Here in Brooklyn, there’s a popular Australian coffee shop that does a brisk brunch business catering to folks who seem to come more for the fashionable crowd than for the coffee (which is excellent, though perhaps not as good as that at another Australian-owned spot a few blocks east). Now, it’s a bit of a misnomer to call this cafe’s food offerings a proper brunch, as the menu mainly consists of “toasties,” a quaint-sounding (and quaintly sized) open-faced sandwich. For two dollars extra, one can add a dollop of chunky guacamole to the toast; an additional dollar fifty buys a poached egg, which sits jauntily and wobbly atop the avocado. It’s an almost ridiculously simple concept, and in that sense brilliant from a business perspective: a toastie with avocado and an egg plus coffee can run well over $10, plus tip.
Excellent coffee aside, this is an experience that can be easily replicated in the comfort of one’s own home. Aside from provisioning the right ingredients – fresh bread, ripe avocados, and interesting seasonings – there is almost no labor involved in the creation of an avocado toast. But what, exactly, comprises a good avocado toast? Or better yet, what is the ideal?
Growing up, there was nothing I loved more for breakfast than a bowl of sugary, crunchy cereal drenched in cold milk. It wasn’t only the sweet taste and colorful cartoon characters that entranced me; I also loved the ritual involved: unhinging the cardboard flap, rustling the plastic bag, hearing the tinkle tinkle of wheat flakes and puffed rice tumbling into the bowl, poring over the product-specific recipes printed on the side of the box. Ultimately, it was the process I loved, not the product.
As you might expect, my taste for cereal has since diminished, but there’s still part of me that craves breakfast food served in a bowl. In Japan, the answer to such a craving would almost certainly be ochazuke, an incredibly simple dish of hot tea over rice with a sprinkling of savory garnishes.
Steven and I dropped in at Chez Momo this weekend for a bite of breakfast. We don’t do this often, but we should. After all, six hundred yen is a small price to pay for scones this fluffy, coffee this rich. And then, of course, there’s the jam.
When I first moved to Japan, I initially struggled with what to eat for breakfast. Having visited once before on vacation, I knew of the elaborate multi-plate breakfasts served at ryokan, but I had no clue what the average person fueled herself with every morning.
Wandering down the aisles of a Japanese grocery store for the first time, I realized my choices would be limited if I wanted to eat familiar foods first thing in the morning. Cereals and the like were few and far between, not to mention woefully expensive. At the time, the choice seemed obvious: toast! Most stores carried several varieties of super-soft, thickly sliced white bread along with a variety of jams, spreads, and flavored “creams.”
Yet it soon became apparent that this option was simply not satisfying – it was January in the Japanese alps, and I craved something warm, something to soothe the ache of being far from home. Oatmeal was, to the best of my knowledge, unattainable, so I bought the next best thing. Thus began the winter of barley and bananas. Let me spare you the details. It was bleak.