Photo Of The Day: Guatemalan Ice Cream Truck

I’m traveling in Sicily this week, and was reminded how crummy the aptly named Continental breakfast can be in this part of Europe: a cup of coffee (the only time of day it is socially acceptable to have a cappuccino, incidentally) and a roll or small pastry. While I’m not a person who starts every day with steak, eggs and a short stack, the Italian “breakfast” makes me yearn for an English fry-up, or the protein-heavy array of cheeses in Turkey and Russia. The good news (for me, at least) is that in Sicily in the summer, it is customary to have gelato for breakfast. An ideal scoop of a nutty flavor like pistachio, tucked inside a slightly sweet brioche, makes for a quite satisfying breakfast sandwich. Ice cream is a thing we tend to eat more of on vacation, and it’s always fun to try local flavors and variations. You know, in the name of cultural research.

Today’s Photo of the Day by Flickr user AlphaTangoBravo shows an ice cream cart in Guatemala. Guatemalans love to add strawberry syrup to their ice cream, and carts are found year-round in Antigua, but sensitive stomachs should be warned: the street cart stuff is likely to cause worse than an ice cream headache.

Share your travel food photos in the Gadling Flickr pool (Creative Commons, please) and you might see it as a future Photo of the Day.

A European Culinary Essential: 5 Recipes To Celebrate World Nutella Day On February 5

There was a time when Nutella was merely a memory of European backpacking trips. The stuff was bought as you tried to keep your daily budget to $20 a day and would be spread on slices of bread from a local baker as you trekked through the old world.

But the hazelnut chocolate spread rose in popularity, and soon began to spread around the world, and now it’s as easy to find in an American grocery store as it is in a crepe stand in Paris.

February 5 is World Nutella Day, and for a product that has become synonymous with European breakfasts it’s only appropriate that the product gets its own international celebration. In fact, World Nutella Day is in its seventh year, and because of it, the website has a collection of over 700 recipes.

The earliest form of Nutella was created in the 1940s in Italy. Since then it has spread to global proportions. In fact, the amount of Nutella produced worldwide in one day is equivalent to nearly three times the weight of the Statue of Liberty.

To evoke travel dreams, here are five recipes perfect for celebrating World Nutella Day.

Make Your Own Nutella

It’s hard to go wrong with hazelnuts, chocolate and sugar, and Nutella is surprisingly easy to make at home.

Nutella Stuffed French Toast

The ultimate breakfast just might be French toast with a layer of creamy Nutella inside.

Nutella Cake

Infused with a little Frangelico, this cake is easy to make and shockingly addictive.

Hot Nutella and Cream Cheese Sandwich

A dessert sandwich? Yes. Combine Nutella with the savory flavor of a grilled cheese sandwich and you get this delectable item.

Chicken Enchiladas with Nutella Mole Poblano

Who said you had to stick to sweet dishes? Nutella makes an excellent addition to the classic chocolate mole sauce of Mexican dishes.

[Photo Credit: janineomg, Istelleinad]

What Hotels Offer A Free Breakfast?

If you’re not on an expense account, eating breakfast at a nice hotel can cost you a bundle. I had a voucher for a free breakfast at a hotel in Los Angeles a few weeks ago, but when I saw the bill totaling $94 for my family of four – two adults and two toddlers – I almost had to adjust my glasses.

This summer I wrote a column about how disappointing the breakfast experience can be at most American hotels these days – mediocre or outright bad food and don’t even get me started on how some people turn up in the breakfast room in bare feet and pajamas. My point was that free breakfast offerings are often of low quality and aren’t really free, because the cost is factored into your room rate. Pay breakfast options are usually overpriced, and I’d very much like to see hotels offer discounted room rates for guests that don’t want the “free” breakfast.

The piece generated 160 comments and most of you disagreed with me, some vehemently. I got the point, many of you like to get a free breakfast at your hotel and what’s on offer doesn’t matter to much so long as there’s something you like. So with that in mind, I contacted all of the largest American hotel chains to ascertain which brands are offering free breakfast these days. I also studied your comments about the breakfasts you like and checked out other sites like Hotel Chatter for other opinions on free hotel breakfast options.Gadling readers seem to think that Embassy Suites has the best free breakfast, but there were also kudos for Drury Hotels, Hampton Inn and Residence Inn. I’ve also heard good things from people I trust about Hyatt Place’s complimentary breakfast Skillet™ breakfast that includes hot breakfast sandwiches including low-carb options. Hotel Chatter gives props to Hilton Garden Inn and Courtyard but both of those brands charge for breakfast. Below you’ll find a list of hotels that offer free breakfast. In addition to these hotels, almost any independent bed & breakfast will provide you with a free breakfast, and many of these are of very high quality. Please let us know about other hotels that offer free breakfast in the comments section and be sure to tell us what you think about their breakfast offerings.

Baymont Inn
Best Western (most locations)
Clarion Inn
Comfort Inn
Comfort Suites
Days Inn
Drury Hotels
Econo Lodge
Embassy Suites
Fairfield Inn & Suites
Hampton Inn & Suites
Holiday Inn & Holiday Inn Resort – free for kids – see Kids Stay and Eat Free Program.
Holiday Inn Express
Home2 Suites by Hilton
Homewood Suites by Hilton
Howard Johnson
Hyatt House
Hyatt Place
Knights Inn
MainStay Suites
Quality Inn
Ramada (expect locations with an on-site restaurant)
Residence Inn
Sleep Inn
SpringHill Suites
Staybridge Suites
Super 8
TownePlace Suites
Wingate by Wyndham

[Photo credit: See Ming Lee on Flickr]

Hotels That Serve Glorified Prison Food For Breakfast

I’ve never been to prison, but I can’t help but wonder if convicts get a nicer breakfast than what you find on the breakfast buffets at most American chain hotels these days.

This year, I’ve had the displeasure of sampling the breakfast buffets at almost every major hotel chain, including Hampton Inn, Residence Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Hilton Garden Inn, Hyatt House, Westin and others. I’m no Gordon Ramsay, but I’m not impressed with any of them, even when the breakfast is free.

In fact, I view the free hotel breakfast as a decidedly mixed blessing. I love going out for a nice breakfast when I’m traveling but I’m also budget conscious and I have a hard time treating my family of four to breakfast when there’s a free breakfast at the hotel, no matter how dreadful it may be. But on many occasions, going down to eat the free breakfast feels more like an obligation than a pleasure.Last week, I stayed at an otherwise excellent Hyatt House location in Illinois and encountered one of the more pathetic breakfast buffets I’ve seen in some time. On one morning, I put three silver dollar pancakes on my plate only to discover that they were as hard as hockey pucks. It was 8.30 a.m. and they clearly had been sitting around since the buffet opened at 6. I approached the front desk with them in hand and handed them to the sweet young woman on duty, more or less for fun, but also to make a point.

“Would you eat these?” I asked.

“Oh, my God, no, I would not,” she admitted, upon noticing that the pancakes were hard enough to crack someone’s skull with.

She apologized and I asked to have the pancakes back as a sort of bizarre souvenir but she wanted to keep them to show to her manager. Sadly, bad food is par for the course at many breakfast buffets not only in the U.S. but also around the world. Here are a few ways hotels tend to ruin their breakfast buffets.

Not everyone wakes up at the crack of dawn

I’m usually traveling with two little boys who like to sleep in, so I almost never get down to breakfast at 6 or 7 when they first open. In places that are very busy, they might replenish the food and beverages frequently, but at places that aren’t very busy, they might just set a large quantity of food and drink out at opening time and just leave it there for the next two to four hours.

Beverages are warm, Food is cold!

Some places set the milk and juices out without any way to keep them cold, and have inadequate heating to keep the food warm.

Nothing but sugary, dessert-like breakfast items

OK, I admit it: those Otis Spunkmeyer muffins taste pretty damn good, but putting a bowl of those suckers out is more appropriate for Halloween than breakfast. Men’s Health did a piece on the worst foods you can eat for breakfast at hotels, and the least healthy things to eat are items you see everywhere: sausages, waffles, cranberry muffins and fruit flavored yogurts to name a few.

Stale Cereal

I wish hotels bought their cereal from Trader Joe’s but that’s probably a pipe dream. The reality is usually a choice between Cheerios, Wheaties, Raisin Bran, Frosted Flakes and Fruit Loops, often stale, and sometimes with lukewarm milk to boot.

Wonder Bread (or worse)

I don’t actually require a ton of food for breakfast. In fact, I’d be satisfied with a piece of toast, if it were from good bread, but hotels tend to buy the cheapest, blandest bread, English muffins and bagels imaginable. I’d be satisfied with a hotel that had nothing more than some good quality bread products: croissants, bagels, toast, etc.

No Variety

This problem is particularly pronounced when you stay in a hotel for several days or weeks. How many days in a row can you eat runny eggs, shriveled up, fatty sausages or very lame, yet highly fattening waffles?

Do you want some coffee with that warm, murky liquid you’re drinking?

Finding a good cup of coffee at a hotel breakfast buffet is difficult indeed. I tend to bring my own cup in places that have high quality coffee in the room but not down at the breakfast buffet.

Quantity, Not Quality

Most hotels feel like they need to provide options, but I’d rather see a hotel provide a few high quality items than a dozen poor or mediocre ones.

Bottom line

You get what you pay for, right? But is the “free” breakfast really free? Not really, because hotels build the cost of it into your room rate. Of the hotels I’ve stayed at that have a free breakfast buffet, I think the Residence Inn is the best, but that’s not saying much. Small bed and breakfast places tend to have the best breakfasts, but many of them don’t welcome families with very small children. Personally, I’d rather have lower room rates and go out for breakfast. What about you?

(Photos by Dave Seminara and Tim Pearce, Los Gatos on Flickr)

Photo of the Day: Smoked Turkish cheese

It used to be a common expression to say that someone “smoked like a Turk,” and I can confirm after living in Istanbul for nearly two years, Turks still love their smoking. Even after the indoor smoking ban of 2009, cigarettes and nargile (water pipes) are very common here. This portrait by Flickr user MichaelAV captures two of the Turks’ other loves: çay (see the tiny tea glass on the left) and cheese. So beloved is Turkish cheese that I’ve heard of Turks packing their suitcases full of it when traveling abroad. Be sure to try some with your Turkish breakfast or along with a glass of rakı at cocktail hour if you visit Turkey.

Take any portraits of locals with their favorite things? Add them to the Gadling Flickr pool and you may see it as a future Photo of the Day.