On Hotel Breakfasts, and How Not to Have Them

Much has been written about plane food and its associated plights, but I don’t think enough ink has been devoted to the matter of hotel breakfasts. And as I get ready to embark on my book tour, the subject is very much on my mind.

Breakfast is, to me, the most intimate meal of the day, the one that you eat barefoot and in your pajamas, the one that eases the transition from your helpless, sleeping self to the person you are in the daytime and to the outside world. What you eat then says a lot about you: I have it on authority that Brillat-Savarin meant to write “You are what you eat for breakfast” (“Dis-moi ce que tu manges au petit déjeuner, je te dirai ce que tu es”) but the maxim had to be edited for space.

The challenges of hotel breakfasts

If you feel the same way, I’m sure you’ll agree that breakfast poses a serious challenge when you travel for work. Hotel breakfasts, even in nice hotels, make me want to cry — remember, we’re all children at breakfast — as I stand by the buffet, trying to identify the least unappealing items and more importantly, the most nutritious, so I won’t feel faint an hour later.

I usually manage to scrape up some sort of fresh fruit (an eerily shiny apple or a pith-full orange), yogurt (preferably plain), and a bit of bread (the darker the better), which is fine until I get the bill: those buffets are priced with ogres in mind, and unless you’re the type to stuff muffins and bacon strips in your purse for later, they’re not very good deals.

My strategy for dealing with hotel breakfasts

So, whenever possible, I take matters into my own hands, and try to keep the makings of a healthy breakfast in my hotel room. The invaluable bonus is that you get to eat it in the privacy of your own hotel-issue bathrobe, without having to endure other guests’ early morning conversations (if I had any sort of power, I would make it illegal to talk business over breakfast).

Admittedly, this strategy requires a little forethought: if it’s a short trip, I’ll bring a few of my beloved organic apples and a package of reasonably health-conscious cookies (I like these and these). But if I’m traveling for a longer period, or to a country where bringing my own food might get me in jail, I hit the local supermarket (or, better yet, a natural foods store) to stock up on fruit, yogurt (Siggi’s Skyr, here I come!), and muesli*.

The yogurt I keep in the room’s mini-bar if there is one, but while in the US, I’ve once used an ice bucket filled with ice as an improvised cooler. Then there is the question of tools: I usually pack a plastic spoon and knife in my (checked) luggage, or I’ll request a set from the hotel desk. And the glass that sits by the bathroom sink (washed very carefully to remove all traces of window-cleaning detergent), works as a fine vessel from which to eat muesli and yogurt.

This, of course, does not solve the coffee issue, but in the places where my publishers send me, it is considerably easier to find good coffee than an acceptable breakfast.

And this sums up my strategy — what’s yours?

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* Pictured above is the perfect breakfast parfait I enjoyed every morning while in Australia: a local mango that would make my fingers smell wonderful all morning, Mundella natural yogurt, and Good Girls’ Summer Fling muesli with macadamias and cranberries — just thinking about it makes my tastebuds tingle. (And it is pictured here in a proper bowl, because I took that picture in Albany, where my room was equipped with a kitchenette. Oh, the luxury.)

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