Home & Garden Columns

Breakfast Off the Beaten Path

By Marta Yamamoto Special to the Planet
Tuesday April 25, 2006

Hunger calls as the sun rises or, in some cases, long after it’s crossed the sky. Hundreds of cafes are ready to entice your taste buds. From the happy trio of eggs, potatoes and breakfast meat to sweeter yummies like pancakes, waffles, French toast or crepes. Steaming hot lattes, fresh orange juice. Smells and flavors reminding us of home or favorite friends. 

When hunger combines with a sense of adventure and you’re ready for something different, think global. Many ethnic eateries would love to share their morning specialties with a willing audience. While some flavors and textures may shift your biological clock, consider it a travel across time zones to a new location. 

Picante Cocina Mexicana is no stranger to dining enthusiasts who know good food at great values. While evenings can be a contest in making yourself heard, mornings offer a mellower ambiance. Mexican tiles decorate bright yellow walls and roomy red leather booths circle the perimeter. Lamenting lyrics accompanied by the beat of bass and guitarron provide background. Outside, the secluded garden patio escapes breezes off the bay and retains the warmth of the sun. 

On offer are the classic Huevos Rancheros with egg-topped tortillas beneath a spicy red sauce. Huevos con Rajas contains mild chilies while Huevos a la Mexicana wakes up your palate with onion, tomato and hot jalapeños. All are served with beans of your choice and corn tortillas you never want to stop eating, Picante-made with a fresh chewy texture. Finish up with Mexican hot chocolate or coffee spiced with cinnamon, brown sugar and slivers of orange peel. You’re set for the day. 

Only on Sunday is the slogan at the Thai Buddhist Temple where your dollars are traded for tokens. Exchange these tokens for an abundance of Thai food, simple, hearty and esoteric. Devouring Pad Thai and Green Curry Chicken may seem odd at 9:30 a.m. but the tastes will soon take over your sense of timing. 

Dissipate the morning chill with a steaming bowl of Tom Yum soup. Watch the ingredients come together—a ladle of savory broth, a jumble of thin rice noodles, fish balls and ground pork piping hot mixed with fresh bean sprouts, cilantro and basil. On warm mornings refresh your palette with “made-to-order” Green Papaya Salad. The delicious dressing of chilies, peanuts and fish sauce sweetened with sugar and ground with mortar and pestle will awaken your taste buds.  

Relax at tables beneath awnings or in rows down alleyways in a bazaar-like setting. Mingle with the masses watching cars and vans arrive with new temptations from area restaurants. Digest, then get ready to sample Khanom Krok. Prepared in a cast iron skillet over hot coals, these tiny coconut pudding-pancakes will have you counting the days until the next Sunday. 

Travel to Ethiopia for a breakfast of harmonious flavors at Café Colucci. Cozy and artfully decorated with African art, the two dining areas and outside patio are perfect settings to experience a new cuisine. Walls of warm earth tones and split bamboo, unique grass-skirt lampshades, tent-like cloth-panels, ethnic background music and the striking faces of the staff and diners combine for an experience worth repeating. 

My choice, as a first-time patron, was the Ethiopian Breakfast, a sampler of four, accompanied by a basket of injera. Injera serves a dual purpose, both bread and utensil. A staple of every home, injera is made using teff, a very small grain high in protein, iron and calcium. Resembling a slightly chewy pancake, this flatbread has a tangy flavor from naturally fermented butter. 

Injera in hand, I devoured cubed potatoes cooked with bell peppers, red onion and tomato; steaming bulgur, eggs cooked with chilies and banatu. The spiciest component of my breakfast, banatu is a stew of beef and pieces of injera simmered in Berbere sauce. Eating with injera-clad hands offered the perfect excuse to lick this red pepper-laden sauce off my fingers.  

Trade injera for chopsticks and an authentic Oakland Chinatown experience at Shan Dong where one section of the extensive, five-page menu reads Breakfast. Thirteen lucky choices, as well as selections from Dumplings, Noodles or Egg Fu Yung will set you up for the rest of your day. 

Inside, the décor is limited. Miniature lights reflect along one mirrored wall. Bright red signs printed in bold black Chinese characters announce specials. Warm yellow-topped tables and chrome chairs provide cozy seating for various-sized groups. Classical music softly serenades. Here the food is the main attraction. 

Come with friends in order to sample several dishes. Several are variations of ample yeast steamed buns filled with a ground pork mixture, a sweet red bean puree or a vegetarian combination of cabbage, mushrooms, carrots, onions and rice noodles. The Special Twisted Bun is a large twist of this yeasty dough while the Chinese Donut is deep-fried. Both are popular fast-food breakfasts dipped in bowls of sweet or salty warmed soybean milk and are quite filling. 

Sliced beef seasoned with hoisin sauce and cilantro and enclosed in a sesame-encrusted piecrust satisfy both sweet and salty taste buds. The House Special Pancake is filled with sautéed leeks and egg, griddle-crispy and chewy at the same time. 

Prices are so reasonable that your table will soon be overcrowded without much damage to your wallet. 

One non-breakfast enthusiast ordered noodle soup. The rich broth was dark with the essence of beef, chicken and duck. Most impressive were the fresh-looking vegetables—bright green squash, broccoli and bok choy along with carrots and mushrooms, crisp and savory.  

When desire for a traditional breakfast refuses to be tamped down, give it a new spin. Search your memories for the smell of bacon, onions and coffee in the open air. Search the garage for your old camp stove or bag of charcoal. Search the cupboards for that cast-iron skillet or griddle. 

Head to Tilden Park. Spread the red and white plastic cloth across that broad wood table. Fire up the stove and warm up the skillet. Sauté onions and potatoes, throw in eggs and fry up some bacon. The smell alone will make you wonder why you don’t do this more often. If you’re going to break a fast, you might as well do it in style!  




Picante Cocina Mexicana  

1328 Sixth St., Berkeley. 

525-6876. www.picantecocina.citysearch.com. 


Thai Buddhist Temple 

1911 Russell St., Berkeley. 



Café Colucci 

6427 Telegraph Ave., Oakland. 

601-7999. www.cafecolucci.com. 


Shan Dong Mandarin Restaurant 

328 10th St., Oakland. 

839-2299. www.222.to/sd.