Dispatches from the South: Breakfast

One of the many advantages of living in the UK is that little bit of heaven known as the Full English Breakfast (or the Full Scottish, Irish or Welch, depending on where you are located).

I won’t try to convince you that breakfast in the UK is bigger than an American breakfast (really, what is?) or that it has more variations of choice, because that would be patently untrue. When you consider IHOP, with its myriad varieties of pancakes, or so much as glance at a menu from The Waffle House or Perkins, you realize that you can never hope for anything more than silver when competing against America in the “Free-Style Breakfast Choices, Heavyweight Division.” (Like that foreshadowing of the 2012 Olympics—expect to see more.)

What I like about the Full English, however, is its inherent variety without all the fuss. In the States I can spend fifteen minutes studying the menu before the waitress shows up for the pop quiz. Then, when she asks what I’ve decided on, I have to sneak a peek at the menu again to make sure I’ve got it right. And ordering can take a full five minutes on its own—how do I want my eggs, which of the 200 varieties of hash browns do I want, should they put whipped cream on the pancakes or just the butter, syrup and confectionary sugar?

Full English Breakfast

Full English Breakfast

In England, when the opportunity presents itself, I say, “Full English.” That’s all. For those two words I get eggs, sausage, bacon, fried bread, beans, sautéed mushrooms, fried tomato, hash browns, toast and, if I’m lucky, some blood pudding. Even if I have to specify “grilled” or “scrambled” for my eggs, that’s still at least three items per word, not to mention the time saved. I like the economy of it.

And the best thing about it is, like an American breakfast, you don’t have to worry about it being good for you—fried bread, after all, is bread soaked in fat and fried in grease—but unlike the US equivalent, it doesn’t leave you wanting to curl up in a corner and go to sleep for three weeks like a python that just swallowed a sheep. (Or maybe I’m just out of practice.)

Another thing that makes it such a treat is that it is getting harder to find. Ironically, I am writing this in a cafe—a traditional, British Cafe—and “Full English Breakfast” is nowhere on the menu board. And this is just the sort of situation that cries out for it: I am in a new town, I don’t know the area, I find a diner and I go in, looking forward to sitting down, saying, “Full English” and being joined by my welcome companion.

Instead, I spent ten minutes studying the menu board while the woman behind the counter kept asking, “May I help you?” in a Greek accent. Eventually I settled on the Number Two with bacon instead of sausage and coffee instead of tea, which isn’t particularly onerous but not as economical as my breakfast of choice.

Don’t panic, the FEB is on the endangered species list yet, but it is more and more becoming the specialty of quaint B&Bs. So, whenever it is offered, I take it.

But, sadly, not today.


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