In a different universe many years in the past, at some indeterminate point on a Saturday morning my mum would knock on my bedroom door and enter with a fried egg between two bits of bread also fried, in lard flavoured by bacon – this was the West of Scotland. It would be laid on the floor from which point there would be a race between me rousing myself, after a night of drinking cider laced with vinegar fleas at the Paddleboat disco and dancing badly and unironically to the Village People, and my Old English Sheepdog gaining access to the room (easily done as he was big enough to reach the handle without trying) to scoff the fried egg sandwich before I did. Usually he beat me to it. On the occasions I won I relished that greasy, runny egg hangover cure. Whether it did actually make me feel better is debatable.
It’s a funny thing about eggs as a potential hangover cure. A fried egg buttie is preferable to drinking raw egg, but maybe more sophisticated and healthier is eggs Benedict. As the classic origins story goes, this was a hangover cure (poached eggs and bacon on an English muffin, topped with hollandaise sauce) created by flamboyant stockbroker Lemuel Benedict at New York’s Waldorf Hotel in 1849.
It took us a long time to get round to trying eggs Benedict but when we finally did, at a luxury hotel on Tenerife, we realised why the maître d’hôtel at the Waldorf had instantly added the dish to the hotel’s menu. It’s a classy way of having a runny egg hit, the sort of dish James Bond would order for breakfast.
I stopped eating fried eggs regularly a long time ago but every so often I’ll accidentally order them. “How can you accidentally order fried eggs?” I hear you ask accusingly. The simple answer is easily when you order from a menu in a language you don’t know, and which features dishes you’re unfamiliar with. In fact it’s easily done even when you know a language reasonably well.
Egg and chips in Spain
I went through a phase of regularly ordering egg and chips in the Canary Islands until I got wise to the fact that if I didn’t know what a dish on a menu was, the chances are it would be egg and chips. Huevos rotos sounds pretty obvious but can vary from place to place, sometimes appearing as fried egg and chips with either cured ham or chorizo. It can also appear as huevos estrellados or heuvos al estampido. It’s even turned up on my plate under some other guise. Every time I’m disappointed when I realise I’ve ordered egg and chips again… and then I thoroughly enjoy it. It’s an ideal brunch dish, especially when you fancy something familiar and also want to ‘go local’.
Pizza with fried egg
Recently Andy ate a Florentine pizza in a pizzeria in Portugal whose centrepiece was an upside down tree hanging from the ceiling. It was an excellent pizza, the yolk of the fried egg still runny but with a more solid base so it didn’t make the pizza too soggy when she let the yellow goodness run free. I’ve read Florentine pizza is supposed to be a breakfast pizza but I’ve yet to find any Italian sources which confirm this, plus it traditionally has spinach leaves as an ingredient. I like spinach and eat it a lot, but not for breakfast. We’ve eaten a spinach-free pizza and egg in Saint-Florent, Corsica, where it was ‘sold’ to us as a typical Corse pizza, again unsubstantiated. But when you’re eating eggy pizza accompanied by chestnut beer in the sunshine beside a pretty harbour who cares?
Ouef là là in Paris
Just about everyone knows what a croque-monsieur is – a ham and cheese sandwich covered in a béchamel sauce. Toasties usually bore me, even posh sounding French ones. In the frozen foods section of supermarkets across Europe you’ll generally find packets of croque-monsieur. It is that common. On a stop-off in Paris a few years ago I found out there was an alternative, the croque-madame. This is basically the same but with a poached or fried egg on top; a touch that makes all the difference.
But the Portuguese do it better
The name of Porto’s most popular and stomach-busting sandwich gives away its inspiration – francesinha means little Frenchie. It’s a distant cousin to the croque-monsieur, more a super hero version consisting of beef, two types of sausage, ham, chorizo, cheese (a lot of cheese) bread and a spicy beer and tomato sauce. The francesinha could rough up the croque-monsieur in a street brawl without breaking sweat. We first encountered it after arriving late in Porto when we noticed everyone was tucking into the same yellow dish in a busy cafe/bar. I was hooked immediately, and totally stuffed ten minutes later. The standard version doesn’t come with an egg, you have to order an especial for that which comes with French fries as well, just in case you didn’t think there were enough carbs already. I read a great story on a Portuguese blog which said only men originally ate francesinhas as their spiciness was said to bring about odd changes of behaviour, so any woman seen eating one was considered to have a dodgy reputation. Funnily enough, when we both ordered francesinhas that first time in Porto, Andy was advised to have the womens’ version by the waitress. Incidentally, the Portuguese do fantastic standard toasties, better than anywhere else we’ve tried them.
The perfect brunch in Austria
On a soggy day as we huddled in a restaurant in an Austrian beauty spot, Wolfgangsee, feeling sorry for ourselves and looking out at a grey lake through sheets of rain I met Tiroler gröstl for the first time. We were supposed to be cycling around the lake taking photographs for a holiday brochure. This was clearly a pointless exercise – I couldn’t see anyone, on looking at a picture of drowned rat on a bike pointing at a thick, dull curtain which obscured everything, announcing “I’d really love to go there.”
Bleak spirits were lifted by a frying pan in which was piled a messy mountain of potato, bacon, onion, herbs, and a fried egg – Tiroler gröstl. The prefect antidote to a cool, dreich day.
The fine dining way
Generally speaking, anything with an egg on top tends to be dishes to please the masses – easy to make and cheap carb hits. However, in recent years some creative chefs have managed to sneak fried eggs onto their sophisticated menus by taking one small step away from the norm. Small being the operative word as they use quail eggs. In one restaurant recently one course I thoroughly enjoyed involved tiny squares of bread topped with crispy cured ham and sweet-looking fried quail eggs. Basically, mini bacon and fried egg butties.
You can take the boy out of the West of Scotland…