And what do you take as your first meal of the day? A continental breakfast or a full-English? Or perhaps something hipster-style like parsley-and-avocado smoothie, orange chia jelly or cashews creamed with coconut milk? 🙂
Truthful to the most famous gastrosophic conclusion of the 19th-century – Der Mensch ist was er isst (Man is what he eats), belonging to German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach, your breakfast choice would to an extent define you by revealing some of your values and attitudes – to food and to yourself, among others.
However, whether you choose to have breakfast or opt for enjoying the luxury of going without, remember that the mere possibility of such a choice is a cultural and (national as well as personal) wealth-related attainment that is less than a century old. At least in Bulgaria.
While all of the options listed at the beginning of the post are available and widely enjoyed in my country today, the time when our breakfast menu was far more moderate – or non-existent at all – is very much in the living memory of middle-aged Bulgarians, my parents included.
Although my country does not have a typical national breakfast known by a certain name, older generations of Bulgarians had developed a notion of what typical breakfast foods are. Based on the (agri)cultural specifics of our land, these were mostly centred on the following holy trinity of ingredients: flour, milk/cheese and eggs.
So the mekitsi…:) My Mom tells me this is the most typical breakfast she remembers from her childhood. My grandparents had wheat fields, hence the flour; and reared sheep from which they obtained milk and cheese.
Still according to my Mom, another typical breakfast of the past, which has fallen out of grace today is the popara, a sop of bread and milk; or of bread, cheese, sugar and water; or of kozunak (the Easter bread), milk and ridiculous amounts of sugar. 🙂 In her Wallachian village, the latter was served to children as a special treat around Easter and in the summer, on the holiday of the village’s patron saint.
In the same time, both my Mom and Dad tell me, the mekitsi were a novelty that appeared during their childhood, so in the 1960s. According to them, my both pairs of grand- and great grand-parents used to breakfast on cornmeal boiled with water, of varying density and with or without butter, according to availability. So something like the Italian polenta, in Bulgarian called katchamak, or mamaliga, afterthe Romanian word that has penetrated the parlance of the Wallachian village :).
As proof that the notion of breakfast foods appeared in Bulgaria around the middle of the 20th century, I can show you a very quaint cookbook of 1870, which was actually Bulgaria’s first, authored by poet and bonvivant Petko Slaveykov (1827-1895).
Various books on the history of Sofia and related topics tell me that in the first half of the 20th century, people typically breakfasted on stale bread and cheese or onions, depending on availability and whether it was Lent or not. An option my parents remember is bread slices with pork lard spread on top and sprinkled either with powdered sugar or with sharena salt. 🙂
Funnily, the existence of this bread-and-lard breakfast has at one time also been supported by Bulgarian prime minister Boyko Borissov, who, in an obvious PR effort, chose to share with the general public the breakfast menu of his childhood.
Another breakfast option, popular both today and in the past mostly as street food, is the gevrek, a round piece of boiled leavened dough, which is delicious, but quite hard to chew.
While I was in Vratsa, a town in north-western Bulgaria, I came across a very funny warning a central street bakery had chosen to issue:
After the 1960s, bread, butter and jam or honey were becoming increasingly popular at breakfast. Also after the 1960s, meaning after the communist regime had published several of its highly educational cook books, had cakes, sweet breads and other dough-and batter- based foods become more widely adopted among the Bulgarian peasantry as breakfast or special-occasion foods, depending on the richness of their ingredients.
For example, a cookbook on the nutrition of children aged between 3 and 6, published in 1983, recommends that breakfast be offered at between 08.10 and 08.40 AM, which obviously presumes the child gets up at 8, washes and hits the table at 08.10 sharp :))
The suggested foods include milk and milk products, butter, honey, jams, rosehip tea and dough foods with a cheese/egg or meat filling.
Book What to cook when Mommy’s Away, which I presented here, lists the following as recommended breakfast menu for the family: a warm drink (tea, milk or melange), honey, jam or marmelade, butter, cured meats, cheese, boiled eggs, tomatoes, fruit juices, nectars, bread, dough-based foods and sandwiches, among others!…
Breakfast and lunch, if you have both, are 4-5 hours apart for God’s sake! One would surely survive on a much smaller ration. But anyway, that was the regime wanting to show off abundance, at least on paper. 🙂
It may be that my family were commoner folks than the average people these books addressed, because I have never had neither such an overflowing table nor tomatoes and boiled eggs at breakfast until I started watching my weight as a teen. Before that I used to simply have a slice or two of bread with butter and jam or honey, or a cheese sandwich with no drink, as I didn’t like drinking while eating.
I have always wondered whoever ate all the food that these books listed at breakfast. And whoever laid a special table for breakfast too, as my family, just like everybody I knew, had our meals in the kitchen, where the table was never completely free of non-breakfast related things.
To complicate matters further, I compared my family’s breakfast foods and ways to what I encountered in popular children’s books at the time and wondered even more.
As you see, breakfast as a meal has developed by leaps and bounds in Bulgaria over the past 150 years.
While the idea of breakfast, with its mood, tastes, smells and the tinkling of dishes and cutlery, has always inspired and uplifted me, I have found that breakfasting on the above carb-rich foods makes me feel unhappy and guilty once their gorgeous taste and the sugar rush have subsided.
So, as I have already shared, these days I have decided to go without, in an effort to savour more fully the next meal of the day – lunch. I have enough strength to resist mekitsi and, deep down, I have vowed to never have them blunt the epic taste of these:
A final suggestion – regardless of what and when you’re putting at your table – don’t forget to also put on form-fitting clothes, nice cutlery and flowers, as these have been empirically proven as hugely effective weapons against pigging out. Man is what (and how) he eats after all, remember? 🙂