Breakfast – Our Most Important Meal

MANILA, Philippines — Doctors and nutrition experts advice that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and for many good reasons.

Our body has not had any food for many hours. If we miss breakfast, that's unhealthy for everyone, but especially for growing children and adults doing physical and mental work. Everyone needs a healthy breakfast for that energy burst that makes our brain work properly.

Educators in impoverished areas like slums are familiar with all the symptoms of children who go to school without breakfast: short attention span, drowsiness, lack of energy and interest. Eating breakfast is what gets our metabolism going for the day, and helps our body regulate food intake -- and weight. When not starting our day off right with a healthy, filling breakfast, we are more likely to pick up unhealthy foods that we can get fast if we're in a state of semi-starvation.

Eating breakfast makes us less irritable; we need those blood glucose levels to even out, and breakfast is the meal for that particular job. Healthy blood glucose levels mean we won't be so cranky.

Unlike lunch and dinner, breakfast costs much less, especially when prepared at home.

When travelling, I look forward to waking up and getting breakfast as far away from the hotel as possible, whether it’s a noodle stall in a back alley in Wanchai, Hong Kong or the overnight fish market in Sakai City, Japan.

In Hong Kong, the first eateries to open are those that sell noodles and rice soup for breakfast. Their Jook or Congee (rice soup) is cooked almost overnight until the grains are gone and the soup resembles rice paste. The congee itself is unflavored; the taste comes from the condiments added to the bowl: pig parts, sesame oil, century egg, green onions, fermented bean curd, sesame oil, freshwater fish fillet.

All over Japan, the best breakfast is at all-night wholesale fish markets. Dawn is when the stalls start closing and all the workers and store owners get the last meal of their long day. The freshest ingredients from the market go into miso soup loaded with fresh clams and wakame seaweeds, traditionally paired with hot steamed rice and broiled fish, both sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds.

Breakfast menus for Filipinos, from the mountains of northern Luzon to the islands in southern Mindanao, reflect the rich diversity of culture and tradition dictated by each region’s topography and climate.

The very simple Ilocano morning ritual fulfills nutritionists’ requirements for the first meal of the day: carbohydrates, protein and fiber.

Most Ilocanos I have met here and in Hawaii start the day with fresh vegetables briefly simmered in broth or water flavored with fish bagoong, onions (or leeks), very ripe tomatoes and ginger.

Vegetables could be flowers, leaves, tubers, stems, shoots, fruits or seeds. Protein is provided by leftover grilled or fried fish which is added to the pot a minute before the heat is turned off.

Central Luzon, particularly Pangasinan, Pampanga and Tarlac, is well known for cured meats like longanisa, tocino and tapa which are now regular breakfast items with garlic fried rice (sinangag) and fried eggs, popularly known as cholesterol-rich longsilog, tosilog and tapsilog.

Residents of the Cavite-Batangas-Laguna corridor wake up to leftover rice, warm carabao milk and coarse sea salt with broiled salted fish on the side.

Visayans have a term for breakfast which describes what is usually served: mambahaw, from the word bahaw meaning last night’s rice. That’s for the lucky ones who can afford rice; the rest of the population break the fast with boiled green saba bananas or camote dipped in guinamos, fermented salted fish for protein.

Warays prefer a deep purple yam tuber called gaw-ay, boiled with skin on and peeled right before eating. Gaw-ay cooks firm and a little sticky, never fluffy like camote. Unless there are guests, the gawy-ay is served whole and eaten without spoon or fork, but bitten into just as one would consume a long piece of fresh sugarcane. Fermented salted fish (guinamos), dried salted kippered fish (bulad) or broiled fish are eaten with gaw-ay. For special occasions, the tuber is eaten with lechon manok or pork lechon.

At eateries inside public markets in mainland Mindanao, mornings are for huge cauldrons of balbacua, a dish which could be boiled beef shin or fish head, depending on which city you are in. The main idea is to get hot broth into one’s guts minutes after waking up. Generally, the dish is along the lines of tinulahan or tinola, from the Visayan root word tola or broth (sabaw in Tagalog). Whatever the recipe, the bowl of broth and meat is served with plain steamed rice, with a dipping sauce of soy sauce, calamansi and fresh hot chili peppers.

Farther south, Mindanao islanders prefer cassava (kamoteng kahoy in Tagalog) which is peeled and grated, then steamed to become pyuto. Leftover pyuto, stir-fried in an unoiled frying pan until dried and toasty, is called shanglag and is preferred by many.

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