Good afternoon all! I seem to be punctuating the sterling work coming from Ellie’s home kitchen with fleeting tales of foreign jaunts and meals away from home – how did that happen?! Better pack up my flip flops, pull on a jumper and get back to my newly renovated kitchen for my next post where I have a fine crumble to share: perfect for this dreary old weather. But for now it’s off to Portugal where Alfred and I flew last week for one last drop of precious sunshine with some girlfriends before hibernating with pulses and root vegetables.
The quiet town of Baleal, an hour north of Lisbon, is where tourists flock to surf rather than eat. However, in every new place there are culinary gems to be found, breakfast being the highlight. Us Brits don’t tend to do it very well, do we? A bowl of soggy cereal or a sad slice of toast wolfed down before the commute; a scalding coffee and rock hard pastry from a coffee shop near the office or a greasy mess of pork fat and beans to lubricate a hangover at the weekend tend to be our staples. The first meal of the day and, as all mums will tell you, the most important, is not one we care to linger over – we’re far too busy for that! In Baleal, however, like in most of Europe, breakfast is an essential and sociable start to the day.
On our first morning, the effects of another broken night’s sleep and early start with Alfred were eased with strong coffee and a freshly baked pastel de nata with the local fishermen – its crunchy layers of wafer thin pastry giving way to a custard filling so rich it made the roof of my mouth tingle. I’m resisting the urge to pop down to Atlantic Road for another, although everything tastes better with sand between the toes. The next morning we made our way to the local bakery for more coffee and bollos – freshly baked bread rolls, still warm and perfectly soft, filled with butter and cheese. Quite a beige old breakfast but perfectly executed, deeply satisfying and wonderfully simple, enjoyed amongst families and locals chatting between tables, reading the paper or watching rolling news on a tiny TV in the corner. No one was clock-watching or ordering their breakfast to go, but taking their time to kick the day off slowly and surely.
The bakery in Baleal, much like the roadside cafés in Paris and tabacarias in Italy, is the social hub of the town, where most days start with familiar faces, strong coffees and unrefined carbohydrates. London is bereft of such soulful, community-lead places, which perhaps goes towards explaining our hurried and isolated breakfast rituals. We are lucky in Brixton to have Rosie’s Deli Cafe and Federation Coffee provide personal places to sit and wake up, but most of London is overrun with the same coffee shop chains churning out oversized paper cups of boiling milky slurry for the wrong side of two pounds (a collective sigh was heard when a new branch of a certain coffee multinational opened next to Brixton station recently). Perhaps we should all set our alarms an hour earlier and attempt a slow breakfast in good company once in a while? As someone said to me in Baleal, “why wear a watch? What’s the hurry?”.