Saturday, 31 March 2007

The Tao of Breakfast

Wrote this a while ago, thought I'd post it here.

The Tao of Breakfast

Here's the perfect breakfast: Two fried eggs, beans, chips and tinned tomtoes. The eggs and the beans should both be on two slices of toast. One slice for the beans is ok, but the eggs need a slice each. Not too many chips, we want to have enough chips to match the beans - they get eaten together after the eggs and tomatoes have gone. The eggs get eaten first, obviously, and the correct way to eat fried eggs on toast is to break the yolk, then turn it upside down and paint the toast with the yolk to get an even balance of yelow to white. That's Dave's method and although he wrong on most things breakfast wise (spinach? SPINACH?) He's right on that. In america you get a gazillion choices for your eggs - over easy, sunnyside up etc. Nobody really knows what any of that means, not even in the states. They just pick one because it makes them look like they're in control of their life. They're still unhappy with the condition of their eggs like the rest of us, but they hide it more than we do, whereas we moan about it to ourselves and then when the waitress comes over and asks us if everything's ok, we say "oooh yes, lovely" like the pathetic losers we are.

There are only too kinds of fried eggs:

(a) All gorgeous and runny and warm and gooey and golden.
(b) Well that's no bloody good is it? That's not going to cover my toast, I mean it's not hard, really it's not rocket surgery, how hard can it really be to fry an egg and make it all nice a runny inside. Who would want their egg this way? Well that's spoiled my breakfast that has. I'm going home. To cry.

Dave says that beans have no place in a breakfast. like I said he's wrong about a lot of things. His wife's Australian for a start but lets not go there (No. Let's go there. Not only is she Australian, but I have seen her order felafel for breakfast. Frankly, if you can't see what's wrong with that then just don't bother even having breakfast). Beans are the glue that holds any decent breakfast together. The joy of beans is that if you team them with toast then they can be a perfectly good breakfast on their own, but if you put them with a plateful of other ingredients they hold their own. They don't fade into the background like a tomato might, but they don't swamp the plate and completely takeover as chips are liable to do unless kept under control. They just add their wonderful, intangible bean-ness to the rest of the breakfast, thereby elevating it but not stifling it.

Chips can be a problem. I'll admit that. Too many and you end up having finished your breakfast while there's still half a plateful of potato in front of you. People will think that you're the kind of man who can't finish his breakfast and nobody wants that. But if you manage to get the balance right, just enough that after the opening wonderfulness of eggs and toast, and as a change of pace to the good-for-you section of the tomatoes, you get to wrap a handful of chips up in the last slice of toast that you saved (If there's one thing a good breakfast inspires, it's forward planning) and smush it around in the last few beans. Instant chip & bean butty. Great.

I read somewhere that tinned tomatoes have something in them that breaks down cholesterol. I think I may have read it in Men's Health magzine, something I often read while enjoying a full fried breakfast in just another example of the depressing irony that seems to so enjoy running my life. Anyway, So that's why I include tinned tomatoes in my breakfast - the concept is that as long as I eat all the tomatoes then I'm counteracting the unhealthy effects of the fried eggs and chips. If you know for a fact that this isn't true, then please keep it to yourself - it's the only ingredient of my breakfast that's there for health reasons so let me carry on existing in my smug little fantasy world.

Toast. White. No discussion. Brown bread is nicer than white, but white toast is nicer than brown. Some things are just true. Besides, after it's been in the toaster it's all brown.

Most of my friends have tea with they're breakfasts. The ones that want to appear tougher, or American have coffee. This is the only place where I might be ready to admit that my choice is a little off the beaten track, though not by much. I concede that a cup of tea is probably the correct breakfast beverage, but I've never really liked tea, or coffee come to that. So I have a nice cold can of coke. A cup of tea is all well and good, but you can't beat the heroin-like high of the first mouthful of cold coke that hits the back of your throat in the morning and injects your brain with that magical combination of caffeine, sugar and bubbles that kicks you into life. You know that bit in "The fast and the furious" when the guy presses the nitrous oxide button and the camera follows the nitrous down and you see it shoot into the engine and the car just explodes into a blur of speed. Well that's what it's like in my head when I take that first mouthful of coke.

Mushrooms. No. They're clearly not for eating. They're all slimy and wierd-shaped. They're for people to get worryingly out of control with at Glastonbury and then talk about how we're all one conciousness and if we just all managed to think the same way for just one moment then we could achieve anything we could imagine. Yeah, well as long you're thinking that mushrooms are good for breakfast then we're not going to achieve that miraculous nirvana today, thank you very much. Let's leave mushrooms for pixies and Super Mario to play with and move on.

My friend Judith agrees with most of my breakfast manifesto, but would like to make it known that she thinks I should add some Asparagus. Any ideas where she's from? Yep, Australia. She says, and I'm quoting directly here, that "You need a bit of green" in a breakfast. I do not need a bit of green in any of my meals, especially not at breakfast. Green is too harsh colour for that time in the morning. For breakfast you need nice relaxing colours. The warming red/orange of beans, then proud scarlet of a tomato, and of course the eggs and chips giving you all the shades from pure white to happy, sunny yellow. Nothing too jarring. Mainly Earthtones. The only green I will allow anywhere near my plate is peas, and then only in the evening.

There are people who just don't have a clue about how to do breakfasts. I would put it down to experience - I'm lucky, my job seduces me into having breakfast in cafes pretty much every work day, so I would naturally assume that those who share my job and visit cafes as often as I do would share my breadth of knowledge. This is not so. Just goes to show - someone can work in a museum for twenty years and stil never bother to look art the art hanging on the walls. Rob is a case in point. Now this might seem a miniscule and petty complaint, and it is, but it is one of those little tell-tale signs that can illustrate a larger problem. Ready? Ok, Rob orders his breakfast - eggs, sausage, beans and chips (7/10, not bad choices) and then goes on to decorate his plate with tomato ketchup. This is wrong on so many levels that there may not be enough letters in the alphabet for me to describe them all to you. Let's stick to the obvious problem:

Rob's breakfast includes beans.
Beans come with tomato ketchup.

You don't need to add any ketchup if you have beans. Beans - very cleverly - know exactly how much tomato sauce you want and give it to you free. When you finish your beans there wil be just exactly enough sauce left over for you to mop up with your toast or chips. The breakfast god worked very hard to achieve this perfect balance in the hope that it would inspire us to correctly structure our breakfasts. When someone orders beans and then adds more ketchup not only is it wrong but it angers the breakfast god. The next time you don't get the breakfast your order, you know why. You might think that if you have accidentally added sauce to your beans - or been forced to do, perhaps by terrorists with a breakfast-based jihad, you could rectify the problem by simply mixing the extra sauce into the beans. No, my friend, no. You see the sauce that comes with the beans and the sauce in the big plastic tomato that you simply had to use, isn't the same kind of sauce. It's slightly different, so if you mix it into the beans you will change the beans entirely in both taste and consistency. In the same way that beans are the glue that holds any good breakfast together, tomato sauce can ruin it. Tomato sauce is Kryptonite to beans, so keep it off the damn plate and let the beans do the job that the breakfast god put them on the menu to do.

On a related note: Mustard is acceptable as a breakfast condiment only when placed with red meat-based foodstuffs. Want mustard with your sausage or bacon? Fine. Smear it on your beans, as one of my colleagues has been observed to do, and how do you think the beans feel? I'll tell you. They feel rejected. They feel like they're not good enough for you. The beans are doing their best for you but no, you had to go and spice things up with the cheap slut in the attention-grabbing little yellow pot didn't you? Don't be tempted, treat the beans with respect and they'll be there for you for ever.

While we're on the subject of beans, when I order beans on toast, I want beans on toast. If I go to a bog standard cafe and ask for beans on toast, I'll get a couple of slices of toast covered in beans. Gorgeous. Excellent. So why is it that whenever I go to somewhere for breakfst that thinks of itself as a little above a cafe, maybe it calls itself a diner or a restaurant that just happens to also do breakfasts, and I order beans on toast I don't get beans on toast. Oh no. I get some beans next to some toast. With garnish. Now, we'll come back to the garnish issue momentarily, but for now lets look at the plate topography. I asked for beans ON toast, but somewhere along the line restaurants have been led to believe that if they serve the beans NEXT to the toast it is somehow classier. Well let me tell you there is nothing classy about having to try to slide the toast under the beans, or lump the beans onto the toast before you can start eating. Whenever it happens, and it happens often, it makes me want to punch the restaurant in the cock.

Another area in which restaurants feel they can look classier is by using - and I shudder to use the word - garnish. Garnish is the stuff that you don't eat that is technically made of food. It's cold, usually predominately green and IF I'D WANTED A SALAD I WOULDN'T BE IN A BLOODY CAFE WOULD I? There is nothing more wrong than the sight of beans touching lettuce. If you can't see why that's wrong then maybe I'm wasting my time here and this whole breakfast thing is a lost cause. A lesson can be learned from the great garnish shortage of 1974 when for nearly a full year there was no garnish to be had and nobody noticed.

I am lucky enough to be married to a beautiful, cool, slightly strange Welsh woman who is way smarter than I am. One of the nicest things to do with a loved one is to go for a walk, enjoy good conversation, maybe do a little shopping, and then end up in a mutually favourite cafe. Lovely. My wife and I have known each other for 15 years at the time of writing, so we know each other pretty well, yet for some reason the following conversation always - and I mean always - takes place:

Me: "...and chips please."
Her: "Can I have some of your chips?"
Me: "No. I want all my chips. If you want chips, order chips, innit?"
Her: "But I don't want a whole portion of chips, I just want a few."
Me: "Ahh, but I DO want all my chips, so there will be none spare for you to have. If you want chips, order chips - I'm paying, it's on me."
Her: "But I won't eat them all, can't I just have some of.."
Me: "No. It's ok, order chips and just eat what you want. That way we both get the amount of chips that we want."
Her: "I don't think I want them that much."
(She doesn't order chips. Time passes. Food arrives.)
Her: "Your chips look nice."
Me: "Fucking fuck off."

(c) Mat Ricardo 2007

1 comment:

Jason said...

Now come on mate im with you most of the way but you must admit that tomato sauce from the bottle is different from the stuff you get with beans. I mean most the time i'l use the bean stuff but sometimes i want to use all the tools at my disposal to get involved with a good breakfast and that means using that red or brown sauce am i to feel wrong for that! if so i dont want to be right!

No Sir