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Updated: March 21, 2014 18:19 IST
BLIGHTY AND BEYOND

Breakfast Epiphanies

SHREYA SEN HANDLEY
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Katzs, well-known for the famous scene from 'When Harry Met Sally'.
Special Arrangement Katzs, well-known for the famous scene from 'When Harry Met Sally'.

Something’s buzzing irritatingly in my ear. I slap it down woozily but it starts up again. Early on a winter’s morning in England, it is dark and cold outside, but the day has begun. Clothes are shucked on, ragdoll-limp children woken and dressed. And a breakfast of toast, fruit and milk groggily put before them. It is a begrudging, barely awake, darkly dissenting start to the day.

How different then to waking up on holiday. When the golden fingers of the sun creep lover-like into your tangled lair of silken sheets and plump pillows, you stir, stretch languorously, and sink back into another half-hour’s somnolence. For parents of hyperactive young ‘uns, getting up, even on holiday, is never indolent, but there is the unparalleled pleasure of two soft, warm bodies burrowing into bed and that blissful split-second they lie still in your arms. The clamour for breakfast begins soon after.

For all but those annoyingly cheerful “morning people”, everyday breakfasts have as much allure as oatmeal (and often is oatmeal)! On holiday though, you wake up wondering what delights await you. Should you stroll to that sunny café you spotted yesterday, or feast on the eclectic mix of indigenous delicacies you gathered on your rambles? Either way, it is an infinitely superior start to your day.

On our travels round this steadily shrinking, increasingly cosmopolitan world, we’ve had many delicious meals. We’ve dined on Argentinian steaks in Amsterdam, Nepalese in charming Ross-on-Wye and Greek in Zurich. The steaks were beautifully done, the Nepalese Daal-Bhaat, authentic, with a heart-warming side order of South Asian chatter, and the Greek, classic. But for the culturally curious, keen to sample local delights, this global smorgasbord doesn’t hit the spot. Yet it seems unavoidable. It nearly is.

Fortunately, first thing in the morning, most of us can’t be bothered with ostentation or pretence, so breakfast has remained simple, honest and home-grown. Breakfast now says more about a place than any other meal. In France, it is a typically elegant meal of golden croissants with delicate pats of butter that sashay into your mouth. In South India, a splendidly spicy dosa or aromatic, chutney-laced idli gets you ready for the vagaries of the day. The “full English” breakfast of juicy sausages, tangy beans and crunchy toast is quintessentially English in its vigour. And in Las Vegas, everything including breakfast is larger than life; enormous pancakes oozing sticky-sweet maple syrup, steaming tureens of scrambled eggs, and stacks of still-sizzling bacon, piled high on seductively large plates.

If Las Vegas is larger than life, New York is life itself. Our first meal there was a breakfast on steroids. A wild cab ride with a rapping Jamaican driver ended with our unceremonious dumping on “Sex Street” (once “Essex”, I suspect), near Katz’s legendary deli. From small beginnings in 1888, Katz’s has become an NYC institution. Like Al Gore, Bruce Willis and Johnny Depp before us, the promise of flavoursome pastrami, fluffy matzo balls and hearty latkes had brought us to its doors.

At the counter, fast talking Jewish bakers helped us choose from the briskets, bagels, knishes, knoblewursts and more, on display. Settling down with our feathery pastry and lightly spiced meat in a sun-lit seat, we watched the city wake and start its daily hustle around us. A colourful collection of ethnicities gathered at the bus stop. The neighbourhood patriarchs were setting up shop, busily putting out fresh produce under stripy awnings that block the burning New York sun. But it was early and still cool.

Inside, a man expertly sliced and arranged salami under glass. Listening to the bustle of the bakers kneading, twisting, and tossing dough, I was transported to the world of Eighties Rom Coms, big hair and food so good it was positively orgasmic. When Harry met Sally here in 1989, Meg Ryan pulled off the most famous fake orgasm in cinematic history. It’s clear why they picked Katz’s for that sensual, funny, yet ground-breaking scene. Neither swish, nor shiny, it oozes character. As I looked around with interest, a dapper older man appeared at my shoulder with my longed-for iced tea. He flashed the toothiest of American smiles when I asked him about that Meg Ryan moment.

“She wasn’t faking it, you know”, he confided, “It was the best she ever had.”

Adding “You’re sitting exactly where she sat that day,” as he walked away.

I shot to the other end of the seat. I didn’t want to wallow in Meg’s afterglow, but I was totally taken with the idea that not only was she not faking, she’d never had better. And that my toothy friend had been instrumental. I looked around to find him amused still. I smiled back. Thank you for the story. It will make a tasty morsel for my readers to titter about, over their morning cuppa, one day. Because that’s the other thing about breakfast; when people are just waking up, their guards are down, their tongues loosened. It makes them garrulous, credulous even.

Breakfasts breed the best stories.

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