Breakfasts of Champions around the world - Part 3
My quest to discover if breakfast really is the most important meal of the day continues, based on often unhealthy yet usually delicious choices. In part three of our voyage of discovery we'll dine on unpronounceable breads in Marrakech, have a chocolatey start in the heart of the Argentinian winelands, sip vanilla tea and nibble gateaux piments on the streets of the Mauritian capital, and live our Wes Anderson dreams in an impossibly chic café in Milan. I can feel myself developing more of an appreciation for the first meal of the day as the quest continues.
Riad Jardin Secret, Marrakech, Morocco
Normally around this time of year, I would be in Marrakech for work at the always brilliant Pure Life Experiences event, meeting the most interesting people from the world of travel, making new friends from far and wide, chatting and laughing until the wee hours, and over-indulging my never-ending kaftan obsession. But alas, not this year. Instead I will reminisce about the beautiful breakfast I had a couple of years ago during my stay at Riad Jardin Secret, a dreamy little guest house on the edge of the Medina with a cosy plant-filled courtyard and the most exquisite wall mosaics and plaster carvings. Riads can be hit or miss - I've stayed in one where the bedroom didn't come with a key because, as the owner told me, "we don't need keys" (I begged to differ), and you may want to pack a pair of earplugs as, depending on their location and your fellow residents, they can be on the noisy side. Everything about Riad Jardin Secret was a delight, but breakfast on the pink roof terrace was a way of starting the day with a moment of pure perfection (this being Marrakech, the day starts with perfection and just carries on getting perfecter and perfecter - yes, I adore this city). The air was still fresh, the bottle-green tiles of the palace roofs shone in the early morning sun, and we sat there surrounded by palms and succulents and cacti. It's enough to make even the latest of risers bound out of bed. We dined on m'semmen, beghrir and khobz, all of the Moroccan breads I've become familiar with even though I never have a clue which is which. But it honestly doesn't matter. The table is set beautifully, with olive sprigs tied around the cutlery and fruit photogenically arranged on green glazed plates, everything is freshly made, the coffee is hot and strong, and as the Medina starts to wake up around you, you're left with a happily full belly and a heart full of anticipation for yet another special day in the Red City.
Bianco Y Nero, Chacras de Coria, Argentina
Chacras de Coria is in the heart of the Argentinian winelands, but 9am is a little too early even for me to start on the Malbec. It's a small town outside Mendoza, with the most wonderfully ebullient tourist information clerk I've ever met in my entire life. She scribbled a map for us with directions to wineries, bodegas, cafés, the church, all with great flourishes of humour and pride, and we couldn't bring ourselves to tell her we'd only stopped by to find out where the best place for lunch was - outside of her town, as Chacras de Coria was merely a pit stop for coffee. So we dutifully took her hand-drawn map and went off in search of breakfast. And since Argentina must be the only place on earth where it's perfectly acceptable to consume an entire chocolate bar melted in hot milk as the "most important meal of the day", it seemed only right to indulge at the little Bianco Y Nero café. Known locally as a submarino, you drop the chocolate into the hot milk, watch as it takes a submarine-like journey into the depths of your glass, stir briskly until it's completely melted, and there you have it - the perfect way to start the day. You can see that this brought a huge amount of happiness to my Dad, who was delighted at the fact that this is considered to be a legitimate breakfast choice here. If you're still craving more sweetness, try pairing it with a medialuna, or "half moon", named after its crescent shape, a soft, doughy pastry somewhere between a sweet bread roll and a croissant. You'll find them everywhere, and they make the perfect sponge to soak up the chocolatey milk from your submarino.
Tea Shop, Port Louis, Mauritius
Mauritius is a place that charmed me from the very first moment. I was struck by its extraordinary natural beauty, the easygoing friendliness of the Mauritian people, and the multiculturalism that is at the root of the fantastic food you can find across the island. The Mauritian capital, Port Louis, really packs a punch for its petite size, with shop houses selling Indian spices, warehouses stacked full of bags of locally grown sugar, and Chinese bakeries frying up sesame-coated glutinous rice balls, always a favourite of mine when I lived in Hong Kong. And that's just the beginning - when you reach the market you'll discover stalls selling curries with buttery roti, peanuts roasted in sand, and sour guava served with chilli, all eaten on the go or carried away in the wonderful sustainable shopping bags that Mauritians use - you'll never see a single-use plastic carrier bag here. Port Louis' street names are a Who's Who of historical figures, with Dr. Sun Yat Sen Street lying parallel to Emmanuel Anquetil Street, the former named after the first President of the Republic of China and the latter after a Mauritian trade unionist. Wander a little further and you'll come across Peace Street, Bourbon Street and the delightfully named High Tea Road. And this brings us to my favourite breakfast in Mauritius. Just around the corner from the beautiful Jummah Mosque, designed with Indian, Creole and Islamic architectural influences, is a tiny hole-in-the-wall tea shop where you can get the perfect cup of tea for pennies. Tea is big in Mauritius - take a drive around the island and you'll see tea plantations carpeting the mountains, and it's worth stopping in for a tour and tasting. In Mauritius they drink their tea with milk, and also sometimes with vanilla, which gives a delicate natural sweetness to the brew. Pair it with some local fish samosas or some gateaux piments, small deep-fried crispy "chilli cakes", and you have the makings of a perfect on-the-go breakfast. Best eaten piping hot, out of a paper bag, on the side of the street.
Marchesi1824, Milan, Italy
I used to travel to Milan once or twice a year for work, and every time I did I would be up with the lark, rain or shine, to walk to the almost impossibly stylish Marchesi 1824 café. This being Milan, you're always bound to meet impossibly stylish people too. The fact that it's now owned by Prada cements its style credentials even further. You can take a seat in one of the green velvet chairs for a languid day of coffee-sipping and people-watching, or do as the Milanese do on their morning commute - stand at the counter for a quick cappuccino and a pastry (insider tip - you'll also save yourself a couple of Euros by forgoing the comforts of an armchair). With its colour palate ranging from moss to obsidian all the way to 1970s bathroom avocado, complemented by pretty pastel-shade packages of cakes and sweets arranged in flawless symmetry in back-lit vitrines, it's about as Wes Anderson-esque as it's possible to be. Apart from the fact that he didn't actually design it, and instead designed another café in town, Bar Luce in the Fondazione Prada. I suspect there may have been a couple of nods to each other's designs, and while it may bear all the hallmarks of a Wes Anderson movie, Marchesi's interiors are by Italian interior designer Roberto Baciocchi. Not that it matters a jot when you're sipping your morning cappuccino and appreciating the beauty around you, but make sure you don't commit the ultimate tourist faux-pas by ordering one after noon. Cappuccinos are only to be drunk in the morning in Italy, and you don't want those uber-stylish Milanese to roll their eyes at you.