Healthy breakfasts take different forms across the continent
Swedish cinnamon buns called kanelbullar are so popular they have their own day – October 4 (iStock)
Countless times we’ve heard about the importance of starting the day with a healthy breakfast. As you travel through Europe, you quickly see how different that first meal of the day can be, depending on where you are. From dairy-laden sweet treats to savory snacks built around local produce, a world of tastes is ready to spark your taste buds from the early hours of the morning. Why not do like the locals and find inspiration in what they consume as part of their daily routine or when looking for something special?
Crete: Staka me ayga are poached or fried eggs accompanied by staka, a buttercream mixed with flour that is commonly used as a spread, dip, or side dish. The use of goat’s milk and a specific type of cheese makes the dish difficult to breed away from its native island. It is often served with apaki, a smoked and salted pork marinated in mountain herbs.
Croatia: As in many parts of the former Yugoslavia, the Balkans and beyond, a snack for the morning and throughout the day is the burek. The phyllo dough is filled with minced meat, a salty crumbly cheese, spinach, apples or other additions, then folded into triangles or rolled into a tube and rolled up before baking for a crispy outer layer. . Bureks are widely available in bakeries at all times of the day.
Czech Republic: The favorite national pastime will often precede the creation of this dish. Mushroom pickers bring their bounty back from the forest, sauté these delicious brown mushrooms with a little onion and serve them mixed with scrambled eggs, creating the beloved Houbová smaženice s vejci. A hint of garlic and cumin finishes this savory fall favorite.
Denmark: What an American would recognize as a Dane has another name here. Wienerbrød is the umbrella term for a number of pastries made with multi-layered yeast dough containing fillings ranging from fruits and nuts to custard. The name, which translates directly to Viennese bread, is attributed to a strike by Danish bakery workers in 1850. Bakery owners asked for help from abroad, among them Austrians, whose baking traditions remained. Be sure to try a spandauer, a round dough filled with marzipan and cream or jam, glazed and topped with chopped hazelnuts.
Greece: A Thessaloniki Koulouri is a type of wheat flour bread that has been shaped into a donut and coated with sesame seeds before baking. Similar in taste and appearance to the Turkish simit, their exact origin is the subject of a dispute between the two countries. Try one in its natural state, quite dry, or cut it in the middle and spread it with butter, honey or jam.
Netherlands: The Dutch version of American French toast is Wentelteefjes, which consists of slices of day-old white bread dipped in a mixture of eggs, milk and cinnamon, then fried in butter to make it crisp. A pinch of sugar just before it hits the pan creates a pleasant layer of caramelization. Popular toppings include honey or powdered sugar.
North Germany: North Sea crab and scrambled eggs are a dish that is likely to pop up during a leisurely brunch on one of Germany’s North Sea islands or in the port city of Hamburg. Technically not crab at all but rather a small brownish shrimp, sautéed in butter, it acquires the slightly nutty taste so essential to the distinct taste of the dish. Krabben mit Rührei is traditionally served with buttered black bread.
Scotland: In coastal towns, the day can start with a tangy plate of fish. Herrings are a type of butterfly herring along the dorsal ridge, smoked and served with oatcakes. Along the east coast one could serve Arbroath smokies, dried and salted haddock placed in a burlap sack and smoked in a barrel overnight.
Sicily: This is the rare place where breakfast can be served in frozen form. A granita is the Sicilian version of a slip, ice cream flavored with lemon, berries, almonds or coffee and continuously scraped while freezing to obtain its finely granulated texture. A specialty of local flavor is that of gelsi, or blackberry. A brioche tuppo collar is a soft, sweet bun that gets its name from the fact that its top looks like a little hat. Cut in half and stuffed with ice cream, it’s not uncommon as a snack, even in the early hours of the day.
Spain: Nationwide, a popular choice is a generous slice of tortilla. It doesn’t look anything like the Mexican version but rather a robust omelet filled with onions, potatoes and other ingredients. A common accompaniment is the pan con tomate, a slice of bread rubbed with garlic and a mashed ripe tomato. Salt and extra virgin olive oil are the crowning glory of this simple sandwich.
Sweden: Breakfast in Stockholm is soft and sweet when a kanelbullar touches the plate. Unlike the American version of cinnamon buns, these little sisters are twisted into knots and sprinkled with a crunchy textured sugar; notes of cardamom add just the right note. They are a common part of the beloved fika tradition in Sweden, a coffee break shared with friends. These delicious buns are so popular in their homeland that they even have their own day: October 4th is celebrated as Kanelbullans Dag.