It took bringing non-Korean friends home for me to understand that each person’s food View-Master doesn’t always show the same film. What I saw as my favorite squash rice porridge (known as jook) probably appeared in Barbie’s viewfinder as a runny peasant’s meal of melted rice blended with a strangely savory vegetable that felt weird to consume in the morning -- if ever. What looked to me like a zesty, pungent maeuntang, a spicy Korean snapper stew that would keep me full and happy until third period, probably looked like a stomachache-and-a-half to Barbie. Same goes for a steaming bowl of kimchi ramen, my favorite junk food breakfast.
Breakfast to Barbie was one of a few things, narrowly limited to a class of cream-colored items: quick breakfasts of pizza-on-a-bagel, Eggo waffles, cereal, toast, or the special super-Sunday breakfast her mom made, a near-identical twin to Denny’s Grand Slam, which contains two buttermilk pancakes (from a box, natch), two eggs, two bacon strips, two sausage links, hash browns, toast, and juice. The nutritional toll for that feast? 970 calories, 56 whopping grams of fat (16 of which are saturated), 470 milligrams of cholesterol, 2,290 milligrams of sodium, 82 grams of carbs and 21 grams of sugar. By comparison, a bowl of Korean chicken jook has 247 calories, 12 grams of fat, 82 milligrams of cholesterol, 470 milligrams of sodium, 5.5 grams of carbohydrates and no sugar.
“If you think about what we think is a traditional western or American breakfast, it's usually higher in sugar than our 'ethnic' foods would be,” Yacoub says. “Pop Tarts and cereal and even oatmeal are sugary. There’s no rule you have to eat sugary foods at breakfast, when you should start off with some sort of protein and even some vegetables.” Plus, she adds, laughing, “your vegetable intake should not primarily be tomatoes in the form of ketchup or processed sauce, and potatoes, like most Americans.” Ditto for protein -- Yacoub says your protein intake should strive to go beyond processed meats like bacon and sausage.
A one-pot breakfast soup, on the other hand, which draws deep flavors out of bone marrow, herbs, spices and vegetables, is quite nutritionally sound. It's low in sugar, and high in vitamins and minerals. The entire soup, jam-packed with nutritious veggies and maybe a little bit of meat, is also easy to prep the night before, making it easy to feed an entire on-the-go family quickly in the morning. At the end, there are just one pot, four bowls and a cutting board to clean.
So why not soup for an American breakfast? In many places outside of Western Europe and North America, a bowl of soup is how many kick-off a busy day. It can be tart and hearty, like in Ecuador, where hangovers are cured with encebollado de pescado, a tuna soup with pickled onions or curtido, tomatoes and cilantro. In Burma, mohinga, a catfish stew that balances salty, sweet, spicy and sour in the depths of its rich, muddy, turmeric-laden waters, is the morning meal de rigeur. In Vietnam, piping-hot pho is on the menu, whether it’s 20 or 35 degrees Celsius outside. In Japan, bowls of miso soup are not uncommon at the breakfast table.
All of these soups are a delicious breakfast -- you just have to work past the notion that breakfast needs to be bacon, eggs, and pastries. For the sake of your body and your hunger, give a piping hot bowl of soup a shot tomorrow morning. You may never want pancakes again.