What Breakfast Will Teach You About Locals
Don't eat breakfast at your hotel. Fight the urge to try the freshly cooked food prepared by the in-house chefs and step outside of the hotel. Not only are your taste buds going to thank you for it, your sense of travel will do so too.
Wherever you choose to travel in the world, you've probably picked a country because of the great things you've heard about the food and all of the people who live there - so what better way to learn about them both than by enjoying a local breakfast?
Breakfast is More Than Just a Meal
Most mothers will tell you that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and each one of them is more accurate than they probably realize.
Enjoying your breakfast in the best local cafés allows you to share space with locals and grants you the time needed to observe and learn about them.
For example, walk into a Spanish café at around 7:30am and over the course of the next hour you'll learn a lot about Spanish people and how their culinary traditions shape the whole day.
First and Second Breakfast in Spain
Much like the Hobbit's of J.R.R Tolkien's 'Lord of the Rings', the Spanish are equally keen to start their day off with two breakfasts, first at 7:30am and again at 10:00am; and these two split breaks are a perfect example of the multiple eating stops people take from breakfast until the last tapas at night.
At 7:30am you'll see a combination of slow moving and well-dressed elderly men and ladies shuffling into street corner cafés to search for a stable seat near the bar. They order a simple cortado coffee (an espresso topped with a dash of milk) to start their morning. On some mornings they may even order a plate of chocolate con churros if they fancy something sweet, but on most mornings they'll take a simple tostada, a slice of toasted bread topped with olive oil and fresh Spanish tomatoes.
Sitting there with maybe your own plate of churros you'll see the whole morning ritual unfold.
The old men will gently sip their coffee or nibble on piece after small piece of their toast. They'll greet the others they know who enter the door with a polite wave or a soft-toned 'Bon dia’ that's barely audible to anyone but the intended recipient.
As they sit back on their chairs or lean hard against the bar they'll flick over the morning papers and roll their eyes at the politics on the front pages, before letting out the deepest of sighs and a shake of the head when they reach the sport pages at the back.
They'll talk a little with the staff behind the bar, most likely the first person they've seen every morning for a decade or more. They moan together, laugh together, and chat a little more once the barman has finished with the morning rush of fast-sipping commuters.
The Rush of First Breakfast
At around 8am the first of the morning's commuters begins to arrive. Many are dressed in the same typical uniform of office clothes you'll find throughout the world, while others are in a simple array of clothing for the more casual jobs elsewhere.
With the wind in their sails and (probably) a bus to catch, there isn't nearly as much time for grace and the same polite conversations that are being had by the slower breakfasting people around them.
Their cortado is either sipped quickly or replaced with a simpler espresso without the milk. Some may order a quick tostada or small pastry to go alongside their coffee, but most others will sacrifice hunger for time and stick to the simple direct liquid breakfast that a coffee provides. For these time-conscious locals the second breakfast of the day is worth waiting for.
A Quick Second Spanish Breakfast
These early morning scenes will teach you so much about Spanish life and the people within it, yet there is still a second breakfast in the day to be enjoyed.
At around 10am, many offices and other workplaces permit their staff a second break of the day in which a second breakfast can be enjoyed at a slightly slower pace.
With the first of the morning meetings out of the way, most of the early morning commuters will now take the time they need fill up on the same plates of tostadas covered in the same squeezed tomatoes and Spanish olive oil, or alternatively with any number of jams, pates, or even sliced ham.
For some, the second breakfast of the day is the prime time to consume some of Spain's best pastries which are typically highly sweet and frequently stuffed with a sweet custard cream.
Watching some people devour a large slice of 'Napolitana con Crema Pastelera' in just under a minute is really something to see, but not just because of the speed, but also because it tells you that no matter how busy a day they might be having, they'll still find time to include another break.
During the second breakfast you'll learn that Spanish life isn't as slow and lethargic as people make it out to be. In fact, they have just as little time as the rest of us, yet they don't let the importance of eating and sharing a few minutes with friends in a local café or bar get forgotten about.
Learning Through Eating
Your time observing will help you to realize that the reason that Spanish people take between five and six meal breaks a day is because they value both food and the sharing of food with friends. They adore them both and most meetings between friends are full of food, drink, and sharing their stories from the day.
While observing from the corner of a café can be an eye opening experience, it's heightened even more if you're confident enough to engage people in conversation. Watching can teach you a lot, but the words and experience of another can really open your eyes about the world around you.
If, however, you're a little apprehensive about any language barriers between you, connect with a local online or arrange to meet a local tour guide at one of their favourite cafés before the tour begins. Not only will you probably see somewhere a little more off-the-path and not on TripAdvisor or in a travel guide, but you'll also have someone who'll be able to dissect the scene around you even more. Let them lead the conversation with one of the elderly men at the bar with more time on their hands, and there's plenty about the world that they'll have to tell you.
Eating breakfast away from your hotel might be more expensive, but every scene you see and every word you hear will be a lesson that's worth every penny.