In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Willie Wonka says that breakfast cereal is “made of all those little curly wooden shavings you find in pencil sharpeners!”
Wonka probably wasn’t a fully paid up member of the breakfast gang – after all, he had a vested interest in children with rumbly tummies by 11am, ready for gobstoppers and chocolate bars.
Given I’m a breakfast-every-day person, I’ve probably eaten more of them than some people do in their entire lives. Breakfast like a king, goes the saying, and it’s one I adhere to. Wonka had obviously never had a mean English muffin with marmalade and President butter.
Travelling, there are good breakfasts and bad breakfasts. Family friends on holiday in Dubai once spent $100 on a cafe breakfast because they weren’t too impressed by the hotel’s offering. I’m hoping that was quite a good meal – but for that price, I’d be expecting muesli laced with gold.
Then there was my dad’s Japanese tasting menu experience in a swanky Osaka hotel. All very swish – but I’m not sure raw fish and rice are what I’d plump for at 8am.
For me, the worst breakfast by far was New York, where the chain hotel school had booked us into handed out limp white squares of something that paraded as bread, only that tasted actually sugary. There was more sugar in the doughnuts, muffins and jam that came with them. By 9am, our lot was so overdosed on a glucose high we could have run to the top of the Empire State Building, before crashing in a sugar coma on the 101st floor.
Then there was the hostel in Barcelona, with the lopped-off bits of dodgy cheap baguette from the previous night’s supper. We made alternative arrangements. I risked the hostel’s communal fridge to shelter corner-shop yoghurts from the 40 degree heat.
In Paris, the Hotel du Petit Moulin put on a splendid range of viennoiseries, and fruit (mum was paying that time). That wasn’t bad, but even then, the croissants didn’t match those you’d get for a fifth of the price in a boulangerie two seconds out the door.
The best breakfast I have ever had – and it was free to boot – was in the Schlossherberge Youth Hostel just outside Vienna. When my friends and I arrived, we got very excited – visitors are greeted with a sweeping drive and an enormous mansion. One soon finds out that the actual youth hostel is a simple white brick building at the back. Not horrible, but a bit disappointing in comparison with the pillars and pomp of the other place.
But, oh, that breakfast. You came down in the morning to be greeted by an absolute feast. Never have I seen so many kinds of wholegrain carbohydrate in one place: jumbo oats, fine milled oats, spelt, barley, muesli galore… it was a slow-release energy heaven. Then there were the ladles of delicious plain yogurt, the nutty pumpernickel bread, the platters of salty ham and cheese and pillowy white rolls. To add to that were slices of watermelon, crunchy apples and enough orange juice (alas, I can’t remember if it was not-from-concentrate) for a decent bath.
It was like a breakfast factory – a pick ‘n’ mix where you could put together all the best bits of every start of the day meal you’ve ever had, on one enormous plate.
All the better for starting a day of wandering round Vienna, looking like a very overheated and slightly lost tourist, unable to say anything more than “Where is…museum?” in dodgy German.
Mr Wonka – I’m sorry, but you got it wrong on breakfast cereals, when done Austrian-style.