Break Thy Fast


The morning after I arrived in the U.S., my sister arrived for our yearly hang out day. This day involves massages, a heavy intake of beverages with mind altering qualities, and Broadway singalongs. I love it, she loves it, the bartenders love it, her husband tolerates it. We sing loudly in the drunken avatars of Jesus and Judas Iscariot and Aaron (A-A Ron) Burr and Jean Valjean. It. Is. Awesome.

The morning after, not so much.

This year the combination of a 10 hour flight and twenty shots of Jägermeister have rendered me a ball of lightly weeping flesh on the bed in her guestroom. And my sister looks in, sadly, holding her head and holding out two Advil. I groan. She groans. And there’s nothing she can say that’ll budge me. Nothing. I am lying here until I can muster the strength to ooze onto her couch and pry open my right eye to watch a lighthearted comedy that makes me forget the beating I have put my liver through. There’s nothing she can say.  

“Want to go to my diner for breakfast?”

Except that.

We’re in the car for about 4 minutes, which is about 3 minutes longer than either of us can stand. And when we arrive, we are the only people in the diner. It’s 6 am and the waitress seats us with a chipper attitude that might literally kill us.

“You guys are gonna have the first pot of coffee of the day.”

My sister: “I’ve never done that.”

Me: “Can you bring the pot?”

My whole body seems to understand that in order to survive, we need food. And to do that, we need to be able to read the menu. And to do that, we need to work together. So, my body puts in the good ole college try and works as a unit to stop me from falling apart. My liver stops twitching. My head decides to let the Advil do its work. My right eye opens. The cold sweats are paused.

I cheer when the waitress fills my white mug with tarlike coffee. And after I order my breakfast – a western omelet (ham, onion, and red pepper) with added American cheese, rye toast, home fries, and scrapple – I am fine. Soon, we are drinking coffee, getting jittery, and looking towards the kitchen.

Of all the comfort food I miss living in Europe, a diner breakfast is at the singular top of that list. More than Philly cheesesteaks and edible bagels and a hamburger that doesn’t make me want to cry.  

A diner breakfast can be anything, but its iconic components are pancakes, omelets, eggs, waffles, home fries, toast, some kind of meat, and bottomless coffee. Throw in a cheerful waitress who has a slight issue with boundaries, big plates, and a kitschy sign or two (If you think I’m cute when I’m mad, you’re about to think I’m gorgeous!) and you’ve got a diner.

Everyone does breakfast differently and I think most people who’ve been around respect other cultures’ breakfast customs, but that respect is at the arm’s length of foreign habit.

I had a baked egg pancake with honey in Ethiopia that made me cry out of joy, but I wouldn’t want to eat it every day. A full Irish breakfast is so damned good, but in Ireland. Not in Langhorne. The Czech ham and cheese on rolls? Sure. Now and then.

But nothing helps you start the day as well as what you grew up with. Diners were for the weekends, fishing trips, and for pitstops on holidays when my dad needed to be out of the car before he committed murder.   

In the Philadelphia area, we have scrapple. Scrapple is delicious and what goes into it – before Wikipedia – was largely a mystery, and one that I sort of wish had remained so. It’s a mush that’s made up of offal (organs) of pigs and bones, seasoning, and cornmeal.

When I tell this to Czech friends they groan in disgust and then order raw steak tartar or eat a hotdog or have almost the exact same components in a jaternice. I think when it comes to breakfast, we are all cultural chauvinists.

No matter a breakfast’s roots or culture, it’s job is to get you ready for the day. So whether you are eating a hearty breakfast for a day of physical work, a cup of coffee to help pep you up, or an avocado quinoa smoothie, we rely on breakfast.

Today, I finish the 3,000 calorie breakfast, we pay and the waitress tops off our coffee and gives us a chipper goodbye. I waddle out to the car, headache gone, heartily prepared to burn calories by scrolling lazily on a remote while lounging on a couch. The breakfast has done it’s job.  

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