The best breakfast in the world sounds like a motto dreamed up by a slick city hotel to drum up business for the first meal of the day. Whether you start the day with steak stuffed with oysters (Australia), miso soup (Japan) or the full fried English version with eggs, bacon, sausages and beans, breakfast is important.
There was a overwhelming motto in Britain in the 1950s “Go to work on an egg” to encourage enjoyment of the meal, and the day, by starting with an egg or two. Eggs do genuinely form a crucial part of breakfasts around the world, perhaps because they are unsuited for meals at other times of the day.
Having enjoyed breakfasts in every continent, ranging from the plate of shredded tuna mixed with coconut and onions in the Maldives to the cheese platters of Europe, I believe I have found the best breakfast in the world. Since I am not trying to promote any hotel that serves this single dish, you can trust me.
Breakfast is best in Sri Lanka.
However, if you favour a light repast in the middle of tumbling out of bed, washing, dressing, and heading off to work, forget it. Stick to your coffee and toast.
The Sri Lankan breakfast cannot be a rushed meal. Indeed, it is not even served early in the morning. It is normally eaten some hours after rising and when people have already done any chores for the day. Thus, by the time it is served you have already built up an appetite rather than coming to the breakfast table level from bed with no desire for anything more than a strong coffee.
In Sri Lanka the day starts with bed tea (that is tea served in bed) rather than breakfast.
Freshly made juice, or great a slice of fruit like papaya or pineapple, gets the Sri Lankan breakfast off to a refined start. In village houses, though, juice or fruit is not part of the ritual.
The Sri Lankan breakfast is already set out on the table by the time people meet to eat it. That’s because it doesn’t have to be served hot (as buttered toast does). In fact, the dishes are spicy enough that a little time marinating on the table does the food a lot of good; it matures the flavour.
The star of the breakfast is the curry, be it beef, chicken or fish. Beef curry is favoured in the hill country where appetites are wholesome and cattle are reared.
There is a chorus line of vegetable curries, like lentils and a white curry of coconut milk. Tempered potatoes (that’s boiled potatoes tossed in hot oil and onions) can be included, as well as sweet fried onion sambol and grated coconut with crushed chilli sambol (a relish).
A variety of breads make up the supporting cast of the breakfast play. The junior lead is genuinely egg hoppers (a kind of pancake made of rice flour with a fried egg in the centre) and commonplace hoppers, crisp and without the egg. String hoppers, like a nest of noodles are also used to soak up the curries.
Sometimes there is roti, a pan fried mix of coconut and flour, as well as village baked bread (soft and flavoursome through being cooked in a wood fired oven).
The curries are spooned onto the plate and eaten with the fingers of the right hand, using the hoppers or bread to capture the mix and convey it to the eager mouth.
It is not the most elegant breakfast, but genuinely the most satisfying.