Breakfast Flavors

The Hispanic Connection

The United States wears its badge of melting pot with pride for the many nationalities that have chosen this country as their home. Most of our forbearers were once considered minorities’ ‒ Swedes, Italians, Irish and all the rest. We are for the most part, largely a nation of one-time immigrants.

But there has never been a larger or more influential minority than today’s Hispanic Americans. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. Hispanic population numbered 55.3 million in 2014. That’s 17.3 percent of our total population, making it the largest ethnic demographic group in the U.S.

People whose families arrived here from Mexico make up the largest component of those figures, at 64 percent, or more than 35 million people. According to Pew Research Center (PRC) data, as of 2014 the average age among the Mexican demographic was 26, meaning the group will only continue to rise in terms of buying power.

Amy Sousa, ethnographic analyst at The Hartman Group, notes, Marketers lose sight of the fact that the majority of Hispanics in the U.S. were born here. She’s referring to the huge percentage of Hispanic consumers who are Millennials (approximately 60 percent per PRC) and grew up as second-generation Americans. This group thinks, acts and feels about food much like any other Millennials, whether in grocery stores or restaurants. Immigrants are naturally fond of the foods they knew back home, but second-generation kids are already home so the food of their homeland includes chilaquiles as well as breakfast sandwiches bought from drive-thrus or convenience store freezer cases. A sausage, egg and cheese biscuit may one day be a point of nostalgia for them.

Technomic says only 22 percent of Mexican Americans’ breakfasts are eaten away from home, leaving 78 percent of them available to be made from convenience food options. Food manufacturers are serving this market with spicy breakfast burritos in formats ranging from gluten-free to high-protein. Examples include 7-11’s microwaveable 7-Select Bacon & Egg Breakfast Burrito, packing 21 grams of protein and made with all-natural pork; and Sweet Earth Natural Foods’ Baja Breakfast Burrito with 20 grams.

Breakfast also offers a great opportunity to build restaurant traffic with this group. This is especially true for quick service restaurants (QSRs), as Technomic tells us QSRs are favorite locations for Mexican Americans to gather for breakfast or snacks with friends and family.

Despite this group being just as likely to enjoy a bacon, egg and sriracha breakfast sandwich as a plate of migas, the success of breakfast burritos and tacos at non-Hispanic chains has led many Mexican concepts to begin offering their own breakfast menu. Chains, including Taco Bell, Del Taco, Taco Cabana and Torchy’s are attracting breakfast dollars from a good percentage of Hispanics and non-Hispanics alike with breakfast tacos, burritos, quesadillas and plates.

But for real creativity and/or authenticity in menuing foods from south of the border, look to independent operators:

  • Hector’s Chilaquiles: blue corn tortilla chips sautéed in homemade green salsa with grilled all natural chicken breast and Monterey jack cheese, topped with two eggs, avocado slices and fresh salsa (Benedict’s, West Dundee, Ill.)
  • The Rose Breakfast Burrito: scrambled eggs, smoked Cheddar, peanut-poblano mole, crispy potatoes, braised bacon and avocado (Rose Cafe, Venice, Calif.)
  • Tamale Ranchero: roasted pork, poached egg, ranchero sauce, pickled black bean & red onion, citrus crema, radish and micro-cilantro (Hola Arepa, Minneapolis)
  • Huevos En Cazuela: chorizo, potatoes, two soft poached eggs, pickled green tomato salsa (The Grocery, Charleston, S.C.)
  • Mexican Omelette: chorizo, black beans, green chilies, onions, jalapenos, Jack & Cheddar cheese, salsa, avocado and sour cream (The Omelette Shoppe, Grand Rapids, Mich.)
  • Breakfast Burrito: basil tomato tortilla filled with scrambled eggs, guacamole, chorizo, queso fresco and sour cream, served with chipotle salsa (Whisk, Chicago)

American Hispanics, and particularly the large Mexican American subset, have impacted this country in many ways, not the least of which is in how we eat. We’ve happily pulled nachos and breakfast burritos into our lives and placed them right next to burgers and pizza in our culinary affections. It’s only a matter of time before huevos divorciados will be right up there with them.

A Culinary Melting Pot

Our United States of America was created by people who came from every corner of the planet. We arrived with different cultures, religions, attitudes and customs, yet somehow came together as one nation.

One thing that binds us is an appreciation for our myriad cuisines. Gone are the days of 1950s sitcom mothers sailing through kitchen doors with platters of pot roast and potatoes. We’re far more likely to see pizza, tacos or stir-fry on today’s dinner plates. This change from the 20th century ideal of meat and potatoes dinners crept up on us. It began with the bohemian idea of pizza for a special dinner treat and evolved into ordering huevos rancheros for breakfast.

How did this happen? The immigrants who helped create this country could bring little with them but their cuisines. As Marcel Proust once observed, when nothing is left to us of our past, smell still remains, and if we get a whiff of a long-forgotten smell, we are suddenly intoxicated. It seems certain then that the smells of familiar cooking helped soothe those who’d left everything behind to begin a new life in an unknown land.

Perhaps due to easy availability of dining diversity, we now view ourselves as adventurous diners. The National Restaurant Association (NRA) says that 64 percent of us consider ourselves to be more adventurous in our away-from-home food choices than just two years ago. That increases to 77 percent among Millennials, who now account for 25 percent of the U.S. population as our largest demographic group.

Purists may demand only authentic dishes like a breakfast of North African shakshuka made of eggs poached in tomato sauce spiced with chili peppers, onions and cumin. But a major consumer trend is toward fusion, whether that’s salsa on an omelet, chorizo on pizza or sriracha in a burrito. This is the essence of New American cuisine.

New American is the catchall term for any cuisine that defies categorization, according to Phil Vettel, the Chicago Tribune restaurant critic. Loosely defined, New American is understood to mix ingredients or treatments from two or more cuisines to create a dish in a way that can’t be labeled as a recognizable cuisine. That’s a most apt reflection of our melting-pot culture and certainly gives chefs a license to exercise creativity.

To illustrate, currently menued breakfast examples of New American dishes include:

  • Double Awesome: two poached eggs with soft golden yolks, homemade pesto and Vermont Cheddar in a scallion pancake with a side of spicy ketchup (Mei Mei, Boston)
  • Steak n’ Eggs: ash-rubbed steak with house potatoes, roasted tomato, shishito peppers & two eggs (Red Cow, Minneapolis/St. Paul)
  • Yolko Moono: shaved ribeye, provolone, fried egg smothered in chipotle lime hollandaise on a brioche bun (You Crack Me Up, Buffalo, NY)
  • Huevos Rancheros: crawfish étouffée topped with two fried tostadas, another layer of étouffée followed by eggs, pico de gallo, queso fresca, lime crema and fresh guacamole (Rex 1516, Philadelphia)
  • Heritage Poached Eggs: with fried oysters, collards and red curry hollandaise (Minton’s, NYC)
  • Asian Pork Frittata: herbs, Gruyere, Chinese pork sausage (The Cecil, Harlem)
  • Chilaquiles Benedict: barbacoa beef served on a stack of ranchero-sauced tortillas and melted cheese, topped with poached eggs, roasted poblano hollandaise, pico de gallo and cotija cheese (Snooze Eatery, Denver)

At this point there exists very little in the way of items from food manufacturers fitting this description, but that is likely to change soon, as interest in fusion food has been with us for decades. Back in 1994, peer-reviewed research was published in Hospitality Review with the title Cross-Cultural Cuisine: Long-Term Trend or Short-Lived Fad. The authors concluded that not only was fusion cuisine not a fad, but named it an enduring trend that was expected to become routine. How right they were!

Just as our melting pot of citizens is what makes us all Americans, the cuisines we brought with us are what have led to the cuisine called New American.

A Perfect Culinary Storm

There would be little argument with the statement, Americans really like their food. But it may be more appropriate to say that we really like everyone’s food. We embrace it, often adjust it, and then make it our own.

Foreign cuisines have become a national obsession. We follow tweets from the top Thai brunch place in town and stream all Food Channel shows on regional Peruvian cooking. We know the weekly schedule of our favorite fusion cuisine breakfast truck and Instagram every item we order at the Korean burger place just opened by that celebrity chef.

The flavor industry tells us to look for increased heat and bold flavors from Indonesian Sambal, Korean gochujang, and African harissa paste and peri-peri sauce. Some also expect our improving relationship with Cuba to increase interest in green olive, guava and sofrito.

Millennials comprise 25 percent of our population, are the most diverse demographic in history, and have an intense interest in food as it relates to wellness, social responsibility and social interaction.

According to the National Restaurant Association, 90 percent of foodservice operators say consumers have grown more knowledgeable about food and pay more attention to food quality than just two years ago. But that fact hardly seems remarkable given the points outlined in the paragraphs above. All points show a population with great interest in food.

People automatically see Mexican when thinking of ethnic cuisines at breakfast and it’s well represented by breakfast burritos, huevos rancheros and chilaquiles like the Peking duck with fried eggs, pickled onion, guajillo salsa, cotija, crema and corn tortilla at Zengo in Washington D.C. A Cuban connection is found in Denver at Snooze Eatery in Havana Daydreaming, made with free-range pork, shaved ham, Gruyere, homemade pickles and sunny-side egg with Dijon hollandaise.

Going more exotic, we see harissa-braised kale with applewood-smoked lamb bacon and fried eggs at The Breslin in NYC, and The Kenwood’s Korean-style shrimp and grits with ramps, shiitakes, poached egg and K-mama sauce in Minneapolis. Italian shows up as a Benedict with poached eggs on grilled focaccia with prosciutto and pesto sauce at Thornton’s Restaurant & Café in Boston, and Caribbean style comes from Miss Lilly’s in Soho, with eggs over easy, plantains, stew peas and Scotch bonnet pepper.

If dining out is not an option, we fill our freezers with choices for a quick, satisfying breakfast. GFA Brands offers gluten-free morning burritos under the Udi’s label. Uncured meats are available through lines from both Good Foods Made Simple and Phil’s Fresh Foods’ evol line, including a Spicy Bacon & Egg Burrito with jalapeños. Ruiz Foods’ El Monterey Signature Egg Burritos use ingredients like seasoned pork sausage, applewood-smoked bacon, real scrambled eggs and fresh-baked tortillas. And if it’s hearty food that’s wanted, Hormel’s Chi-Chi’s brand, includes the Triple Play burritos made with three kinds of meat, three cheeses and hash browns.

It’s interesting that with the wide variety of ingredients available, eggs are surprisingly common in diverse cuisines throughout the world. Western-style eggs are even topping morning rice in Japan and fava beans in India, contrary to local traditions.

So where will the next huevos rancheros or breakfast burrito come from, and in what form? We need only look at traditional breakfasts that have made small inroads onto U.S. menus to make predictions:

  • Shakshuka: Already in spotty distribution throughout the country, this dish of eggs poached in a sauce of tomatoes, chili peppers and onions, often spiced with cumin seems poised to take off in 2016. (Israel and northern Africa)
  • Migas: Already enjoying popularity in selected areas; needs wider distribution to gain momentum. Should be as popular as huevos rancheros, even at non-Hispanic operations. One example is found at Café Brazil in Dallas, made with homemade chorizo, onions, bell peppers and sliced jalapeños tossed with scrambled eggs and crisp tortilla strips. (Mexico)
  • Jian Bing: Found in a few spots including The Flying Pig food truck in NYC and Bing Mi! truck in Portland, Ore. This Chinese crepe is a breakfast street food, including egg, pickled vegetables, and a fried cracker smothered in hoisin and chili sauce, enveloped in a wheat and mung bean flour pancake. (China)
  • Congee: Already enjoying popularity among Millennials and in a growth mode per Technomic; needs more mainstream trial. One example is the Organic Rice Congee with farm egg, crispy pork belly or shrimp, peanuts and cilantro at Auberge du Soleil in Napa Valley. (East Asia)

So it’s true: Americans really do like everybody’s food. We discover it, embrace it, then make it our own.


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