The world comes together at breakfast buffets

Shabnam Minwalla | Updated on September 27, 2019

A slice of heaven that cuts across continents and cultures, one pastry at a time

Some people imagine heaven as a place of tinkly music, pink-tinged clouds and good souls in white linen robes. Others conjure up a pristine Eden, filled with flowers and furry animals.

My heaven is bereft of clouds and flowers. Instead, it is a place heaped with crisp-fried bacon and scrambled eggs, piled with golden pancakes and potato wedges and arrayed with custard-topped Danish pastries and flaky croissants. In short, it’s a breakfast buffet — the sort that sprawls over eight counters, criss-crosses the globe and requires a map to navigate. And the kind that is manned by soft-footed servers who will fetch an omelette stuffed with shrimp, apple and avocado, an off-the-menu ragi kanji or cutting chai poured from an aluminium kettle into a clay pot.

Please note that I’m not being unreasonable. My heaven can do without the six varieties of flavoured salt, the jugs of detox waters and the jars of meringues. I’m even willing to do without jalebis and puri bhajis. (They taste better outside the Mathura Railway Station anyway. As, actually, does the masala chai.)

There are, however, the staples that are indispensable to any self-respecting breakfast buffet. Chefs with white hats and equally white smiles, juggling pans and producing eggs — poached, baked, scrambled, coddled, boiled, half-boiled and so on. These can then be eaten alongside bacon, ham and sausages. Not to forget the dab of New Zealand butter and hot toast.

Cheese platters, little pots of jam. Slices of bread, cut 14-mm thick and toasted for precisely 216 seconds. A counter devoted to fruit. And juices in watermelon red, celery green, pineapple yellow and tangerine orange.

Maybe on Mondays, a live counter featuring Chinese congee, that soothing rice porridge cooked with dried shrimp, pork stock and shiitake mushroom. Or steamed buns and dumplings with mysterious fillings.

On Tuesdays, maybe a counter that lays out the sort of breakfast that makes it worthwhile to wake up in Turkey or Israel. Halvas, soft white labneh, cheese, blobs of fresh mozzarella bobbing in whey, chewy chunks of honeycomb, hummus, salads, dried fruits and every kind of bread you can imagine. And, of course, garlicky shakshuka — with its saucy tomato base, topped with eggs and baked to the perfect scooping-with-pita consistency.

Wednesdays could be Indian. Though, once again, I’m not sure I want to eat pakwaan daal anywhere outside Mumbai’s Guru Kripa or Kailash Parbat. Or, for that matter, idlis and dosas in a sophisticated hall full of hushed souls peering at their phones. That’s one meal that needs the happy cacophony of cutlery and the chorus of “Muru kaapi”.

Maybe Thursdays could be devoted to a Filipino breakfast: garlicky fried rice, crispy pata (deep-fried chunks of fatty pork), a sour broth, a tangy chicken adobo and many varieties of vinegar.

On Friday we could do things the American way. Bagels with cream cheese and smoked salmon. Hash browns and French toasts. Pancakes drizzled with maple syrup and perfect waffles topped with berries and cream. All washed down with a sinful vanilla milkshake. (Can you gain weight in heaven? Must check.)

Then weekends we can devote to almond croissants, chocolate doughnuts and warm scones. Fruit yoghurts and little soufflés. Mishti doi and warm, gooey bread puddings. Bircher mueslis topped with almonds, raisins and other unidentifiable nuts. Cold coffee sprinkled with chocolate flakes. All the little touches that can make heaven even more heavenly.

In the meanwhile, though, I’m determined to enjoy the rather more terrestrial breakfast buffets that occasionally come my way. Which is not as easy as it sounds.

The first problem is that I only find myself in these bacon-and-egg wonderlands once or twice a year. Naturally then, I spend a lot of time planning to Make The Most Of It. First I will find a table. Then I will stroll around and conduct a recce worthy of a Soviet spy. And plan my meal, one pastry and juice at a time.

Invariably, though, this strategy fails. Partly because it doesn’t behove a woman of mature years to drool in public. Partly because the other diners seem so self-contained — men in swish suits, sitting with a single toast and black coffee. Women lingering over a virtuous bowl heaped with papaya and melon. Not a single greedy glance or extra wedge of brie among them.

Naturally, I feel self-conscious and return to the table with a higgle-piggle that I never planned to take. Did I really serve myself noodles? How did lettuce sneak onto my plate? Why did I pick up an oatmeal muffin instead of a blueberry Danish pastry?

Why didn’t I put strawberries on my waffle? How did I forget the salmon? Too late now.

So I leave the room sloshing with dissatisfaction and unfamiliar liquids. And a firm resolve that my version of heaven will have not just egg florentine and English muffins, but unashamed gourmands as well.


Shabnam Minwalla is a journalist and author

  • Ingredients
  • 6 eggs
  • 2-3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, peeled and diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 2 cups ripe diced tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tsp mild chilli powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper, or more to taste (careful, it’s spicy!)
  • Pinch of sugar (optional, to taste)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Method
  • Heat a deep, large skillet on medium. Warm olive oil in the pan. Add chopped onion and sauté till it softens. Add garlic and continue to sauté till the mixture is fragrant.
  • Add the bell pepper, sauté for 5-7 minutes until soft. Add tomatoes and tomato paste and stir until blended. Add spices and sugar, stir, and allow mixture to simmer over medium heat for 5-7 minutes until it starts to reduce.
  • Crack the eggs, one at a time, directly over the tomato mixture, making sure to space them evenly over the sauce. Cover the pan. Allow mixture to simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until the eggs are cooked and the sauce has reduced. Keep an eye on the skillet to make sure that the sauce doesn’t reduce too much.
  • Serve with crusty bread or warmed pita.

Published on September 27, 2019

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