Category Archives: Breakfast

A Few Observations on Border Food

Borderlands foods fail to impress — at least not for travelers on a budget

No, not Tex-Mex food, but that available where Scotland and England meet. We have been in Cumbria (northern England) and now in Edinburgh (southern Scotland) for less than a week. We came for the scenery and the walkers’ footpaths and the history, not for the food. We’ve had a few good meals and some tasty dishes, but no stellar ones. Large portions of filling but largely unexciting dishes perhaps reflect the necessity of heartiness rather than flavor in nothern climes.

In fairness, it is early April when local growers are planting, not harvesting, and we are traveling on a budget (necessitated by the feeble dollar). I’ve picked up a number of brochures about local farmers’ markets, so the variety of fresh produce will certainly increase long after we have gone home. I am hopeful for summer visitors that its is the case, and I am willing to admit that with an eye on the total of each dinner check, we might made poor choices or had bad luck. Still, plug these observations into any travel plans you might have. If you are a traveling foodie, come later in the year, or save your pence and pounds for “better” restaurants.

Bread

I wonder whether there’s an excess of bread in Britain the morning and a shortage in the evening. Every breakfast starts off with a heaping plate of toast (sometimes called “cooked bread”) brought on an uncovered plate so that it quickly cools and hardens. Sometimes it is brought on a metal toast rack, so that it cools even faster. No smear of butter could possibly melt on it. The Brits like it that way, so it’s just we philistine Yanks who like our toast to be hot. Usually there’s only white bread. Occasionally you’ll be asked, “white or brown?” And if you request “brown,” hoping that it’s whole wheat and not just some food-colored white bread, they’ll generally throw in a slice of white for good measure. The butter is always rich and tasty, and that makes up for a lot.

On the other hand, at dinner, don’t expect a basket of bread or rolls to be brought to the table. Sometimes it is, but often it isn’t. This evening, for instance, sort of in the mood for Italian food, we stumbled into an Edinburgh institution improbably called Gordon’s Trattoria. Of the several breads on the menu, we ordered garlic bread, expecting a basket or entire small loaf of warm bread that actually tasted of garlic. What we got for £3 (that’s about $8.50!!!) was three slices of cold Italian-style bread that might have been in the same room with a clove of garlic. The To say that we felt ripped off does not begin to describe our reactions.

Breakfast & Fruit

I won’t speculate on what is available in summer and fall, but the modest selection of fruit at most breakfasts in mid-priced hotels and B&Bs falls into three categories: stewed (usually peaches or pears), fresh and sugared (orange slices) or canned (orange and grapefruit slices). I actually got an apple on the train — a tart green apple that made my face pucker with every bite. But I was so fruit-starved that I ate it anyway.

Fish & Chips

Fish & chips are sold everywhere — in restaurants, pubs and especially in “take-aways” — often in combination that seem improbable to us. Fish & chips, pizza, kebabs, burgers and occasionally even stir-fries abound. In fact, if we had a quid for every one we’ve passed, we could afford a really good meal in a really nice restaurant. Some examples:

The Myth of Continental Breakfast

On the Continent (in Switzerland anyway), hotel breakfasts are generous and delicious.

US motels and motor inns give the phrase “Continental breakfast” a bad name. It is usually pathetic — a couple of kinds of juice from a dispenser, mediocre Danish pastries and/or donuts, teeny boxes of single-serving cereals, maybe make-your-own waffles that always make a mess, coffee, tea bags, hot chocolate packets. More often than not, disposable dishes, flatware, cups and glasses and a television in the breakfast room or motel lobby add to a dispiriting start to the day. Once upon a time, breakfasts in European hotels might have been more modest (and in some budget lodgings, they still are), but these days, in most hotels, they tend to be lavish, lovely and really delicious.

In Europe (aka, “the Continent”), hotels from mid-priced up lay out beautiful self-service breakfasts that resemble the most upscale buffet breakfasts in fine American hotels. Right now, I am at the Solis Cambria Hotel & Spa in Adelboden, Switzerland, where Continental breakfast includes pitchers of three kinds of juice, still and sparkling bottled water (both local and Pelligrino), fresh croissants, at least five kinds of freshly baked bread and rolls, at least eight cheeses, sliced fruit, hard-boiled eggs, scrambled eggs, hot sausages, several types of ham and cold cuts, sliced smoked salmon, three of four varieties of cold cereal including house-made granola and house-made Muesli. Want an omelet? The kitchen will whip one up for you. Want coffee (including espresso drinks)? The waiter will bring the hot beverage of your choice. The tables are nicely set with linen napkins and real stainless flatware. Glasses are made of glasses. Plates, bowls and cups are crockery. It is all very lovely, very civilized and very authentically Continental — and always included in the price of the room.

I suppose my real gripe isn’t with the gulp-and-go offerings that are part of American motel or motor inn experience — but rather with calling them “Continental breakfast.” What an insult!