There is nothing I love more about hotels than a room-service breakfast. It seems so wonderfully decadent to lie in bed, with a plate of French toast (or eggs and bacon; waffles; aloo parathas; medhu vadas; you can choose your own poison) balanced precariously on your pristine white sheets, a cup of coffee within easy reach, and the newspaper crinkling crisply as you turn the pages. I can’t think of a better way to start the day.
Or, indeed, to end it. Because, seeing that they are on to a good thing, some hotels have started to serve breakfast around the clock. So now, if you are so inclined, you can both start the day with a hearty breakfast and then end it with yet another slap-up breakfast. (And yes, I often do.)
Hoteliers will tell you that the round-the-clock breakfast menu is meant for jet-lagged travellers who have flown across time zones and have such screwed-up body clocks that they want the comfort eating epitomised by a good breakfast no matter what time they check in. But I know better. The truth is that they have put breakfast on the round-the-clock menu because it has such scrumptious options that it seems a shame to restrict them to just one meal of the day.
And who made up these stupid rules anyway? About how you can only eat certain things for breakfast and others for lunch and dinner? If you ask me, it makes no sense. Anything that tastes good first thing in the morning will taste just as good last thing at night. To misquote Shakespeare, a blueberry pancake would taste just as sweet if you ate it at 8am or 8pm. So, who’s to say that it is best served with your morning tea or coffee? For that matter, why can’t you have a bowl of crunchy muesli with milk for dinner rather than breakfast without being seen as a bit of an eccentric? Or even a full English fry up of eggs, baked beans, sausages, hash browns and toast?
It’s not just breakfast options, though. How about tea-time treats? Why should they only be reserved for the evening? A couple of crisp samosas or a plateful of pakoras (or bhajias or whatever you call them in your part of the world) with some spicy chutneys on the side would make for a delightful lunch or even dinner. So why do we always eat them as snacks or ‘naashta’ rather than at meal times?
Part of it, of course, is down to social conditioning. More often than not what you eat and when you eat it is a cultural thing. For instance, in Italy, salad is served at the end of the meal rather than at the beginning. So instead of stuffing yourself full of greens at the start of the meal and feeling too full to enjoy your main course, you relish your main dish, and then cleanse your palate with a salad dressed with olive oil and a dash of balsamico so that you can truly appreciate the cheese and dessert to follow.
Makes much more sense, doesn’t it? And yet, for some reason, when you eat out in India, you are always served the salad first and then the main. Result: by the time the dessert is served, you are far too sated to really enjoy it. (Now don’t be a spoilsport and say that that’s just as well; you know as well as I do that it’s the high point of the meal.)
Talking of dessert, why is it taken as a given that it will be served at the end of the meal rather than at the beginning? Why is ice-cream presented to us as a reward if we are good little children and finish our greens first? Why does chocolate cake have to wait until the cheese has been cleared to make an appearance? Yes, I know that delayed gratification is supposed to be good for you, but you are talking about chocolate cake here!
Some people have the right idea though. Some years ago, I ate at a restaurant called Ente Keralam in Chennai and was surprised to be offered a sweet as the beginning of the meal. Chef Reji Mathew explained that in his Syrian Christian community, it was usual to start a feast with a sweet rather than a savoury dish to prepare the palate for the treats to come. And I have to say that it worked like a charm.
So now, after many decades of following the dictates of food fascists, I have decided that when it comes to eating there is only one rule: that there are no rules. Or better still, that you get to make your own rules as you go along.
If you feel like having a bread and butter pudding for breakfast, go right ahead (nutritionists will tell you that this is the best time to have high-calorie sweet treats, anyway). If you fancy an almond croissant and not much else for dinner, that’s fine too. And if you want to have breakfast at all three meals of the day, dig in. Bon appetit!
From HT Brunch, July 7
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