Foreign Correspondence: The evolution of brunch – Australia v the US05/31/2019
Like sun-dried tomatoes and portobello-mushroom burgers, brunch came of age in the 1990s. Its rise in Australia coincided with the nation's newfound love of espresso drinks, as well as a growing desire to live healthier lives. Big, indulgent dinners were no longer in vogue. Throw a newfangled bread called sourdough into the mix, and you had a healthy habit worth adopting.
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Americans embraced brunch too, but theirs was very different. For a start, their coffee culture revolved around bottomless cups of drip. ("Want another?" asked a new friend as we finished our milky grande lattes at Starbucks one day in the early 2000s.) Brunch was less of a sun salute than an entertaining way to while away a Saturday indoors.
TV shows such as Sex and the City and Seinfeld promoted the idea of brunch as a way for urban families to reconnect after a hectic work week. The food wasn't fancy – Elaine's "big salad" on Seinfeld was about as gourmet as things got – but on the small screen it looked reliably convivial, even cosy.
When I moved to New York in 2005, Millennial brunch was in full swing. It was no longer just a meal. Brunch had become an identity for my peer group. Some friends even listed it as a hobby on their Facebook profiles, along with quotes from the movie Anchorman and George W. Bush memes. We were in our 20s, flush on fortnightly pay cheques, encumbered with few responsibilities beyond making sure we weren't evicted. There was no problem queuing for hours to eat foods very easily made at home. (Seeing a line, even now, evokes a Pavlovian response in me.)
Places which offered bottomless mimosas were especially appealing. The sparkling wine could have been Sprite; it was the feeling of abandon which we were after.
In Chicago, Bloody Marys are the brunch beverage of choice. (They're healthy because of the tomatoes.) The city has some of the coldest winters in North America and its Marys are often hearty meals in themselves, garnished with rashers of bacon, multiple pickles, even giant heads of romaine.
The American brunch is bacchanalian and the Australian one more wholesome, but both have taken off worldwide. A few years ago while visiting Abu Dhabi, where alcohol is strictly regulated, I noticed the expat population migrated to five-star hotels on the weekend, for liquid lunches in overly airconditioned rooms. They may as well have been in Brooklyn. And a friend recently returned from Paris tells me that the longest lines in the city on a Saturday are not for the flakiest croissants but rather for brunch at Australian-themed cafes. (Don't tell Bernard Salt.)
Among my friends, brunch has changed into something different again: a highly scheduled affair at which babies crawl underfoot. Although everyone's still bleary-eyed, the anecdotes about what happened the previous night concern sleep schedules. By necessity, alcohol consumption is more moderate.
Like the word itself, a sneaky portmanteau, brunch is flexible – a meal you can adapt to a whole host of life circumstances. What comes next, I'm told, is the competitive-cooking stage, in which we seek to outdo one another with gateaux and frittatas and tartes tatins. I'm no cook, but I'll do the dishes after. Does 10am work?
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