Looking for breakfast in the South

by Carol Fleming

A newcomer to the area may raise their eyebrows and view a serving of grits with suspicion as they wonder why the side dish is such a popular breakfast dish in the South.

I’ve never tried grits myself – yet. However, my former career as an American diplomat presented unique opportunities to sample the traditional dishes of many countries.

I have always been an avid golfer and, while living in New Delhi, India, I would typically arrive at the golf course just as the sun was rising to avoid the intense heat of the afternoon.

These early morning golfing expeditions eventually led to frequent encounters with an ambassador who represented an Asian country. Like me, he was an avid golfer.

Our initial contact began with shy and polite smiles and an exchange of greetings as we each respectively prepared for our game. Shortly thereafter, we began to pair up and golf together. During this period, we learned that in spite of respective political differences our countries may have, we as individuals had many commonalities, including sons who were born exactly the same day, same year. That did it; a bond was firmly cemented. Once this stately gentleman learned that I was in India as a single individual he insisted that I come to his home one morning before golf to meet his family and enjoy the traditional breakfast of his home country. This was an immense honor to me.

I arrived at his humble but spotless residence one weekend morning just before the sun was beginning to rise. Although I did not know his wife and children at that time they greeted me and made me feel immediately as a member of their family. Because they also knew how seriously golf is taken, they had the breakfast prepared and waiting.

To my surprise however there were only two place settings at the table yet this gentleman had a wife and three children. I then learned that it was traditional of the respective country for the man of the house and guests to eat first and that the women and children would eat thereafter (even if the guest was a woman). Although I was discomforted by that custom I knew it was prudent to comply with their traditions, especially as a guest in their home.

The wife shyly yet proudly placed a covered bowl in front of me saying this was one of their most special and traditional breakfasts. They had limited quantities of the particular dish brought from their home country and were so pleased they were able to offer it to me.

At that juncture she then proceeded to lift the lid with a flourish to present the dish. I glanced down and to my abject horror and dismay saw these fish heads bobbing up at me with the eyes intact and unblinking.

Yes – I was just served the delicacy of fish head soup!

Needless to say there was no way I was going to risk offending this lovely family who had opened up their home to me and tell them this was not a dish typically served in America. Instead I smiled widely, picked up the spoon and swallowed a big mouthful (as I held my breath). To my surprise, the taste was delicious. As long as I did not look at the pieces of fish and see those staring eyes, I found that I actually did enjoy this meal and in fact, believe it gave me much more energy during our golf game.

Part of the beauty of living abroad was the opportunity to not only see and observe the differing cultures, traditions and customs but to experience them and grow from them as well.

Now as a resident of Huntersville, I have to figure out which eatery I will take international visitors I may have, so they can experience the traditional Southern style breakfast with its staple serving of grits! Recommendations, anyone?

Carol Fleming lives in Huntersville with her two cats, and you can read more of her thoughts at www.americanbedu.com. She can be reached at admin@americanbedu.com.

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