Let's Eat

International House of Pancakes (and Pho): Behind the Spread

How do you pronounce foul? And what's up with uppma? A guide to the 10 international breakfast dishes you've got to try.

By Katharine Shilcutt May 4, 2015 Published in the May 2015 issue of Houstonia Magazine

In the May issue of Houstonia, currently on newsstands, we're bursting at the seams to tell you all about the city's best breakfasts—including, naturally, all of the many international options available across this great city. After all—there's more to breakfast than just bacon and eggs.

Machacado con Huevo

Where to find it: Los Corrales, 7515 Navigation Blvd., 713-928-3669, loscorrales.net

What it is: machaca or carne seca is dried, shredded beef, somewhat similar to pork floss (a.k.a. Chinese cotton candy). The breakfast dish that mixes the shredded beef with scrambled eggs, garlic, tomatoes and onions is called machacado, and is thought to have originated in the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon, specifically the small town of Ciénega de Flores. At Los Corrales in the East End, it's served with stewed potatoes, refried beans and flour tortillas that are as freshly-made as the machaca—after all, Los Corrales is attached to a machaca factory that supplies the popular dried beef to a multitude of Texas grocery stores. You can buy a bag of it on your way out, and don't forget to grab a bag of hot, fresh tortillas while you're at it.

When to go: Los Corrales is open every morning at 6:30 a.m. sharp except for Sundays.

Samosas and Idli

Where to find it: Shiv Sagar, 6662 Southwest Fwy., 713-977-0150

What it is: Samosas are fried dumplings stuffed with a variety of savory fillings, from ground lamb to potatoes and peas. At the vegetarian-only Shiv Sagar, the fennel seed-studded pastries are filled with the latter, but don't expect this little pocket to be bland; it has an intense heat that builds up as you go. Idli are far tamer, puffy little discs made with fermented lentils, subtle on their own but excellent at soaking up the mint and tamarind chutneys that come on the side. You can eat samosas at any time of day—breakfast included—though idli are the more definitive breakfast item of the two where they originate in India.

When to go: Shiv Sagar isn't open for breakfast, but it's an excellent spot for weekend brunch; it opens at 11 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

Pho Tai

Where to find it: Pho Binh Trailer, 10928 Beamer Rd., 281-484-3963, phobinh.com/trailer

What it is: Any Houstonian who's lived here for even a year should be familiar with pho by now. In case you haven't yet experienced the Vietnamese beef soup yourself, the Pho Binh trailer is the ideal place to start—the same trailer that's been sparking lifelong love affairs with pho since it opened in 1983. But while most native Houstonians eat their bowls of pho at lunch or dinner, eating a big bowl of beef-and-noodle soup for breakfast is the way most Vietnamese start their day.

When to go: The trailer opens at 8 a.m. Tuesday through Sunday. If you're going on the weekend, head out early; the pho can occasionally run out by lunch, and, anyway, you're supposed to be eating it for breakfast.


Where to find it: Pondicheri, 2800 Kirby Dr., 713-522-2022, pondichericafe.com

What it is: Upma—or uppma, as it's spelled on Pondicheri's menu—is an Indian porridge made from semolina, the same stuff we use to make Cream of Wheat over here. The beauty of upma, much like oatmeal or grits or any other hot breakfast cereal, is that there's no wrong way to top it or dress it up. At Pondicheri, chef Anita Jaisinghani uses coarse Texas grits in lieu of semolina, then adds in cauliflower, green peas and curry to spice things up. It's topped with tangy yogurt and chopped peanuts for added spark and texture.

When to go: At Pondicheri, bless them, breakfast is served every day until 3 p.m., starting at 7 a.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. on weekends.

Desayuno Hondureño

Where to find it: Honduras Maya, 5945 Bellaire Blvd., 713-668-5002, hondurasmayacafeybar.com

What it is: If you simply must have eggs with breakfast, this dish is for you. A desayuno hondureño—or Honduran breakfast—comes with two fried eggs (or however you prefer them) on a big plate filled with refried beans, sweet fried plantains, tart crema fresca (the cool saltiness of which tastes amazing against the hot plantains), slices of avocado and a hard, salty cheese that's nice to nibble on with a cup of coffee. All this is only $5.50, though if you've got a bigger appetite, you can add a pork chop for $2 more.

When to go: This little slice of Honduras is open daily from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.—come for the killer breakfast, stay for the Friday night karaoke.


Where to find it: Andes Cafe, 2311 Canal St., 832-659-0063, andescafe.com

What it is: Imagine a thick, griddled pancake made with sweet, fresh corn instead of flour. Stuffed with cheese, then folded over like a loose quesadilla, cachapas are served with a side of cream that's as fresh and sweet as the corn. The exterior of the cachapa typically has a caramelized crunch that's offset by the salty cheese inside—and is even better when ordered with added carne mechada, shredded beef that's been stewed down until soft like a fatty brisket. Cachapas are a common Venezuelan breakfast item, typically eaten from roadside stands and street food stalls.

When to go: Andes Cafe opens at 9 a.m. daily, and the cachapas are even better during Sunday brunch with a passionfruit mimosa.


Where to find it: Cedars Bakery, 8619 Richmond Ave., 713-706-4141, cedarsbakeryhouston.com

What it is: The menu at Cedars Bakery calls this dish many different things depending on the toppings—cheese bread, za'atar, pizza with mushroom—but what it is, very simply, is fresh pita bread with toppings baked on top of it as it cooks in the giant stone ovens. The most basic incarnation of mana'eesh (also called manakish) here at Cedars comes with a generous spread of olive oil and za'atar, a sumac-based spice blend that's delicious when dipped in some cool, tart lebne (similar to Greek yogurt). A personal favorite is the sojok, a sausage that tastes a lot like beef chorizo, baked together with halloum cheese. Though Cedars is itself a Lebanese restaurant, mana'eesh is eaten throughout the Middle East at both breakfast and lunch.

When to go: Cedars is open daily at 7 a.m. and there's typically a wait—both for breakfast and for the fresh pita bread it sells in large volumes.


Where to find it: Abdallah's, 3939 Hillcroft St., 713-952-4747, abdallahs.com

What it is: Also known by its full name, foul moudammas, this dish is said to have originated in Egypt and reached staple status around the Middle Ages. In the most basic sense, foul—pronounced "fool"—is simply a pot of beans, cooked down and then mashed together with some herbs and spices, typically garlic, salt, lemon juice and olive oil. It remains a popular breakfast item to this day and is often referred to as the national dish of Egypt. The Lebanese version at Abdallah's is made with fava beans and makes for an incredibly filling meal for $5.99, though you can always add a couple of fried eggs on top for $2 each.

When to go: Abdallah's is open daily at 7 a.m. and, like Cedars, sells rounds of fluffy, fresh pita bread to-go as well as a variety of other Levantine groceries.

Salted Jellied Tofu and Youtiao

Where to find it: Golden Panda, 9889 Bellaire Blvd., 832-831-4998

What it is: At Golden Panda, the house-made tofu tastes nothing like the spongy store-bought stuff you may be more familiar with. Here, it's combined with slightly spicy ground beef and cilantro to make a savory breakfast dish in which the tofu tastes like silky panna cotta. Order it with a side of youtiao, or fried dough that tastes a lot like an un-sugared beignet, and you've got a fairly standard Chinese breakfast, especially if you add some dumplings—steamed or fried—and thin egg pancakes filled with vegetables.

When to go: Golden Panda is open daily at 8:30 a.m. If you order coffee (which...maybe you should stick to tea here), prepare for it to be of the powdered, instant kind.

Vigilante and Empanadas

Where to find it: Manena's, 11018 Westheimer Rd., 713-278-7139, manenas.com

What it is: Vigilantes, sweet Argentinean pastries that bear a striking resemblance to croissants, can be filled with all kinds of sugary fillings, from dulce de leche to Nutella. Here at Manena's, the vigilantes rellenos are filled with quince paste, which tastes like a cross between apple and pear jam. The empanadas come with a vareity of fillings at Manena's, however, from jamón y queso to the ultra-traditional South American specialty humita, or sweet corn. A plate of these hearty little pockets will keep you going well past lunch, especially when paired with one of Manena's cappuccinos.

When to go: Manena's is open daily at 8:30 a.m. except on Sundays.


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