I've never been much of a breakfast person. This stems in part from my never having been a morning person. I don't drink coffee, much to the chagrin of most people I encounter. And as much as I love the lifestyle and eating habits on "The Continent", I believe a continental breakfast is best enjoyed once a week, tops. There is, however, one European morning culinary tradition I can get behind: churros con chocolate.
The churro is a fried baton or ring of deliciousness made from a kind of choux pastry (the dough used to make profiteroles or eclairs, for example). These treats originated on the Iberian peninsula, though their historical provenance is disputed. Some trace them to Spanish shepherds who may have been able to fry such a treat in pans over a fire while camping out in various countryside locations -- who supposedly named the treat after the shape of their sheep's horns. Others claim the Portuguese explorers brought an early version of the churro back from China, and modified their riff on the Ming Dynasty's youtiao to create their version. This would be further refined by the Spanish, who would extrude the pastry dough through a star-shaped die. (This shape, by the way, allows for maximum surface area, and therefore maximum crispness. Good move, Spain!)
Either way (or neither way!) the churro -- also called "calientes" or "calentitos de rueda" when fried in a continuous spiral wheel ("rueda") and cut into portions afterwards -- is a distinctly Iberian treat that has gained popularity in former Spanish and Portuguese colonies and Iberian-influenced regions the world over. Churrerías (or Xurrerias in Catalan) are both established brick-and-mortar cafes and dedicated shops, as well as carts in markets and at street festivals. You can always spot them by the line of hungry churros-eaters eagerly awaiting a freshly-fried batch.
In Spain, you can certainly find filled churros as well as the "classic", usually filled with chocolate or nutella, or a vanilla pastry cream. I've had them in Barcelona, glazed in dark chocolate: nothing could be bad there. In Cuba, straight, filled churros are popular, stuffed with fruit like guava (sounds amaaaazing), or filled with the beloved dulce de leche in Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Peru, and Mexico. They're glazed with arequipe (another South American word for caramel) in Colombia and Venezuela. And in Uruguay, the churros are sometimes served as a savory snack, filled with melted cheese.
While all of these versions sound delicious in their own ways, I would argue for the importance of the classic, as it were, served with a rich, thick hot chocolate. And so, we return to my original "exception breakfast" of the churros con chocolate. The churros, warm out of the fryer, are dusted with a cinnamon-sugar. They're usually handed over to you in a paper cone or bag. And they come with an embarrassingly indulgent cup of creamy, dense hot chocolate into which you should most definitely dip your churro. As often as possible, really. As you can see by the expression on my husband's face in the photo at right, dunking your churro in your chocolate can be a very serious matter, especially if you're trying to avoid dripping the hot chocolate down the front of your shirt. But that, too would be worth it for the amazing flavor...the crispy shell of the churro cracking and giving way to the warm, tender center...the subtle spice of the cinnamon and the granular crunch of the sugar...the bittersweet warm chocolate covering it all in a smooth pudding-like cream. It's addictive -- and certainly makes getting up in the morning feel well worth it!