On a roll with European breakfasts

Like travel in general, breakfast gets you out of your routine and throws you a cultural curve that can add to the memories of your trip. Not long ago, I grabbed breakfast at a hotel in southern Spain. The only cereal available was a local version of frosted corn flakes. As there was no “mature” option, I indulged in a bowl of my childhood favorite. But the cereal milk was heated — apparently standard in this part of Spain. My poor frosted flakes immediately turned to mush. Not so grrrrrrreat.

Soggy flakes or not, breakfast is a fun part of travel, and the experience varies plenty from one country’s breakfast table to the next.

Generally, the farther south you go, the lighter the breakfasts. In France, Italy, and Spain, skimpier “continental” breakfasts are the norm. Traditionally, you’ll get a roll with marmalade or jam, occasionally a slice of ham or cheese, and coffee or tea.

The good news? These little breakfasts compel you to sample regional favorites: In Spain, look for “ churros con chocolate” (a fritter served with a warm chocolate drink), “ pan con tomate” (a toasted baguette rubbed with fresh garlic and ripe tomato), or a “ tortilla española” (a hearty slice of potato omelet).

Italian breakfasts are impossibly tiny, but the delicious red orange juice you get is made from Sicilian blood oranges. And you can buy a delightful toasted sandwich from a corner bar anywhere, anytime in Italy to make up for the miniscule breakfast.

In France, locals just grab a warm croissant and coffee on the way to work. Queue up with the French and consider the yummy options: croissants studded with raisins, packed with crushed almonds, or filled with chocolate or cream.

When hotel breakfasts are too small for my taste, I supplement them with a piece of fruit or hunk of cheese from a local market. Being a juice man, I keep a liter box of OJ in my room for a morning eye-opener.

Coffee drinkers know that breakfast is the only cheap time to caffeinate. Hotels generally serve you a bottomless cup with your morning meal. After that, the cups acquire bottoms and refills will cost you.

The farther north you go in Europe, the heartier the breakfasts become. The heaviest is the traditional British “fry.” Also known as a “Plate of Cardiac Arrest,” these are a fundamental part of the bed-and-breakfast experience and are generally included in your room price.

A standard fry comes with cereal or porridge, a fried egg, Canadian-style bacon or sausage (and sometimes mackerel or haggis), a grilled tomato, sautéed mushrooms, baked beans, and fried bread or toast. This protein-stuffed meal can tide me over until dinner. You’ll quickly figure out which parts of the fry you like. Your host will likely ask you this up front, rather than serve you the whole shebang and risk having to throw out uneaten food.

The Scandinavian breakfast buffet is the perennial favorite for the “most food on the table” award. It pays to take advantage of breakfast smorgasbords when you can. For about $20 (cheap for these parts), you can dig into an all-you-can-eat extravaganza of fresh bread, cheeses, yogurt, cereal, boiled eggs, herring, cold cuts, and coffee or tea. In another variation on cereal and milk, Scandinavians like to pour thick yogurt over their granola.

Throughout the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland and Eastern Europe, expect a more modest buffet — but you’ll still find plenty of cheeses, meats, fruit, yogurt and cereal. In Poland, track down “ jajecznica,” the local wakeup call of eggs scrambled with kielbasa sausage, served with a side of potato pancakes. The breakfast of choice in Russia is “ oladi,” pancakes perfectly fried to be crisp on the outside but soft in the middle, then topped with sour cream, honey or berries.

Germans have an endearing habit of greeting others in the breakfast room with a slow and dour Morgen (Morning, short for “good morning”), though they have plenty to be happy about. Breakfast is usually included, and offers hearty fuel for the day: ham, eggs, cheese, bread, rolls and pots of coffee. For a filling cereal, try “ Bircher Musli,” a healthful mix of oats, nuts, yogurt and fruit. If breakfast is optional, take a walk to the nearest bakery — Germany and Austria have a world of enticing varieties of bread and pastries, baked fresh every morning.

Come to the European breakfast table with an adventurous spirit. I’m a traditionalist at home, but when I feel the urge for an American breakfast in Europe, I beat it to death with a hard roll.

Read more Travel stories from the Miami Herald

European cab drivers, like this happy one in Turkey, only expect you to round up your fare when you give them a tip.


    Tips on tipping in Europe

    Here’s a tip: Don’t stress over tipping.

  • The travel troubleshooter

    I was charged an extra $134 for my car because I was an hour late

    Q: I have a complaint about my recent car rental experience at Indianapolis International Airport. I’ve called Hertz and Hotwire, the online travel agency I booked this through, and didn’t get answers that make sense.

The living room restaurant Caro Kookt, run by Caro van der Meulen, in the Jordaan district of Amsterdam. 2014.


    Enjoying a home-cooked meal in a stranger’s home

    The square wooden table fits just beneath the windows of the townhouse near the Anne Frank House. Tourists and locals both stroll along the stone street outside, heading toward the busy cafes of Amsterdam’s Jordan district. The dozen dinner guests inside are oblivious, sipping a lusty local wine and swapping get-to-know-you stories.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category