For most of us, the way we eat has been affected by COVID-19. With production and resource circulation on a leash, there are long queues trailing from storefronts and many are even struggling to stock the basics. During a lockdown nobody is thinking of making Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon or Vikas Khanna’s Masala Cornish hens; if they’re at all like me, they’re mechanically muttering the words, “Maggi, eggs, bread, milk,” while they wait in line to enter. Yet, even with sparse food supplies, it is possible to bring excitement into the kitchen.
For a lot of people, cooking is a form of travel. Before the pandemic, if I felt cooped up, I could rustle up a chorizo rice, the fried egg on top shining like the bright Goan sun, or nimbly form homemade tortellini, the pasta’s tight folds mirroring the creases of my Sicilian grandmother’s face. Making a meal, simple or complicated, often is about establishing a connection between peoples and cultures, whether it be fond memories of familial specialities or dreams of faraway delicacies. It’s a jumble of similarities and differences, a variety of tastes and flavours, even when it concerns as straightforward a starting point as toast.
Bread, in some form or another, is eaten by almost all communities around the globe. Even during this crisis, people waking up in Malaysia start their day with a smear of kaya, a luscious, buttery coconut jam spread on airy toast, while in Morocco, a golden, honey-infused mixture is still drizzled upon thick slices of warm bread in the morning. You too, can wake up like a Malaysian or Moroccan for a day. All you need is a bit of bread, plus a few additional ingredients, some readily available during the lockdown in India, and others perhaps gathering dust in your pantry.
Below I’ve collated an eclectic mix of recipes and mapped out the difficulty of each dish based on cooking technique and accessibility of ingredients during these trying times.
A classic breakfast dish, French toast can be made as fancy as your pantry allows. Photo by: Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock
This classic actually dates back all the way to the Roman Empire to a 1st century A.D. recipe book, Apicius. In France, this dish is known as “pain perdu,” which means “lost bread,” referring to the use of stale bread that was rejuvenated after soaking in milk and eggs before it was fried. While many modern-day recipes call for ingredients like cinnamon, nutmeg, and maple syrup, in its essence French toast merely requires milk, eggs, and bread… and, of course, a knob of butter.
These are a version of French toast that originated in Portugal and are very popular in Brazil. Just swap out the milk for good ol’ red wine and add a bit of cinnamon.
Eat breakfast the American way, with egg in a hole, maybe with a rasher of bacon on the side. Photo by: Lauripatterson/E+/Getty Images
Cut a circular hole in a slice of bread, throw it on a buttery frying pan, and crack an egg into the centre to experience this two-in-one American breakfast combo.
This Japanese dessert toast option requires unsliced milk bread, so it will be a difficult one to carry out if you attempt to bake the bread from scratch at home. Otherwise, just use a regular loaf of unsliced bread. The next difficult step is access to fresh fruits that make this dish come alive. Don’t get bogged down by specific fillings, feel free to improvise with whatever ingredients are available to you.
This toast requires the same kind of unsliced bread as Shibuya Honey Toast, but involves a healthy dose of espresso powder. Once again, feel free to improvise with whatever fruits are available to you.
Jars of already made Kaya will be hard to come by in India. However, you can make the Kaya from scratch. The ingredients of this dish, which originated in Malaysia, are relatively accessible, and the end product is a silky, buttery gold sweet mixture that elevates everyday morning toast to no end.
A little garlic and olive oil transforms boring old toast into a beloved Italian snack. If you are feeling ambitious and have access to buttermilk, baking soda, and an oven, you can attempt an Irish Soda Bread (it also requires baking powder and flour) to give your toast a more rustic touch with plenty of body.
Difficulty: Easy (with Soda Bread Option, Hard)
Swedist-style toast skagen brings the flavour of the sea to your plate. Photo by: Gbrundi/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images
This Swedish snack is not that tough if you have access to fresh or frozen prawns, mayo, and mustard (omit fish roe from this recipe). Think of it like a prawn cocktail on butter toast.
Difficulty: Hard (only hard depending on access to prawns, otherwise quite doable).
These vegan, store bought spreads are beloved by many Aussies, Kiwis, and Brits, and otherwise are generally despised by the rest of the world for their overbearing salty and funky taste. On the plus side, it stays good for a long time, and you really don’t need to spread that much of it on your toast to taste its effect.
Difficulty: Medium (only difficult in terms of finding the spread)
This simple Spanish treat requires minimal ingredients for a boatload of flavour. The recipe calls for ciabatta bread, but you can substitute with regular sliced bread, or you can attempt to make the aforementioned soda bread (or a ciabatta recipe if you are feeling ambitious) should you want to use a base with more structure and texture.
Fresh tomato bruschetta is an all-day snack. Photo by: Elenamazur/Shutterstock
This Italian toast (similar to pan con tomate) is as popular as it is tasty. If you don’t have ingredients like balsamic vinegar and basil in the kitchen, just omit them from the recipe. Substitute the baguette for regular sliced bread or soda bread.
A can of beans and a slice of toast, what could be more English? If you have a can of sausages and a fresh tomato, you could turn this into a filling fry up.
You will not be disappointed if you make this legendary sweet sauce, of Argentinean origin, from scratch. Although it involves a bit of technique, it is possible to make this sauce thick, caramel-coloured sauce two ways with minimal and accessible ingredients. One method requires milk, sugar, baking soda, and a drop of vanilla extract, while the other just requires condensed milk, water, and an oven.
The difference between French toast and this is that the latter should be fried crisp, giving it a completely different texture. Also, this toast is inherently sweet, unlike French toast which has sweetness added to it after the toast is made.
To make this classic Moroccan breakfast you require argan oil, almonds, a tad of honey, and a food processor—unless you have Popeye-sized forearms and a mortar and pestle. You do not require an oven to toast the almonds for the Amlou dip, and can use a pan on a stovetop instead.
Difficulty: Hard (if could be difficult to find almonds, honey and argan oil)
Avo toast is an Instagram-friendly breakfast option. Photo by: Chertamchu/Shutterstock
This Instagram-famous breakfast item has been around in some form or another for centuries, from its Aztec Empire origin in modern-day Mexico to the decks of British Colonial ships, where it was referred to as “Alligator pear.” This dish is remarkably simple to make, the only challenge is finding avocados. Although fancy grocers most likely have dwindling supplies and high prices, some local fruit and vegetable markets have domestic vendors of this buttery fruit.
For this French classic, just make cheese toast with ham (use any frozen ham available) and pretend this is not a sandwich or you can make them open-faced toasts. There is no need to use fancy cheeses, like gruyere, to make this, but do try and make the simple bechamel sauce for some extra gooey, goodness. This only requires butter, flour, and milk (no need to add nutmeg if there is none in the kitchen).
This 1960s’ classic from Mumbai’s posh Willingdon Sports Club adds a little spice to a great egg-based snack, preferably perched on a slice of buttered toast or pav.
The name of this famous Dutch breakfast means hailstorm, referring to the mound of sugar sprinkles it requires. The toast looks like something Will Ferrell would eat in the movie Elf— it only calls for butter, bread, and sprinkles (preferably chocolate, although any will work). This breakfast may seem strange, but your inner five-year-old might be in dire need of this kind of cheering up right now, so might as well give it a try.
Zapiekanki (plural) are a popular street food in Polish cities. All one needs is bread, cheese (any kind that melts well), mushrooms, and ketchup. No need to go for the traditional baguette, sliced bread works as well. If you don’t have an oven, just toast the bread in a pan, sauté the mushrooms in another pan, and occasionally use the pan lid to cover the cheese on top of the toast so it melts.
This absolutely delish toast, which originated in Holland and Belgium, involves making ginger, cookie butter, which is then slathered on a piece of toast. This is a tricky one, given that in most European countries where this spread is popular, people normally buy it premade at the store. In India, however, this sweet condiment is not really available to most, especially during these times. However, those with ambitious plans to make Speculoos can start by making Speculaas (Dutch Windmill Cookies), and should be able to find the ginger, cinnamon, and cloves required to make them. After the cookies are made and cooled they need to go for a whirl in a food processor, along with some milk or cream, butter, and brown sugar. Those who just want to make a cookie butter without making spiced cookies from scratch can use store bought chocolate chip cookies to make a cookie butter, which will be tasty but not authentic Speculoos.
If you somehow have a package of red bean paste at home, slather that on some butter toast, and voila, you have a Japanese breakfast favourite, sans the popular addition of whipped cream.
Difficulty: Hard (red bean paste may be hard to find)
If you happen to have any seaweed at home, lay it down on a piece of toast covered with melted cheese, sautéed spring (or regular) onions, and a crumbled boiled egg to complete this Japanese café favourite.
Difficulty: Medium (seaweed may be hard to find)
If you have Nutella, graham crackers, and a bag of marshmallows, you can stuff yourself on this American campfire favourite for breakfast.
Chicken liver toast makes for a decadent start to the day. Photo by: Ekaterina Kondratove/Shutterstock
If you have plenty of butter and chicken livers you have all you need for this epically decadent French option. Add in some red onion, garlic, thyme, and olive oil, and you have plenty of flavour to make a prolific chicken liver pâté.
Believe it or not, this very American looking (and sounding) toast is a German favourite from a time when this kind of breakfast seemed exotic and not utterly questionable. No need to use fancy cheese, any standard cheese slices will do.
No recipe needed for this common dish that originated in Germany. If you need one, then perhaps cooking is not your calling?
Note: Cooking at home can bring you a bit of joy, which is important, but let’s remember hundreds who are struggling for food during this lockdown. If you wish to help, donate here and here.
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