan. If I wasn’t making bacon n’ eggs at home, I’d enjoy a Yukon-Style bacon n' eggs with friends at the legendary Tomahawk Restaurant (est. 1926) in North Vancouver, B.C.. Or french toast, eggs and sausages at Chace's Pancake Corral (est. 1958) in Bellevue, Washington.

No, I am not a farmer. Nor an athlete. I have no high-protein, high-carbohydrate justification for eating such large breakfasts save for the occasional weekend mountain bike ride. I just like a big breakkie. And in doing so, I'm willing to pay the ultimate price....(ie. tight pants that don't look good...)

Dan, Trilby and I enjoying a Yukon-Style breakfast at the legendary Tomahawk Restaurant in North Vancouver, BC. Upon consumption, one not need eat for two days...(Standing in for Trilby is Trilby's breakfast)

Brazilians keep it light. Most definitely the healthier and wiser choice. In fact, there are no White Spots, Denny's or IHOPs, no breakfast restaurants of any kind here in Bahia.

In our household, Sonia enjoys having the same breakfast every morning: A sanduiche made of fresh bread, which she insists on buying every day (no complaints from me, except when I have to go out and get it, which then I go into my worthless shpil about the benefits of day old bread), a thin slice of ham or smoked turkey breast, a light spread of cream cheese and slices from a small wheel of cheese called queijo de minas frescal. This type of cheese is made in the state of Minas Gerais. "Frescal" implies that the cheese is served very fresh. And while it has no real flavor to speak of, it is low in fat. The sandwich is then grilled. (We have a small George Foreman grill for our sandwich grilling needs).

 Queijo de minas frescal. Low in fat, with that non-existent taste!

While the sandwich is being prepared, the coffee is dripping. Flavorful and strong, coffee is a major source of pride in this country. And with good reason. Perhaps you've heard "The Coffee Song", a novelty tune composed by Bob Hilliard and Dick Miles and first recorded by Frank Sinatra: "...Why they put coffee in the coffee in Brazil". That’s not too far off the mark. The coffee is delicious. And one does not need more than a single cup to start the engine. This proves a difficult restraint for me as one who enjoys more than a single cup of joe . I will sometimes treat myself to a second half cup, but anything more risks a trip to the moon, that I’m not prepared to take. Sonia will always pour herself two cups. One small, tea cup of coffee with milk to start her day, then a larger American style mug with nothing in it just to enjoy the taste.

If time permits, we will also prepare a fresh juice. Usually an orange or pineapple or lime juice. I think fresh juice back home is still a relatively novel experience. I seem to recall fresh juice joints (at least in my neck-o-the-woods, the Pacific Northwest) first appearing in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s. And at home, we tend to opt for boxes of juice. But in Brazil, fresh juice is a staple, having been around probably since God created fruit. (Now, that goes back!) Freshly-squeezed juice is just as much a staple here as coffee and is made fresh both at home and in cafes and restaurants. One can find boxes of juice in the supermarkets here, but fresh juice is preferred.

And yet, in spite of all this wholesome goodness, I still miss a big, hearty, greasy, artery-clogging, cholesterol-inducing platter of eggs, bacon, sausage, hashbrowns and toast. With butter.

Which brings me to the day I discovered bacon at one of the supermarkets here. I was overjoyed to come across a classic package of bacon strips, complete with the little window for easy-viewing. The bacon was not cheap (almost 10 Brazilian reais for a single package), but I was thus inspired to put the usual Brazilian breakfast sandwich aside for one day, and treat myself as well as introduce my wife to a big ol' American breakfast.

That weekend, on Sunday morning, I got up early letting Sonia sleep in, and went to the kitchen to prepare breakfast. I started the coffee, then went to the refrigerator to retrieve the eggs, bacon and butter. I was disappointed to find we did not have any potatoes with which to make hashbrowns, but I was undeterred. A hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, toast with butter and good hot joe would most certainly suffice.

Sonia eventually woke up to the glorious smell of fresh coffee and bacon and made her way downstairs, happily surprised that I was not only making breakfast, but a homemade AMERICAN breakfast that she was going to sample for the first time.

Sonia poured herself a cup of coffee and went to sit outside, while I finished making breakfast. In putting the food on the plates, I didn't get cute with it. I didn't make a face with egg eyes, toast ears and a bacon smile. But I did make sure that there was some presentation - a bit of egg-shui - as I wanted Sonia to fully enjoy this gastronomic culture shock.

With the table colorfully set and the plates fully loaded, I made my way outside and presented Sonia with an American Sunday morning classic - bacon and eggs. Her eyes widened as she looked at all the food on her plate. It was quite a bit I will admit, but I figured it was also Sunday, we would be going for a walk afterwards and we could always skip lunch. And dinner.

Sonia thanked me for making breakfast and started in. I then turned to my plate and began to enjoy something I hadn't had since I was last stateside..

I picked up a slice of toast and buttered it. I then began to savor each item on my plate, enjoying every bite as it magically transported me back to greasy spoon diner land: Max's Broiler, the 5-Point, the Mecca, Ozzie's, Beth's, Mae's, Master Chef, the Slocan, Slickety Jim's, The Templeton, The Sylvia, De Dutch Pannekoek House, countless other places tumbling through a vortex of my personal breakfast history a la The Time Tunnel...

Thoroughly enjoying this trip back to the griddle, I pulled my face out of my plate long enough to see how Sonia was doing with her very first homemade, North American-style, calorie-intaking, girth-inducing, no holds barring breakfast feast, hoping she was enjoying it with as much gusto as I was.

But Sonia had yet to take a single bite of her breakfast. For you see, she had taken the eggs & bacon, put them between the two pieces of toast and was making herself a sandwich. As always.

Café da Manhã: The sound, saner, simpler breakfast.


Matt said...

I really love this post, Louis, just the kind of thing I like reading from you. It brings together your unshuckable North-Americanness, your willingness to immerse yourself in Bahian culture and live as a South American, your wit and comic timing, and a great love story. Too-shay. A lot of those joints you mention are unfamiliar to me, though we've brunched at the 5-spot and I've watched them making the twelve-egg omelet at Beth's (looks like a yellow shirt being folded up), and of course I grew up a block from Chace's. Next time you're up, if you're rounding up people for an artery-stomp, count me in!

Baciagalou said...

Thanks, Matt. Coming from you that is indeed a compliment. Max's Broiler used to be located on 108th in Bellevue next to the Sears. They had a great Saturday morning breakfast special. The Mecca which is just located north of the Dick's on Queen Anne Ave. N., I think was owned by the same person who owned the 5 Point back in the day. Ozzie's is/was located on W. Mercer St. off 1st Ave. W. They had a great sign where the "O" in Ozzie's made up the oversized head of a waiter. Mae's is on Phinney Ridge (Interurban & 65th). As for the other places named, they are all located in Vancouver. I think the Templeton on Granville being my favorite. Good food, a counter, an old mural on the wall, always a newspaper available, little jukeboxes in the booths and a good atmosphere. Can get crowded though. De Dutch Pannekoek House is a chain in and around B.C. Lots of great breakfast choices, including one, where the eggs, hashbrowns, sausage and bacon are rolled into a thin pancake. A buddy of mine calls it, "The Tube of Death". I love the Beth's omelet analogy. That's one dish I just cannot bring myself to attempt. Too much egg. I draw the line there. I'm thinking the next time I come home, we do the artery-stomp and then pound the pavement! Chiz