This past weekend I was craving a certain savory breakfast, one that I used to eat often as a child when I was living with my beloved grandparents in their 30th floor flat in Paris’ Chinatown. The whole family lived together, grandparents, aunts and uncle included. It was a fairly big two-bedroom apartment, with a living room overlooking Paris and an incredible view of the Eiffel Tower. From our windows, it looked as though the Eiffel Tower was standing on the roof of the nearest building, sparkling at night to say hello. I loved to look down and observe the cars riding by, like ants following each other in neat lines. But what I loved to watch most was the playground, and every day unfailingly I would ask my grandfather to take me down there and play.
My grandfather is one of those early morning types (I did not inherit those genes apparently). He would wake up around 5 or 6am, get dressed, put on his French-style beret and go for a walk around Chinatown and do his rounds. He’d stop by and say hello to people he knew, and perhaps practice some taichi in one of the nearby parks. Sometimes he’d bring back a baguette or two. And he’d have breakfast. And the whole household finally waking up would have breakfast too. It was a simple breakfast, some rice porridge accompanied by a few side dishes, pork floss, fermented tofu, pickled mustard greens, chinese olives, and sometimes an omelette with pickled radish.
This week’s TWD recipe is Irish Soda Bread, in celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day this past weekend (did you do anything fun?).
The bread gets its name from its use of, well what else, baking soda. As a researcher by day, I like to learn about the origin of different types of foods and how they evolved over time. According to this article, baking in Ireland has been influenced by two main factors. The first one being the Irish climate, which is much more temperate than other European countries and thus prevented hard wheats from growing properly. Hard wheats have high gluten content and are thus suitable for being raised with yeast. Soft wheats on the other hand do grow well in Ireland but contain less gluten than hard wheats (American all-purpose flour is a blend of hard and soft wheats). The second factor was the abundance of fuel such as firewood. This meant that every household could bake at home instead of using a communal oven.
These two factors contributed to the Irish baker using baking soda, or ‘bread soda’ in Ireland, as the main leavening agent. And traditionally this soda bread was baked in a pot (called a bastible) over the fire rather than in an oven. I also learned from this interesting interview with Irish chef Rory O’Connell that Irish soda bread in America is quite different from the one you can find in Ireland as the addition of butter and eggs, which is common in the U.S., would raise eyebrows over there.
When Dave came to visit France for New Year’s, he brought a huge bag of rice noodles (the ones similar to pho noodles rather than the opaque vermicelli) that his aunt had sent to the US all the way from Vietnam. So we decided to make one of my favorite dishes to use them up: Phnom Penh Noodle Soup! It’s a classic in Cambodia where you (I) can eat it every day for breakfast. If you’ve never tried noodle soup for breakfast you should definitely give it a go, pretty addictive if you ask me.
This soup uses a clear pork broth* as its base. We also added some grilled dried cuttlefish for extra depth and umami. We then let it simmer for a while and went out for a little walk. Well, my dad was supposed to watch the soup while we were gone, and let’s just say he got a bit too engrossed in the activity he was doing at the time (watching soccer on TV?), so by the time we got back the broth was somewhat cloudy. My dad kept apologizing saying that it was all his fault. He has very high standards for food (much pickier than I am) and knows that a clear broth is the gold standard**, so he felt genuinely sorry. Continue reading