There is something very interesting about even the most basic preoccupancy with what has been long a means of survival for humans, whether literally or in more metaphorical allusions to it. Bread and butter is something that none of us can do without, at least even for those who are not particularly fond of this baked mass of versatility life is too steeped in the breaded essence to give away to the more indulgent or even at times humbler fares that the food fantasies of the world holds in anticipation of its diverse bounty of richness. Because bread and butter isn’t just the staple fare on the plate alluded to but also a greater encompassment of so many elements crucial to the continuation of life that this particular phrase in togetherness sums up a whole different spectrum of emotions related to the gastronomic and beyond making it therefore a food deeply deserving of its relished on status since antiquity, carrying its relevance well into the modern times.
But even when we choose to do away with the more complex propositions that the forever significant realm of the bread dwells in and concentrate instead on it as just food, delicious still even in its plainness, these sugary loaves of soft prominence yields some of the most remarkable pairings in the entirety of culinary history. While the most commonplace bread and butter is no less exquisite a breakfast to savor in all its lipsmacking taste, something that you indeed look forward to every day even when it has been a staple all your life, what with the rich salty butter permeating the sweet entrails of the piece of loaf to offer an experience of flavors that is just so satiating and pleasurable and divine, this remarkable invention by the human hands takes also along other modern variations of what finds place of pride upon its face. Even as somewhat ‘traditional’ spreads of the jams and the preserves and the pickles have been doing their fair worth of work, there have also been pairings within this pairing, like the most ‘iconic’ PB&J sandwich that exists in true incorporation of the dynamic flavor profile a slice of bread fits very well into. And of course there’s naturalites like honey to sweeten up your crunchy toast with or eggs to dip your bread into before turning them into a sweet and savoury toast, even as there exists a whole clearly demarcated world of additions and accompaniments and spreads that can go on top of your bread identified as Palegg in the Norwegian context that just about reinstates the ‘scope’ that the very humble and delicate or increasingly nutritious and artisanal slice offers in what it has been made to embody.
Nestled indeed in such culinary ambits of it but also expanding beyond to weave more draws of the cultural and the social into it is this still ordinary predominance of the bread that is as open to enclosing specific preferences within its extents, called upon by the alternate notions of taste by the many human embodiers of life who forever is enticed to deal with the fancy leanings of the tongue. As a world seated deep enough in a whole different ambit of deliciousness that churns up the chunky cravings for the wonder food called the chocolate, it is no wonder that so much of what breads the world over are doused in happens to be some sort of this dark brown mass of gooey intoxication that overwhelms our senses even beyond what the taste buds command. From chocolate spreads crafted entirely out of this luxurious bean of the wilderness to pairing with choco flavored drinks or sprinkled generously with this assortment of decadence, this very humble necessity on which our life hinges so as to say takes along a far more curious route along the epicurean ways of the world.
Chocolate for breakfast in any form might be a choice that is largely looked down upon in most parts of the world but allow the assuring perforated slice of the ever reliable bread to bring you to enjoy the luxury of some chocolate craze first thing in the morning! A very typical Dutch way to break your night long fast is by indulging in a hearty meal of butter laced bread topped with enough chocolate sprinkles to leave you happy and gay all through the remainder of your trudge along the weary day ahead that awaits you. The sprinkles itself are notable enough to have their own name, hagelslag and indeed, the star element of such a delightful breakfast tradition indulged in as the boterham met hagelslag sure commands its own identity. But even in the rich glow of the hagelslag guaranteed to bathe you in a similar such glow of contentment as well it indeed is a thickly buttered slice of the bread that what keeps the hagelslag where they are meant to be, reinstating therefore in quite a peculiar way the significance that bread and butter continues to resonate in, even amidst the more lofty aspirations of the world.
The chocolatey stampede upon the bread or rather the sandwich in the Netherlands is encompassed also by another similarly delightful topping of sorts. Called vlokken, these are curved chocolate shavings that ‘cooks’ up as interesting a piece of toast that you might want to bite into anytime of the day. The Danes on the other hand do not confine themselves just to mere sprinklings or shavings of chocolate, instead going all out by putting whole slices of chocolate upon slices of their bread, something they refer to as Pålægschokolade. Elsewhere in the world, such related sprees of sprinkles, not necessarily chocolate though, invariably finding its very predictable way onto plates of buttered breads and toasts or even cakes and cupcakes and pies are known by different names. Philadelphia and Boston for instance share this love for sprinkles as Jimmies while the Finnish term for it is Koristerakeet. Chocoladehagelslag is also popular in Belgium as well as in former colonies of the Netherlands like Suriname and Indonesia, the latter commonly referring to them as meises or meses. Belgium also calls it muizenstrontjes, literally translating as mouse excrement in a related connection with meises which again stems of the rather interesting Dutch again term of the muisjes. But perhaps the most global manifestation of this love for something pretty and enticing sprinkled along the slices of bread is a particular Australian invention that which is indeed a very magical looking treat known as fairy bread. Buttered slices of white bread covered with Hundreds and Thousands which are in fact colorful little sprinkles is a standout winner of children’s parties all over the Australian and New Zealandic regions. Pretty in the sight of them, these colorfully dotted breads have come to capture the world imagination today making therefore fairy bread even more notable an element in upholding the ‘legacy’ that bread has come to be endowed with, over its years and years of continuation through the trail of human fantasies for food.
Such colorfully vibrant presences on bread in a somewhat different form that fairy bread finds expression in pertains to a very defining tradition that once again the Netherlands continue to cherish and sustain with all its fetish for making breads look and taste all the more interesting. Customary on bread, these sugar coated colored aniseed toppings are known as muisjes and indeed is very much a delightful, fun component of the way the country goes about with its varied take on the slice sustaining life itself. But even beyond their identity as a food item, the muisjes rest in a cultural flair of their own, in an interpretation taking expression as Beschuit met muisjes. This tradition of eating muisjes sprinkled rusk, which is a twice baked bread, goes back perhaps to the Middle Ages and is very ingrained in the Dutch way of life as the birth of babies is celebrated by this very symbolic mode of feasting. The anise is believed to symbolise fertility while working also to aid two very important post delivery necessities- that of lactation and of restoring the uterus to its original size. The idea probably was to celebrate births that did not involve any complications and what better than something sweet to usher in a new life into the world? While initially it was the more ordinary sprinkles of sugar that came to top rusks as a form of gift from the newborn, it has been since the 1800s that the seemingly more defined practice of pairing rusks with musijes came to the fore, which however originally was paired also with white bread due to rusks being quite expensive at that time. Even the muisjes originally used to be white and it was only in the 1860s that the introduction of pink muisjes made it the sprinkle of choice on the birth of a girl while blue muisjes came much later in 1994 and adhered to the blue dictum of being related to male births. Beyond this traditional connect with children, it also is crushed muisjes or Gestampte muisjes sprinkled over buttered bread or rusk that is a customary breakfast food for Dutch kids, continuing still therefore the essential food connotation of the pairing phenomena so universal about breads.
In Belgium as well, this sweet connection with birth continues in the form of Suikerboon or sugar beans but without the accompanying entrails along the bread. This is because sugar beans are a treat in themselves, being sugar coated almonds or chocolates that finds resonance also in France as dragees. Dragees though are even more incorporative than suikerboons since they pertain to decorative, symbolic and medicinal purposes as well while relating most prominently with weddings. Similar other assertions of the sweet connection to marriages and baptisms are the noghis of Syria, Iran and Afghanistan as are almond comfits in Europe and the Middle East. An unrelated but visually similar offering called the mukhwas is a go to South Asian after meal mouth freshener that is an amalgamation of a number of different sugar coated nuts and seeds. Needless to say, the mukhwas has no chance ever on finding itself seated daintily upon bread since it is not a sprinkle even. But that does not in any way dampen our enthusiastic attempt of identifying the unassuming loaf of bread as one of the most versatile and at the same time equally distinctive culinary components that human life seeks completion along. Be it sprinkles or spreads, jams or marmalades, butters or margarine, honey or fruits, eggs or meat, veggies or herbs, pickles or chutneys, there is nothing that a slice of bread cannot make it truly its own. And that perhaps is what lies at the core of the essentially timeless continuation that it has seen through the ages.