Overland miles: 3386 Tacocount: 53 Days without Tea: 1
At the beginning of this trip, Prawns for Breakfast set itself the appropriate challenge of covering all the known Mexican desayunos (breakfasts) for your gastronomic pleasure. Following parts one and two, we round up our little guide to possibly one of the world’s most varied breakfast menus, with pastries, hotcakes and omelettes. Let’s get ordering!
One of the simplest and most pleasurable ways to break your fast in Mexico is at your local panaderia (bakery). You will be greeted by a jaw-droppingly wide range of freshly baked choices lining the walls of these huge, sugar-scented palaces of joy. Gird your loins and choose your weapons: a frankly outsized steel platter and tongs. Every local customer we met in these bakeries were intent on loading the whole plate with a vertiginous pile of sweet rolls, glazed buns, cream pastries and bizcocho cookies from the selections on offer. Large stainless steel trays of replacements were swiftly being slotted into free spaces on the endless racks of delicious temptation.
We encountered such a scene in La Vasconia, on Avenida Independencia in Oaxaca. It was a lovely little bakery-cum-courtyard cafe run by a friendly septuagenarian Señora, helped out by her bored daughter and grandchildren. What to choose? We decided to try a fruit tart in the classic French style, and teamed it with a traditional Mexican jam-filled pastry (in this case, blackberry). We’d heard that a common breakfast drink in Oaxaca is hot chocolate, so as they had it on the menu, we decided to road test it here. It took an eon to prepare, during which we watched the grandson washing down the olive green store pillars in the seating area, and finally the grandmother tottered over with our selection:
The pastry looked pretty and smelt divine, but when bitten into was nothing to drool unashamedly about. It was flaky in a slightly cloying way, and the jam – whilst tart and sweet – didn’t know how to compete. But the blackberry flavour was a nice change from the usual options of strawberry, or (if you’re lucky) apricot. The real star of the show though was the chocolate. Perhaps because of the time it has taken to prepare it wasn’t as hot as I’d have liked it – chocolate rarely is – but the taste was stunning and intense. The coaco was of an exceptional quality, matching Viennese chocolate on richness and depth alone. But what really set it on its own was the addition of an unmistakably Oaxacan blend of spices, including nutmeg and cinnamon. It was like diving into a pool of mulled wine, and floating on a inflatable bed of Green & Blacks. We were hooked.
Far out on the other end of the breakfast galaxy swirls a succulent astral complex known as the Hotcakes Way. Now I’ll admit that hotcakes are the least ‘authentic’ Mexican breakfast going: it’s not as though people are putting Pastelitos Calientes on their menu, and grizzled rancheros are hitching up their caballos to tuck in. No sir, this is good ol’ imported down-home American fare, but hotcakes have really made a name for themselves in all the places in Mexico that US holiday-makers, Aussie surfers or European backpackers have wandered into – and that’s a fair few. We ordered them in all their many forms, always accompanied by the Mexican equivalent of maple syrup made with (what else?) a fructose-enhanced maize derivative. Here’s my absolute favourite version, which you can order after catching a few early morning waves, at Dan’s Deluxe just off the mighty Zicatela beach in Puerto Escondido:
I think these fluffy pillows of sweetness (three of them) speak for themselves. But what a way to get your vit-fix! To the right was an awesome pile of tropical fruit, layered with yoghurt and granola and including, but not limited to: honeydew melon, kiwi, strawberry, grape, banana and papaya. It was, and I don’t use the term lightly, a breakfast of epic proportions. I just wish I that I was able to surf, so I could appreciate them even more.
Last but not least, a return to the classics, with a cheese and ham omelette I ordered at a cafe on the morning we arrived in San Cristobal de Las Casas, in the southernmost state of Chiapas. We had just got off a ten hour night bus from Puerto, so we were dragging ourselves around this beautifully ramshackle town, wandering like drooling zombies through cobbled streets lined with single story shops painted in a kaleidoscope of pastel hues. I needed good strong cups of cafe negro – two of them, and something with eggs and lots of butter. This is what I got:
The pancakey omelette was just what I needed that morning, with a light and almost creamy flavour oozing from the slices of ham and cheese it enveloped. And the frijoles were more mashed than in other parts of Mexico, with a deeper and nuttier taste. But I really wanted to include this dish because of the revelatory addition of plantain (up front). It delivered an instant juicy hit; a robust but delicate counterpoint to the hearty eggs and rustic beans, melting perfectly into the smorgasbord of other ingredients on the plate. And luckily, it’s remained an essential addition to our morning meals ever since. We also wanted to highlight this breakfast because our neighbours in the tiny four-table establishment were three friends of the waitress, who had embarked on a full-on Mexican drinking session – at least 20 bottles of beer consumed at our count – at 11.30 in the morning. They were getting out two massive bottles of tequila and Barcardi as we were finishing off our refills of coffee.
And I never got to try my red enchiladas after all…