Around the World

Your passport to international breakfast dishes

Photography by Chip Chockley

Many cultures have breakfast traditions that are born out of necessity or of convenience. They have evolved across generations or according to the availability of ingredients. If you’ve ever been curious about what international breakfast experiences are available in Memphis, come along with us on this neighborhood breakfast trip around the world.

(Photograph by Elly Hazelrig)

Typical breakfast: Calentado paisa

This dish has a base of rice and beans and is served with eggs and arepa. Calentado simply means “heated,” or in this context, “reheated.”

The dish originated in rural Colombia as a leftover meal to avoid wasting yesterday’s rice and beans.

But don’t let that turn you off—the rice and beans are tossed in a fragrant tomato sauce seasoned with green onions and cumin. They’re complemented by slightly sweet, fresh corn cakes called arepas that are made on the griddle. Add fried egg, plantain, or chorizo (basically whatever you have nearby) to create a complete meal.

When we tried calentado paisa at El Sabor Latino, it felt more like Christmas morning than reheated leftovers. The arepas were warm and crispy on the outside and substantial in the middle. The rice and beans were mildly spicy and addictingly flavorful. We asked Julie, an El Sabor Latino employee and native Colombian, to describe the Colombian flavor. Her quick response: “Singular!” She proudly champions the food of her country. 

El Sabor Latino
665 Avon Road
Opens daily at 8 a.m.

Typical breakfast: Foul with malawah

Foul (pronounced “fool”) is an Ethiopian staple that’s composed of partially mashed fava beans simmered with sautéed onion, tomato, garlic, and jalapeño. It’s topped with fresh chopped vegetables and a coating of Ethiopian butter, giving it majorly dressed-up refried beans vibes. The ingredient that can’t go without mention is the signature Ethiopian spice berbere. Berbere blends warm spices with the mouthwatering heat of Kashmiri chile. Foul is still good for a beginner, though, with its heat aptly countered by creamy fava beans and cool toppings. 

Scoop up mouthfuls of stewed beans with handfuls of malawah bread, a fried puff pastry brushed with olive oil. Malawah pairs well with any Ethiopian breakfast dish. It’s usually served with honey and is good enough as a stand-alone meal. Horn of Africa restaurant owner Samira Ahmad said she made sure to include foul and malawah on her menu because they were essential in her home growing up.

“Foul is a daily breakfast for my family,” Samira says. 

Horn of Africa
693 Avon Road
Opens Monday – Saturday at 10:30 a.m.

Typical breakfast: Masala dosa

A beloved Indian household breakfast food is the dosa. This super-thin, crepe-style bread can be dipped in chutneys or filled with a variety of accompaniments. It’s made from fermented rice and millet batter cooked on the stovetop. Filled with masala-seasoned potatoes, dosa can be a substantial breakfast.

Memphis Indian Restaurant offers masala, onion, karam, and egg dosas. Try them with peanut and tomato chutneys! Their dosas also come with a side of sambar, which is a vegetable stew. Nikki, a server at the restaurant, values the labor that goes into preparing Indian food.

“In India, we wake in the morning, and we make it fresh,” she says. “We just pluck it and we cook it.”

She says that starting her day with an Indian breakfast fuels an active and healthful lifestyle. 

Memphis Indian Restaurant
3561 Park Avenue
Opens daily at 9 a.m.

(Photograph by Elly Hazelrig)

Typical breakfast: Congee and pan-fried buns

The traditional Chinese breakfast that has stood the test of time is a rice porridge called congee. Congee is made by cooking long grain white rice in a proportionately large amount of broth. The rice breaks down to thicken the cooking liquid and to concentrate flavors. Congee is typically a savory dish, seasoned with ginger and green onions. It goes well alongside any bread accompaniment. Pan-fried steamed buns stuffed with minced pork make for a standout companion. Crispy on top, fluffy on the sides, these soft and tasty rolls go down easy.

Congee has many variations, including chicken and seafood. Dim Sum King serves century egg congee, with sliced marinated pork and duck egg that has been cured for months in a clay and ash mixture. Reggie, a regular customer at Dim Sum King, grew up on congee and finds it comforting and nostalgic.

“It’s the Chinese chicken noodle soup,” he says.

Dim Sum King serves congee on the weekends and pan-fried buns every day. 

Dim Sum King
5266 Summer Avenue, Suite 65
Opens Monday – Saturday at 11 a.m., Sunday at 10 a.m.

(Photograph by Stacey Greenberg)

Typical breakfast: Pain aux raisins

A quintessential French breakfast pastry, pain aux raisins features decadent Danish dough layered with warm pastry cream and raisins.

This flaky bread and baked filling duo is certainly indulgent, yet without being overly sweet.

It’s no wonder it’s a favorite treat at the boulangerie (French bakery) alongside a steaming morning espresso.

When everyday French people can’t get to the bakery, they find simple options at home. A baguette with a bowl (yes, bowl) of coffee and milk for dipping will do just fine. Crusty and warm baguettes can also be treated with spreads of butter, jam, or even charcuterie. 

To get your French fix locally, look for the traveling food truck La Belle European Bakery or visit La Baguette French Bread & Pastry Shop.

La Belle: Location and hours vary.
La Baguette: 3088 Poplar Avenue
Opens weekdays 7 a.m. and weekends 8 a.m.

Allie Arnell is a freelance food writer and snack chef to three. She enjoys creativity, connection, and exercise. When she’s not chasing PRs or toddlers, you can bet she’s making a mess in her Collierville kitchen. @allie.arnell

Chip Chockley, an attorney by day, has been a professional photographer since 2008. Things that make him happy include tacos, mai tais, and his wife and kids. @chipchockley