Starting the day off right looks different depending on where you wake up. In some parts of the world, breakfast means hot soups or cold cuts; in others, it’s a simple pastry or porridge. Some places believe that the first meal of the day is the most important; others could do away with it altogether. Here’s what breakfast looks like in 25 different countries.
The meal: kahvalti
Kahvalti, the traditional Turkish breakfast, is Turkey’s best reason to get out of bed. The incredible spread (pictured at top) includes breads, soft, creamy cheeses, olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, spicy Turkish sausage, and a range of jams, marmalades, and honeys. Don’t miss the menemen, delicious skillet-cooked eggs, and, of course, the country’s famous tea and coffee.
Read more: In our May 2015 issue, Shahnaz Habib wrote a love letter to the traditional Turkish meal.
The meal: gallo pinto
The best way to get in the pura vida spirit in Costa Rica is to start the day with a big plate of gallo pinto. The stir-fried rice and beans dish is cooked with red pepper, cilantro, onion, and a few dashes of the country’s signature sauce, Salsa Lizano. Served next to a side of eggs, avocado, plantains, or cheese, the rounded mound of gallo pinto looks adorably similar to the spotted chicken for which it is named.
Find it: Gallo pinto is ubiquitous in the small Central American country. Any hotel, restaurant, or roadside eatry will probably have it on the menu—and it’s worth trying every version you come across.
The meal: muesli
The ideal Swiss breakfast features muesli with milk or yogurt, fresh fruit, and tea or coffee. While the classic breakfast cereal is popular the world over, it actually originated in Switzerland around 1900. The healthy, fresh, and light dish is often made of raw rolled oats that are sometimes soaked in fruit juice or water overnight, and then mixed with other grains, fresh and dried fruits, seeds, and nuts.
Make it: This healthy, wholesome meal is easy to make at home, thanks to the country’s Department of Foreign Affairs, which shared the classic recipe.
The meal: nasi lemak
Thanks to the country’s multi-ethnic influences, Malaysia boasts a range of breakfast options that can have Indian, Chinese, or Western roots, but the best way to fuel up for the day is to sit down to a plate of nasi lemak, the national dish. Traditionally served or wrapped in a banana leaf (making it a perfectly portable meal), nasi lemak consists of a mound of rich, sweet coconut rice garnished with some combination of anchovies, cucumbers, roasted peanuts, hard-boiled eggs, and a spicy Malaysian hot sauce.
Read more: Breakfast in Malaysia is certainly something to write home about, but so are all the other meals. In a feature in our May/June 2017 issue, writer Francis Lam follows San Francisco chef Azalina Eusope on a street food tour of Eusope’s home country.
The meal: coffee and fruit, muesli, or a full English breakfast
Yes, Australians like their Vegemite and bread, but it’s no longer the pride and joy of the breakfast table. These days, coffee is what makes an Australian breakfast truly memorable. The country takes a lot of pride in its coffee culture, and breakfast isn’t complete without a flat white (the Aussie version of a latte) or a long black (a richer, stronger Americano). You’ll also find plenty of fresh fruit, smoothies, healthy muesli, and as a weekend treat, maybe a mind-blowing full English breakfast.
Read more: Flat whites, long blacks, and more—it can get confusing. We put together a guide on how to order coffee in Australia and actually get what you want.
The meal: dim sum
True breakfast in China may be a simple affair, but the country mastered brunch long before any other country even dreamed of stretching breakfast into lunch. Dim sum, a staple in Chinatowns the world over, is traditionally served in the late morning and includes a variety of steamed buns, dumplings, rice noodle rolls, congees, noodle soups, sticky coated chicken, and fried veggies. Whether you go for the full restaurant dim sum experience or a quieter meal at an inn or friend’s house, expect to start your day in China with a spread of many little tastes that pack a big punch.
Find it: There are so many options for dim sum on your next trip to China that it’s dizzying. In Shanghai, try Lynn, or check out the menus at any of our favorite restaurants in that city.
Sweden, Denmark, and Norway
The meal: open-faced sandwiches
The Nordic countries are experts in the art of the open-faced breakfast sandwich. Slathered with a range of spreads, from soft cheeses to mayonnaises to jams, the breads are then loaded up with cured fish, cold cuts, cheeses, vegetables, and/or hard-boiled eggs. In Sweden expect to see filmjölk, a soured dairy product, on the breakfast table, as well as kaviar (caviar) spread, and plenty of fresh berries, like cloudberries or lingonberries. In Denmark, the sandwich foundation might be rye bread, and the Norwegian sandwich on lefse flat bread often features Gjetost cheese.
Find it: On the hunt for a traditional breakfast in one of these Nordic countries? Start with our favorite places to eat in Sweden and the best places to get smørrebrød in Denmark.
France, Spain, and Italy
The meal: coffee and a pastry or toast
Another trio of countries with similar philosophies on the first meal of the day, France, Spain, and Italy disagree with the idea that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. A morning coffee is indispensable, but additional sustenance isn’t often required. When in Paris (or Rome, or Madrid), do as the locals do and start off light—a croissant with coffee at a Parisian café, a biscotti with cappuccino in Italy, or simple toast with tomato and olive oil with café con leche in Spain. You’ll want to save room for the rich dishes awaiting you at lunch and dinner.
Read more: Just as in Australia, ordering coffee in Europe might be fraught with uncertainties. It’s not only about the order itself, but also how you imbibe. Find out more in our guide to ordering coffee correctly in Europe.
The meal: the full English breakfast
There is no morning meal as famous or intimidating as the full English breakfast. Real stick-to-your-ribs fare, a classic English breakfast includes eggs, sausage, thick-cut bacon, beans, mushrooms, toast, a cooked tomato, and perhaps blood sausage. Oh, and, of course, a cup (or pot) of tea. We guarantee it’ll keep you satisfied until lunch!
Find it: Filled with world-class restaurants, London is a city for food lovers, and it’s hard to go wrong. But if you’re daunted by your choices, consider exploring the city like a chef does.
The meal: yogurt with nuts and honey
The breakfast spread in Greece may include boiled eggs, cold cuts, pastries, and bread with feta cheese, tomatoes, and olive oil, but it’s the yogurt that’ll keep you coming back for more. Thick, rich, and creamy Greek yogurt is served with nuts and honey, which balance the tang of the yogurt and make for the perfect start to the day.
Find it: Your hotel might put on a lavish meal in the morning, but you should be able to find good yogurt just about everywhere, from five-star establishments to the humblest bed-and-breakfasts. You could even pick up the supplies at a local market and make breakfast for yourself.
The meal: traditional Japanese breakfast
A full traditional Japanese breakfast is a reason in and of itself to visit the country and features a balance of many little dishes, including miso soup, steamed white rice, pickled vegetables, fish or tofu, sticky fermented soybeans, and dried seaweed, all accompanied by green tea.
Make it: AFAR senior editor Katherine LaGrave still dreams of the shiozake, or Japanese-style salted salmon, that she had on a recent trip. She suggests a few recipes for the dish in her guide to creating a day in Tokyo at home.
The meal: chai and mandazi or uji
The best breakfast in Kenya wouldn’t be complete without a cup of strong, sweet-smelling chai. Skip the full English breakfast, which you can find everywhere here, and pair that chai instead with uji, a thick porridge made from sorghum or millet and traditionally served in a calabash, or head to a street vendor for some mandazi—puffy, golden East African doughnuts, fried while you wait.
Read more: Kenya is so much more than its safaris. On your next trip, spend some time in Nairobi. Once you’ve eaten your fill of mandazi, learn a bit more about why this haven of art and design is one of our favorite African cities.
The meal: eggs, curries, and flatbreads
Breakfast, or nāshtā, in Pakistan varies across the country, but you’ll usually find eggs and different breads like rotis or parathas (pan-fried unleavened flatbread), as well as vegetable curries and an array of chutneys and spicy sauces. On weekends and special occasions, keep an eye out for halwa puri, or unleavened fried bread, served with a sweet semolina dish and a chickpea and potato curry. You’ll know where to find the best halwa puri by the line outside.
Read more: Planning a trip for a good nāshtā can be overwhelming, but we talked to Jonny Bealby, founder and managing director of the travel company Wild Frontiers, who has been visiting the country since 1996, to create a guide to planning your first trip to Pakistan.
The meal: café con leche and medialunas
Because dinner in Argentina is eaten so late, breakfast is a rather simple affair of café con leche (coffee with milk), orange juice, and toast or croissant-like medialunas. If you’re looking to switch things up, you can swap your café con leche for maté—a locally popular, highly caffeinated tea—or your medialunas for other, sweeter Argentinian pastries known as facturas. Either way, during the morning in Argentina, less is more.
Read more: With its literary history and cadre of cozy bookstores and cafés, Buenos Aires is a book lover’s dream destination. You can open your book with your morning medialunas, then continue to hop from café to café until the city’s legendary nightlife lights up.
The meal: mohinga
Myanmar’s iconic breakfast dish, mohinga, is also the country’s national dish. The comforting soup is made with a fish broth base and loaded with rice noodles, lemongrass, ginger, onions, and chickpea flour and is sometimes topped with fried fritters, split chickpeas, or boiled eggs. While you may fall in love with your daily dose of fish soup, other breakfast options include sticky fried rice topped with boiled yellow beans and noodle salads—and you’ll always be able to find a cup of green tea.
Read more: In our October 2012 issue, writer Matt Gross explored Myanmar’s food scene, from mohinga in the morning and onward.
The meal: ful medames
The Egyptian breakfast of ful medames has withstood the test of time. Said to date back to Ancient Egypt, the earthy dish is made from fava beans stewed overnight and spiced with cumin, parsley, onion, lemon, and chili pepper. It’s served warm or cold and is often garnished with hard-boiled eggs and served with a grainy slab of Egyptian pita.
Make it: There are countless recipes for this classic dish. We like the extensive explanation that comes with this recipe from the Mediterranean Dish, by Egypt-born food blogger Suzy Karadsheh.
The meal: a big spread with fruits, breads, and hearty rice or sausage dishes
Breakfast is often the largest meal of the day in the Philippines and usually includes fruit, pan de sal (enriched yeasted rolls), and a hearty rice dish such as fried rice served with little sausages called longganisa, or some other combination of rice and meat such as tapsilog, dried meat and a fried egg served with rice.
Read more: Breakfast is just the start of what Filipino food has to offfer, like the cuisines of many of the countries listed here. Get to know a few more essential Filipino dishes you need to try thanks to chef Armando Litiatco of F.O.B. in Brooklyn.
The meal: kanapki
Breakfast in Poland, or śniadanie, features an open-faced sandwich, kanapki. Piled on top of breads and rolls of all shapes and sizes—from traditional rye bread to soft, warm, or crispy rolls—the range of sandwich fixings seems endless: cold cuts, meat spreads, kielbasa sausage, soft and hard cheeses, tomatoes, and eggs scrambled with sausage or soft boiled. But despite the variety of possibilities, breakfast is often seen as an opportunity to slow down. After all, building the perfect sandwich one level after another takes time.
Find it: More of a homestyle meal, kanapki may or may not be on the menu at your hotel. But you’ll likely come across it if you’re staying at a smaller bed-and-breakfast or even an Airbnb.
The meal: kasha, bliny, or syrniki
It’s not uncommon for people to skip breakfast in Russia or to make do with a quick cheese or sausage open-faced sandwich. But if you have a little more time to savor the morning, you might find yourself indulging in kasha, a porridge made from different grains, or other kinds of porridge made with buckwheat, oatmeal, or millet and usually cooked with milk. Weekend meals might be a little sweeter—crepe-like blini eaten with jam or sweet condensed milk or tasty syrniki, or cottage cheese dumplings.
Read more: Unfamiliar with Russian cuisine? Let Anya von Bremzen guide you through Moscow’s revolutionary food scene in a feature that appeared in our May/June 2017 issue.
The meal: arepas
Venezuelan arepas are both the national dish and the country’s most popular breakfast food. As versatile as bread is in other countries, arepas accompany most meals. For breakfast, the flat corn cakes are either fried or baked and then split open like pita and filled with cooked cheese and stewed chicken or pork.
Read more: In the October 2009 issue off AFAR, we sent Frank Viviano on a surprise trip to Venezuela, where he learned about the locals’ love of arepas.
The meal: pho
Hearty enough to fortify you through a morning of sightseeing but not so heavy that it’ll slow you down, pho, a rice noodle and meat soup, is the perfect Vietnamese breakfast. True, you can find the dish served all day, since it is a popular lunch and dinner dish for tourists, but the best pho is available in the morning at street vendors who boil just enough bone broth overnight to satisfy customers through the morning. If soup isn’t your thing, other savory Vietnamese breakfasts to try include congee, a rice porridge, and op-la, skillet-fried eggs and pork served with slices of fluffy Vietnamese baguettes.
Read more: Pho has become a very well-known Vietnamese meal, but the country has a number of noteworthy noodle dishes you might know about. In our March/April 2018 issue, David Farley explored Hanoi’s noodle stalls in search of cha ca, a tumeric fish dish, and in our May June 2012 issue, he scoured Hoi An for the mystery behind its famous ba le noodle dish.
This article originally appeared online in January 2017; it was updated on May 18, 2020, to include current information.
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Maggie Fuller Maggie Fuller is a San Francisco–based but globally oriented writer driven to provoke multicultural worldviews as a multimedia journalist. She covers sustainability, responsible travel, and outdoor adventure.