How breakfast is eaten around the world

Miso soup is an early morning pick-me-up in Japan.
Miso soup is an early morning pick-me-up in Japan. Photo: William Meppem

The best breakfast I've ever had was at a hotel in Dubai. I know. Not what you were thinking, right? Don't get me wrong: I love pancakes made fluffy with ricotta and buttermilk. I live for sourdough loaded with avocado and flaky salt. I'm down for a croissant, or a bacon and egg roll, or creamy porridge dotted with fruit and brown sugar. Breakfast? I got this.

But in Dubai, things were different. Instead of loading my plate with carbs, carbs and yet more carbs, there were perfectly soft-boiled eggs, pickled vegetables in every colour of the rainbow, warm pitas and the smoothest hummus I ever did eat. It was delicious – and not at all familiar. I remember thinking, "I love this, but I'd never eat this for brekky at home."

Because that's the thing about breakfast – it's familiar. While most of us would scoff at having the same dinner seven nights in a row, having the same breakfast every single day isn't that unusual. And it's the same the world over: there's something comforting about having the same breakfast, or a variation of it, when you first wake up. After all, 7am is not the time for adventure or creativity for most of us. It's the reason why breakfast tends to be such a homogeneous meal everywhere – why so many Mexicans, for example, wake up to chilaquiles, and so many people in Japan greet the day over miso and rice.

Stephen's cruffins are stuffed with cream fillings.
Stephen's cruffins are stuffed with cream fillings. Photo: The New York Times

Here in Australia, we've made breakfast something of a religion: we routinely queue for brunch, we've elevated avocado on toast to a (very expensive) art form, and you can't walk down a main street in Australia without finding a decent cup of coffee. But how does our beloved sourdough, scrambled eggs and even daggy old Weet-Bix stand up to how the rest of the world is breaking their fast?

Colombia

In Colombia, it's traditional to begin the day with an arepa, a dense, sweet pastry made of pressed masa. The round, flat patties are fried in oil and slit open like pita bread, and then filled with savoury stuffings like eggs, salsa and crema, or butter and jam. We'll take one of each.

Try it here: At Brisbane's Arepa House, and at Sydney's Glebe Markets

Try some fresh and flavoursome pho to wake you up in the morning.

Try some fresh and flavoursome pho to wake you up in the morning. Photo: Nola James

Vietnam

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While a Vietnamese coffee is a great way to wake up, you could also feast on pho ga, a creamy-style noodle soup often served with chicken, and made aromatic with loads of herbs. And don't discount Vietnamese steak and eggs – a twist on the traditional, with chopped beef sauteed on a sizzling hotplate served with fried eggs. Bonus points if you get a crunchy banh mi baguette alongside it.

Try it here: At pretty much every Vietnamese restaurant. 

Recipe: Vietnamese Pho soup with brisket and noodles

Singapore

Soft eggs and kaya toast are something of a religion in Singapore, and it's easy to see why: they're bloody delicious. First, the toast: thin, soft white bread (the stuff nutritionists' nightmares are made of) is flattened and toasted, then sandwiched with a slab (not an exaggeration) of salted butter and kaya jam, which is made from coconut, pandan and palm sugar. On its own, kaya toast is sensational. Together with silky soft poached eggs, it's a dream.

Try it here: At Melbourne's Killiney Kopitiam, selected Asian grocers – or make your own. 

Russia

After a night on the vodka, you're going to want carbs, and lots of them. Enter the syrniki, a sweet cheese fritter (think of a pancake made with cottage cheese, not ricotta) that's topped with jam, cream, honey and butter, and is exactly as moreish as it sounds.

Try it here: At Sydney's Roomie Cafe

A bowl of hot miso will warm you up for a chilly morning start.

A bowl of hot miso will warm you up for a chilly morning start. Photo: Jill Dupleix

Japan

While Japan is one of the best food destinations in the world, with a staggering number of restaurants per capita, breakfast is not something the Japanese typically eat outside the home. Instead, they eat a variation of their other meals at home – pickled vegetables, rice, a bowl of hot miso and fish.

Try it here: At Melbourne's Kuu Cafe

Recipe: Breakfast miso

Jamaica

You'd expect the inhabitants of a tropical island to feast on tropical fruit for brekky … and you wouldn't be wrong. In Jamaica, the first meal of the day is often ackee, a fruit that's part of the lychee and longan family. When cooked, its texture is similar to that of scrambled eggs. Ackee is usually served with saltfish and fried plantains.

Try it here: Ackee doesn't grow here, but you can order a tin here

Neil Perry's take on Mexico's breakfast favourite, huevos rancheros.

Neil Perry's take on Mexico's breakfast favourite, huevos rancheros. Photo: William Meppem

Mexico

Waking up in Mexico? Treat yourself to a hot chilaquile – a tostada fried in oil and then topped with salsa, beans, a fried egg and a sprinkling of crumbly Cotija cheese. There's also huevos rancheros, a simple meal of corn tortillas, fried eggs and a rich tomato sauce.

Try it here: At Canberra's Central American eatery, The Elk and Pea.

Recipe: Huevos rancheros

Turkey

As with breakfast in Dubai, Turks wake up to a spread of epic proportions. A "full Turkish", if you will, involves a feast of olives, cucumbers, cheese, eggs, bread and pickles. If you want just one Turkish breakfast meal, though, go for menemen, a dish of soft scrambled eggs set in a spicy tomato sauce.

Try it here: At Sydney's famed Turkish restaurant, Efendy

Wake up to a Nasi goreng feast in Indonesia.

Wake up to a nasi goreng feast in Indonesia. Photo: Marina Oliphant

Indonesia

Fancy a bowl of stir-fried noodles with a sweet soy sambal sauce and topped with fried garlic and shallots? Wake up in Indonesia and feast on bami goreng to start the day.

Try it here: At pretty much any Indonesian restaurant you head to. 

Recipe: Nasi goreng 

Greece

While many European countries favour a simple breakfast of coffee and pastry (and hey, there's nothing wrong with that), in Greece, the offerings are a little more substantial. Go for tiganites, Greek-style pancakes served with tahini and petimezi (grape molasses), or trahana, a pasta made with milk and served with salty, crumbly feta. There's also galatopita, a milk and semolina pie that's similar in taste to galaktoboureko, and koulouri, round pastries topped with sesame seeds (and often dubbed Greek bagels). 

Try it here: At Melbourne's Mezedakia (04 1665 3000).

Lebanon

If you haven't tried Lebanese pizza, manoush, for breakfast, you may never know how good a light pizza dough plus herbs and a splash of oil actually is. The simple combination is a staple in the Mediterranean country and best eaten fresh and hot with thinly sliced tomato on top.

Try it here: Banksia Bakery, Sydney (02 9597 7715)