August 13, 2013

Italians Don't Eat Eggs For Breakfast

When I was in Italy I was told, "You want eggs for breakfast?  Try London."

My hostess in Florence explained to me that she serves,  "a poor Italian breakfast."  So does everybody in Italy, I found out.  

Espresso with hot milk and white sugar, biscuits (mine were senza glutine, gluten-free), butter and jam.  It's a perfect breakfast if, in my opinion, you've been out drinking the night before and didn't get much sleep.  That would be my preferred breakfast on those rare mornings.  

Italians don't eat eggs for breakfast and as our language instructor, Roberta says, Americans are "strange" to do so.

By the second week I had talked my hostess into hard-boiling eggs at night for my breakfast the next day.  She said yes.  

If you're a breakfast lover like I am, however, this was a sad and barely palatable improvement.  But hey, I was getting animal protein at least in the morning.  (my apologies to my numerous vegetarian friends)  

It is typical for Italians to only eat meat once a week. (Dinnella).  My hostess was typically Italian.

During the Renaissance, a doctor from Oxford, Andrew Boorde, wrote in his book in 1542 titled, Fyrst Boke of the Introduction of Knowledge that, "day laborers required three full meals to accommodate the demands of toil."  Within the next hundred years northwestern Europeans started eating boiled and poached eggs and bread with salt herring or curd cheese for breakfast. (Snodgrass, 1. 76)  

The breakfast message was somehow lost on the Italians.  But it wasn't always this way.


History states that ancient Romans ate peafowl eggs for breakfast.  Eggs for breakfast!

Eggs were Meat

The Catholic Church used to consider eggs meat and therefore during Lent and other holy days where meat was forbidden, eggs were also not eaten.  That added up to half the year without eating eggs at all, much less for breakfast.  Consequently they either hatched their eggs or saved them for Easter when they could eat meat again.  To save the egg without refrigeration, they dipped the egg in wax or liquid fat and then decorated it.  That's where we get decorated Easter eggs - I always wondered.  (Kiple, 500).

In Lieu of Eggs

The coffee, however, was excellent.  They make espresso in stovetop percolators and warm up milk in a separate cup or pot.  Milk, though, is only in morning coffee, never in afternoon or evening coffee.  Americans are strange to do that.  

A Good Use of Eggs in Coffee

Before electric percolators became common in the 1950s, Americans made coffee with an egg in its shell.  . . ."coffee is much clearer made with egg, as grounds clung to the shell and could be more easily separated from the liquid."   Even Fannie Farmer declared, "coffee made with an egg has a rich flavor, and thus that only dire poverty should prevent one from using this method." (Elias, 35).

But Why do We Eat Eggs for Breakfast and Italians Don't?

In the last couple hundred years Americans ate more and more eggs but I could only find conflicting information and no verification of why. Even the National Chicken Council who were kind enough to answer my emails, offered no verification of why we eat eggs for breakfast in this country.  

I read from an unverified source that in the mid-1800s the Boston Poultry Association got together with England and France to promote more poultry consumption.  So there you have it.  It may be that we eat eggs for breakfast because it was commercialized to us to do so.

However, in the 1800s through the early 1900s Americans still relied on backyard flocks, (National Chicken Council), which are today growing in popularity and becoming common.

So Italians don't eat eggs for breakfast but they sure know how to put out a breakfast.  

When I visited the University of Gastronomic Sciences, I treated myself to the fancy hotel they run on the campus.  The breakfast was equally luxurious; local yeast-free breads, cured hams, hand made biscuits, regional cheese, but I still only got a boiled egg.

. . . but it was a gorgeous pasture egg, bright orange and full of nutrition.  

The cappuccino was flawless.

I ate nearly the same thing on my last morning while catching up on reflection pages from my class in Florence and  preparing to train to the coast for my long-awaited holiday.  

I'm glad the Italians were willing to make eggs for the visiting American tourists.  I tried to practice the, "when in Rome" philosophy and just do everything like an Italian while I was there.  Giving up eggs for breakfast was rough.  If I ever live in Italy, I will have to get my own backyard chicken, or two.


Snodgrass, M.E. (2013).  World Food: An Encyclopedia of History, Culture, and Social Influence from Hunter-Gatherers to the Age of Globalization.  Armonk, NY: Myron E. Sharpe, Inc.

Kiple, K.F., Conee Ornelas, K., (Eds.). (2009). The Cambridge World History of Food. Cambridge, UK:  The Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge.

Wylie, D. (2001) Starving on a Full Stomach: Hunger and the Triumph of Cultural Racism in Modern South Africa. Charlottesville and London:  University Press of Virginia. 

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (2003) Egg marketing: A guide for the production and sale of eggs. (Agricultural Services Bulletin 150) Rome, Italy: Author.

Teuteberg, H. J. (Ed.). (1992) European Food History A Research Review. Great Britain: Leicester University Press.

National Chicken Council.  Retrieved from

Elias, M.J. (2009) Food in the United States, 1890-1945.  Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, LLC.

Dinnella, C. (2013, July). Food defined by times of the day.  Lecture of Sensory Taste Science, University of Florence. Florence, Italy.