American cuisine may not hit every spot on the mark (I’m thinking of KFC’s recent atrocity, the Double Down Sandwich), but we do make a great brunch spread. Much better than the light toast and coffee breakfast served in France, in my opinion—and who can resist a fluffy golden pancake with a pat of butter pooling the middle?
A traditional American breakfast is a hearty, heavy affair, but that’s not the case everywhere in the world. Breakfast favorites in the US typically include: eggs, toast with butter and jam, hash browned potatoes, bacon, sausage links, pancakes, waffles, bagels, doughnuts, muffins, cereal, orange juice, milk, and coffee. Lots of carbohydrates, fat, and protein here, enough to keep you well-energized throughout the day.
A French breakfast is typically much sweeter and less substantial than an American breakfast. The French drink their coffee from a ceramic bowl, and those who don’t like coffee drink hot chocolate. “Grilled bread”, or hard toasts, are dipped in the hot drink or spread with butter or jam, or nutella. Of course croissants, chocolate croissants (pain au chocolat), or other pastries are eaten frequently, although these are not necessarily eaten every day. Jam figures prominently on the breakfast table, as does chocolate. Most French people I know, if in need of a quick bite on the way out the door, grab a few cookies, a slice of cake, or anything I would normally eat for dessert. Unlike Americans, the French do not eat omelettes, quiche, or crepes for breakfast.
In Japan, asa-gohan (meaning “morning rice”) is not a grand affair, and is not restricted to certain “breakfast foods.” As more and more Western products reach supermarket shelves, more young Japanese start the day with toast, eggs, or cereal, but many still eat a traditional breakfast of rice and miso soup. Often pickles or fish accompany the rice, and a bit of natto, fermented soybeans. Leftovers from last night’s meal can be eaten as breakfast as well.
It’s interesting to compare breakfasts in different countries because it reflects, I think, the eating habits of the population. Americans eat a rather fatty, carbohydrate-heavy traditional breakfast, and quick weekday breakfasts are usually sugary and doughy (muffins, doughnuts, toast, cereal). And we overeat in general as well. The French load up on sugar in the morning, but they generally eat light as far as quantity. And a Japanese traditional breakfast is light in both senses—preferring savory tastes to fat and sugar, and keeping the portion small.
Once in a while, once every two months maybe, I like to do a good brunch. Two eggs sunny-side up, with 2 pieces of buttered toast, one to mop up each yolk. I skip the bacon but I happily take some hash browns, and of course the pancakes can’t be missed. Living abroad the last few years, I’ve learned to live without maple syrup (a better thing, anyways, as what passes for maple syrup now in most supermarkets is just coca-cola in a heat-up bottle). A much better substitute: a pat of butter and a drizzle of honey.
Making perfect pancakes at home is probably even easier than buying mix. The principal ingredients are flour, a spoon of sugar, a pinch of salt, a couple eggs, milk and baking powder. The baking powder is essential to get the rise and fluffy texture desired. I add only the yolk of the egg, reserving the egg whites for other sweets, and I swear that this makes the pancakes better. When combining the ingredients to make the batter, stir just enough to wet all the batter; overbeating the batter to try to get out the lumps will make the pancakes rubbery. If using a non-stick pan (this is best), there’s no need to oil the pan.
Perfect American Pancakes
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 1/4 cups milk
1. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Make a well in the center and pour in the milk, and egg; mix until just combined.
2. Heat a griddle or non-stick frying pan over medium high heat. Pour or scoop the batter onto the griddle, using approximately 1/4 cup for each pancake. Brown on both sides and serve immediately.