The first meal of the day seems like a metaphor for Brexit with Brits sticking to familiar good while other nationalities seem happy to experiment, writes Stephen Jardine.
In a single generation, it is remarkable how our eating tastes have changed.
At dinner, we are now as likely to sit down to curry, pasta or stir fry as we are to good old-fashioned mince and tatties. Lunchtime choices have also changed with sushi and Mexican wraps pushing out the time-served cheese and pickle sandwich.
But one mealtime remains obstinate to change and thank goodness for that. Breakfast is my favourite meal of the day and when it comes to the first thing we eat after waking, it seems we are creatures of habit.
Brunch may offer endless variations on avocado, frittata or waffles but that is different. As Theresa May might say, Breakfast means Breakfast.
That was put to the test for me last week in a hotel in a far-flung corner of the world where breakfast was served buffet style. To cope with the demands of tourists from dozens of countries, the choices was endless and baffling. But more than that, it was unsettling.
Growing up, I remember recoiling from the cheese and cold meats so loved by the rest of Europe at breakfast but this went way beyond that. Alongside biryanis and cassava, there was octopus and even salads. I felt like a Victorian explorer navigating a passage through the world of food. I’m more adventurous than most people when it comes to eating but never, ever at breakfast time.
At that time of day, we are at our most timid. As creatures of habit we want food that is quick and familiar served up with lots of tea or coffee.
Breakfast is also one of our most solitary meals. At lunch or dinner, we are happy to socialise but waking up to face the day ahead is hard enough without eating and conversation. Add in negotiating a buffet behind some bloke who appears to have never toasted bread before and you have a recipe for a bad start to the day.
Although to be fair, I have yet to encounter a hotel breakfast buffet toaster that doesn’t either incinerate or alternatively fail to even vaguely heat a slice of bread. And we can all have our moments.
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In a hotel in Denmark last year, I attempted to us the waffle-making machine at breakfast without realising the need to apply a light mist of spray oil before applying the batter.
It was impressive to see how quickly the Copenhagen fire department respond to a fire alarm and standing outside in the cold while they went about their duties, I made a mental note never to eat waffles again.
When it comes to Brexit, we just don’t mix well. So maybe there is a reason so many political commentators confuse Brexit and breakfast in conversation? We’re told Brexit will be our opportunity to reach out and embrace the rest of the world. However, looking around the breakfast room, every nationality present seemed happy to have the opportunity to experience different tastes, except us.
While the Japanese tucked into the Leberwurst and the Germans sampled the miso soup, the Brits circled the buffet looking for something reassuring and familiar. If breakfast is a metaphor for Brexit, we need to decide what we want and develop less narrow and more tolerant tastes.