A steaming, fragrant bowl of pho on the rooftop of a fancy Ho Chi Minh hotel takes me back to my 30th birthday celebrations and a week of eating and meandering.
I had wanted to get away and treat myself to a (short) stay in a resort. The first stop was Rex Hotel, which served an intoxicating buffet of tropical fruit and pho cooked fresh on the top floor balcony, the sounds of the street below adding to the atmosphere.
It’s memories of breakfasts like these that pop up for me more often than some fancy dinner I might have had during my travels. Perhaps because breakfast comes with a more distinctive experience than sitting in another packed restaurant drinking overpriced cocktails.
Forget Michelin-star restaurants for dinners where you have to book months in advance or jostle with everyone else to get a seat in the piazza for overpriced Italian.
I think breakfast is the highlight meal when traveling – it’s cheaper, easier to get, and you can still get some great local food.
Or maybe it’s just because breakfast is my favourite meal.
The perfect time of day
When traveling you eat breakfast in a more leisurely way (unless you’re racing off to grab a sun lounge on the beach). You’ve got time to sit, look over the water and slowly wake up with your third espresso.
Breakfast is much more civilized – you’re not drained from a big day, hot and sunburnt, and four wines in. You’ve got the whole day ahead of you. And there’s something about the early morning hours that makes people more relaxed and friendly.
Breakfast can easily lapse into brunch or lunch territory, especially if you’re saving money and going for two meals a day instead. A plate of crepes, or a picnic gathered from the local market – bread, cheese, fruit, pastries while you lazily people-watch and soak up your surroundings.
With Australians spending an average of $5,000 for a holiday, forking out less for meals might also be a necessity. But instead of depriving yourself of a meal out each day, just change the time of it and automatically save.
You can’t go past a biscotti or pastry with a coffee for a few euros in many European cities, picked up at the local bakery or cafe and enjoyed in-house, the smells of soft warm pastry and sweetness all around you.
Or a bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon will fuel a day exploring New York’s five boroughs.
And don’t discount hotel or hostel breakfasts either — there’s nothing more satisfying than filling up on cheese, salami, and bread in Geneva, or olives, cucumber, eggs and cheese in Turkey all-inclusive.
A truly local experience
We might not think of breakfast as having much variety – we are so used to toast, cereal or maybe stretching to a green smoothie. Many countries have unique breakfast dishes that you won’t find anywhere else.
Instead of heading to a restaurant to check out the local fare, there’s no reason why you can’t get the same taste of what a country has to offer from a humble breakfast dish.
In Bali, it could be nasi goreng, and a platter of dragon fruit, pineapple and star fruit.
Or a plate of huevos rancheros in Mexico — a dish of eggs served with beans, tortillas, and salsa. Or try the breakfast taco (yes, there are dedicated ones for each meal) with ground mince and white beans.
Grabbing something from a local street vendor while having a leisurely stroll through city streets can be wonderfully satisfying. Spicy lamb wrapped in soft warm bread in Istanbul or freshly baked Koulouri in Greece.
It was in a far less tropical environment where I had another memorable breakfast. My friends and I had been looking forward all week to a breakfast we’d seen advertised at the local diner in a slightly seedy part of downtown Toronto.
We really wanted to end our visit by overeating in true North American style, spending $10 each for plates piled high with bacon, eggs, hash browns, and pancakes which had to be brought out on separate plates.
It was deliciously over the top and I can still remember that breakfast nearly 10 years on.
So next time you’re planning a trip, make sure to prioritise breakfast. As the saying goes,
‘Breakfast like a king; lunch like a prince; dinner like a pauper”.