Travelling is my passion. I love to visit different places, smell unfamiliar smells, meet new people, and discover other ways of life.
When I travel I feel my mind opening and I become more tolerant and understanding. One of my biggest pleasures while travelling is experiencing the local food, tasting and smelling spices and ingredients I didn’t know and looking at how people relate to food, how they cook and where and when they eat.
I grew up in a traditional Italian family; food was always at the centre of our life. Lunch was when we all gathered around the kitchen table, with the ever present pasta, meat, vegetables and cheese. Of course there was bread, olive oil and wine. My parents are farmers, so most of the produce came from the land.
Dinner was a lighter affair, usually vegetable soup and left-overs from the abundant lunch. And breakfast?
I never saw my parents having anything more than a quick cup of coffee in the morning. As children we had biscuits and chocolate milk before school, no wonder we needed the big midday lunch! It was only when I left home and started to see the world that I realised that there was more to breakfast then a few biscuits dipped in milk!
The past few months I had the privilege to do a lot of travelling. I left my adoptive country Australia and travelled for a few months through Cambodia, Spain, Morocco, Norway and Italy.
What a variety of landscapes, cultures, smells and flavours! A true feast for the senses, something I will take with me forever and has enriched my life. To make the most of the experience I had to gather my energy and I started my days with a substantial local breakfast.
There is so much about a country in a breakfast. There are local products and where they come from, there are people and how they interact and relate with each others and of course there are taste and smells that mark and distinguish a culture.
Breakfast in Cambodia
I started my trip in Cambodia, a country that has known hunger and value its food. During the Khmer Rouge regime (from 1975 to 1979) people in Cambodia had to survive on a bowl of rice per day and many died of starvation. Today Phnom Penh’s markets abound with all sorts of delicious produces and treats. A typical thing to do is having breakfast at the market. I visited the Russian Market with a Cambodian friend and her young daughter and they took me to the best rice noodle
soup (Kuy Teav) stall in the market.
How lucky of me to start the day with one of my favourite food.
I absolutely love rice noodle soup and the one I had was superb. Thin rice noodles, juicy chicken
morsels, crispy bean sprouts, spring onions and a squeeze of fresh lime, in a rich, hot broth. We
sat at a communal bench, drinking iced tea, in the very hot and airless Phnom Penh morning. On the table there were various condiments, to add some spice.
The market was buzzing with people chatting, eating and shopping and nobody was sweating…except me!
Noodles, in soup or dry, are the classic Cambodian breakfast and they are usually eaten out, at the markets or at the numerous street stalls.
After a stop over in the motherland, Italy, I continued my travel to Spain. Back on more familiar turf. I expected no surprises in the breakfast field, and was therefore delighted to discover the different facets of a Spanish breakfast. This time I did not have the privilege of a local guide and I had to take my first, tentative steps in the Spanish breakfast world by myself.
Breakfast in Spain
Hungry for food and local customs, I walked the streets of Toledo on a warm July morning, trying to understand what my next move should be. I observed quite a few people sitting at cafes drinking coffee and orange juice and eating what looked like toasted bread and fresh tomato sauce.
It didn’t take me long to realise how pan con tomate (bread with tomato) must be the popular dish when having breakfast outside of home.
In the following weeks my knowledge of pan con tomate improved and I became aware that
tomatoes can be chopped or minced to a pulp (my favourite!), sometimes they simply came sliced (my least favourite!). They can come on the toasted bread (tostada) or on the side, in a small dish or jug, all you have to do is spread the tomatoes, add olive oil and salt and eat the most delicious and light breakfast.
More than once I was tempted to try churros and hot chocolate, also popular with locals and tourists, but for this treat I think I will have to go back in the winter.
From Spain I crossed the sea and landed in Morocco, where my husband joined me in the exploration of this fascinating country. We drove around for two weeks, through mountains and desert splattered with green oasis; cities and small town surrounded by walls; crowed markets and lonely donkeys on the side of the road. We stayed in small riad, traditional houses opening on an indoor courtyard, where every morning we enjoyed a magnificent breakfast.
Breakfast in Morocco
Moroccan breakfast is a feast for the eye, as much as the palate. Our table was covered with small and colourful ceramics dishes filled with savoury and sweet delights. Olives, goat cheese, honey and jam, eggs fried with tomatoes, chilly and lemon and served in the pan, small pancakes and fresh bread.
One morning I caught sight of a small dish filled with a brown paste, covered in oil. I put some on the tip of my finger and licked it: it was love at first taste! Amlou is an argan and almond butter, a smooth spread, delicious on bread (or Moroccan pancakes), with a bit of honey. Definitely my favourite breakfast.
Unfortunately it was very rarely on offer as not very cost effective: Argan oil is a luxury product and therefore very expensive.
Back at my parents’ home I felt I had done enough travelling for one summer and I longed to spend a few weeks sunbathing on my childhood beach. But another adventure was waiting, this time with my older daughter: We were heading north, Norway was waiting!
Breakfast in Norway
As soon as we landed in Oslo I knew I had been wrong, I hadn’t had enough, a new country to discover ahead, travelling with my daughter, this is where I wanted to be, no doubt about it.
We stayed with friends who live in an idyllic place, a farm by a lake, a couple of hours north of Oslo. Surrounded by silver birches’ forests, multicoloured flowers and the calm water of the lake I felt like I was in a meditation video!
Summer in Norway means berries. The meadows around the farm were covered in small blueberry bushes, tiny wild strawberry plants and the sweetest raspberries and blackberries I have ever tasted. Of course they became the bases of all our breakfasts.
Sitting on a blanket, wearing hand knitted Norwegian jumpers, we soaked in the magical landscape
from the outside deck.
Beside the berries, another constant on the Norwegian breakfast table is the typical brown cheese.
The cheese comes in big blocks and needs to be sliced with a special slicer, it has a slight caramel taste, sweet and salty and, to my palate, delicious. In the days I spent at the farm my love for it grew and by the end of my stay I started craving it and worrying about my life without it!
What a wonderful summer I’ve had. How grateful I am to have been able to travel so far and share this experience with the people I love.
How lucky I am to have friends who welcomed me and shared their homes, their stories and their beautiful local food.