Britain loves toast for breakfast but, arguably, lacks a sense of adventure about how to top it. As a nation, we tend to stick to marmalade, lemon curd and a small number of fruit jams, neglecting what, if you look around the world, are the endlessly varied, spreadable ways in which you can titivate toast. To inspire you, here are 20 chefs and food-lovers on the international spreads that make their breakfast toast bang. You may never eat strawberry jam again.
Molasses and tahini
In the eastern Mediterranean, nutty tahini is often mixed into something sweet, such as honey or – in Turkey – molasses-like fruit syrups called pekmez. For two people, mix together 30g of tahini with 30g of date or mulberry molasses, and slap it on buttered sourdough. “If you want it richer,” advises Esra Muslu, the chef-owner of Zahter, London, “instead of butter, add kaymak on top – it’s like clotted cream.” Finally, scatter crushed walnuts over your toast.
Ricotta and honey
Italian food lovers go into raptures about eating fresh sheep ricotta in Italy. Gip Dammone, co-owner of Salvo’s in Leeds, remembers family trips home to Sicily where a farmer would go door to door, cheese “dripping from conical baskets on a yoke round his neck. Everyone came out to buy some for breakfast, eaten on bread or toast, sprinkled with sugar or sometimes coffee grounds.” In the UK, cow’s ricotta is more common. Spread on sourdough toast (approximately 300g for four slices), dressed with honey and toasted almonds, it still makes a tasty breakfast – indeed, some brunch fans are calling it the new avo toast. For maximum authenticity, try the semolina flour pane Siciliano bread recipe available at the online deli Strazzanti.
“As kids, we had fried plantain sandwiches in Jamaican hardo bread. This is my healthier take,” says Michelle Miah, co-owner of Rudie’s Jerk Shack venues in London. For two people, choose a very ripe, blackening plantain. Wrap it in foil and roast it for an hour at 200C (180C fan)/400F/gas 6. Mash the plantain with a little cinnamon, and add honey to sweeten, if necessary. Spread on buttered Jamaican hard dough bread, AKA hardo, or any dense loaf.
This sweet adzuki or red bean jam has multiple uses, but, in Japanese ogura toast, it is served on thick shokupan toast with either a square of butter or whipped cream on top. Its beany flavour is “unique”, says Nina Matsunaga, the chef-owner of the Black Bull in Sedbergh: “It’s similar in mouthfeel to tinned chestnuts.” Making anko takes hours but you can buy it readymade from specialist suppliers such as Japan Centre or Sous Chef. If want to make your own anko, spend what you can on the adzuki beans: “Cheaper beans can be a little bitter. Plumper beans give a smoother texture.”
Fold the sweet, savoury heat of this Korean fermented chilli paste into butter and spread away, advises chef Judy Joo from Seoul Bird restaurants, London. Or mix in some Marmite, too: “Its soy-sauce-like flavour goes well with gochujang’s spicy, earthy notes. It’s like an umami bomb going off in your mouth.”
Growing up in Siberia, cookery writer Alissa Timoshkina, the author of Salt & Time: Recipes from a Russian Kitchen (Mitchell Beazley), loved sea buckthorn jam: “But savoury breakfasts are probably more common than sweet ones – things like Russian cheese and salami. Patés such as cod’s liver and sprats are also a staple.” To make paté for six people, drain a 240g can of sprats in oil (available in eastern European stores; alternatively, sardines are a good sub), and mash them with two hard-boiled egg yolks and 2 tbsp of mayonnaise, until smooth. Add lemon juice and seasoning to taste and, optionally, grated cheddar and chopped dill, before topping slices of toasted baguette.
Peanut butter and ‘jelly’
Shaun Hurrell, the chef-owner of the Mexican restaurant Barrio Comida in Durham, spent his formative years in California and occasionally rolls out this US staple for his kids. Cheap, smooth, highly processed peanut butter with grape jelly (ie clear jam, no bits) is the classic combo on white bread, served sandwich-style or on toast. “On toast, go peanut butter first then jelly, so all the peanut butter’s gooey fats start to melt. It’s not normally done to butter the bread.”
Sweet soy butter
“Bread is not traditional Japanese food, but it’s everywhere,” says Masaki Sugisaki, the chef-owner of Dinings SW3, London. At home, it is often toasted and topped with sweet soy butter: “It has a salted caramel-like flavour with a nutty sesame aroma.” Per slice of toast (thick-cut shokupan milk bread, ideally), mix 1 tbsp of sugar with 1 tbsp of mirin and ½ tsp of soy sauce in a ramekin and microwave it until boiling. Butter the toast and brush over half the sweet soy mix. Return the toast to the grill until the sweet soy begins to caramelise. Remove the toast. Apply the remaining sweet soy and, preferably, dress the toast with roasted sesame oil and black sesame seeds. Cut into quarters and serve.
“I’ve always chosen salt over sugar. At breakfast, I want punchy, salty flavours,” says Crete-born Marianna Leivaditaki, the head chef at Morito, Hackney Road, London, and author of Aegean (Kyle Books). To that end, per person Leivaditaki blitzes two handfuls of destoned, brined green olives with a few pieces of sun-dried tomato, “capers, a bit of garlic, dried oregano and drops of red wine vinegar”. Adjust to taste and smother on toasted sourdough. Top with halved cherry tomatoes, olive oil and an anchovy fillet: “A delicious start to your day.”
Popular in south-east Asia, this coconut jam or curd (in the UK, look out for Madam Chang’s Great Taste award-winning version) is thought to be the creation of Hainanese chefs who, historically, were often employed by British colonial bosses. As a dish, it has morphed significantly over the centuries. Typically, it is made with white sliced bread, crust off (some aficionados prefer brown), with the jam and a thick slice of cold butter sandwiched between two slices. “The butter is important – you need a hunk of it,” says Sandra Leong, the UK director of the Singaporean fast-food chain Old Chang Kee in London. This toast sandwich is then dipped into runny, soft-boiled eggs seasoned with soy sauce and white pepper for a compelling sweet-savoury contrast. “The yolk gives it extra richness, too.”
Middle Eastern msabacha or msabbaha (spellings vary) is a chunky hummus variant which, says chef Eyal Jagermann, the leader of Israeli courses at the online cookery platform Rassa, people are increasingly “playing around” with in Tel Aviv. “Originally, it was eaten with pitta, but you see it in sandwiches and on toast with olive oil, chopped parsley and tatbelah – a cool condiment you can make by mixing a finely chopped garlic glove and half a deseeded green chilli into the juice of a lemon.” To make msabacha for two, mix 50-60g of tahini into 150g of cooked chickpeas, loosening the mix with cooking water and seasoning it with lemon juice and salt. “It’s best eaten warm and fresh,” says Jagermann.
Colonial rule and the upheaval of the second world war left Hong Kong and wider south-east Asia with a love of condensed milk in tea, used as a dessert topping or spread on unbuttered, toasted white bread. “We call it GI food, things in a tin,” says Taiwan-born Erchen Chang, the creative director at Bao restaurants in London. “As a kid, particularly, condensed milk’s milky, toffee flavour felt indulgent.”
Pan con tomate
As a Valencian, Jose Garzón, the head chef at Porta in Chester, favours the approach of neighbouring Catalonia: toasted slices of “light, airy Spanish coca” (or use ciabatta) are gently rubbed with a peeled garlic clove and a halved very ripe tomato, then drizzled generously with extra-virgin olive oil and sea salt. But, says Garzón, “If you don’t have ripe tomatoes, you can finely grate them and spread them on the bread.” In fact, that technique is common in other parts of Spain. If using poor-quality tomatoes, let them sit in oil and salt to develop the flavour. Do not deseed them: “I find the flavour is more in that juice around the seeds than the pulp.”
Salată de vinete
“In Romania,” says food writer Irina Georgescu, the author of Carpathia: Food from the Heart of Romania (Frances Lincoln), “it’s traditional to serve savoury breakfasts, which often turn into mini-feasts.” Salată de vinete, an aubergine spread, is a feature. To serve two, cook a medium aubergine in a griddle pan over a high heat, turning it regularly until it softens (10-15 minutes). Once cooled, halve the aubergine. Scoop out and roughly chop the flesh. In a bowl, slowly stir in 20-25ml of oil (sunflower, normally) and a quarter of a finely diced red onion until everything is smoothly incorporated. Serve on unbuttered toast, seasoned with salt, pepper and drops of cider vinegar.
Dulce de leche
Nicknamed milk jam, this caramelly amalgam of milk and sugar is an obsession in South America, where it is further flavoured with vanilla, cinnamon, chocolate or honey. Making your own is worthwhile but laborious. As an intro, you can find it in delis and online. “My favourite way to eat it is spread on brioche with toasted cashews or hazelnuts,” says Brazilian/Italian Rafael Cagali, the chef-owner of Da Terra, London.
Almond-based Moroccan amlou has, says chef Nargisse Benkabbou, the author of Casablanca (Mitchell Beazley), “a nutty, earthy taste nicely balanced with honey”. It is eaten as a dip or spread on pitta-like batbout bread but, says Benkabbou, “I love mine with good white sourdough.” For two to four people, in a food processor combine 50g almond butter, 30ml Moroccan argan oil (eg Belazu’s, or substitute walnut oil), 20ml clear honey and a good pinch of salt.
“Growing up, my Aunt Grace Mary would visit from Ghana and eat shito on toast. I thought this was a strange use of this umami chilli sauce made with dried fish and smoked prawns, but now I’m fully converted for breakfast,” says the chef Akwasi Brenya-Mensa, who next year will open a restaurant, Tatale, at theAfrica Centre in London. You can buy shito in several supermarkets. Brenya-Mensa prefers it on Caribbean hard dough bread or the sweet bread from the Ghanaian bakery Uncle John’s in London. “I like that slight sweetness in contrast with the heat.”
Where pigs are raised in southern Europe, you will find people letting slivers of what the Italians call lardo (cured pork back fat – widely available in UK delis) melt into toast. Transylvanians also make a moussey lardo spread, chisătură. To serve four, blend 125g of rindless lardo in a food processor with the white of two spring onions and a handful of chopped parsley. “Spread thick on warm toast. It melts in the mouth and feels light despite its robustness,” says Irina Georgescu.
Bombay sandwich chutney
Unsurprisingly, this was originally a sandwich filling, often putting some pep in a cheese toastie. But, says Gouranga Bera, a chef at the Curry Leaf Cafe in Brighton: “Like lots of people back home, I love it on toast. The flavour’s fresh with a nice chilli kick.” For two people, in a food processor blitz 70g of coriander, 30g mint leaves, two spring onions, one hot green chilli, 10g of fresh ginger, the juice of half a lime and ½ tsp of salt into a paste. Heap on white toast, crusts cut off, butter optional.
Variations of this sharp, spicy Slovakian cheese spread are served throughout central Europe, often during a blowout brunch. “Originally, it was served on schwarzbrot, black bread, or traditional sourdough. But it works just as well on a baguette or crispy toast,” says Hubert Zanier, the owner of Kipferl, London, an Austrian deli-restaurant. For four people, mix 250g fresh soft cheese (typically quark, but cottage cheese or ricotta will stand in) with 50g of unsalted butter and 3 tbsp of sour cream, until smooth. Fold in 1 tsp of smooth mustard; 10 large chopped capers; 3 small diced pickled gherkins; 1 tsp crushed cumin seeds; 1 tsp sweet paprika; 1 tsp salt; and 1 tsp black pepper. Importantly, advises Zanier: “Let it rest for one hour before serving.”