The Great Oatmeal Debate

The Latvian vs the American Way, vs?

Some call it porridge, some call it gruel, some call it blah.

Until I stayed with relatives, I thought there was only one way to eat oatmeal: cooked in water, served with milk and sugar, maybe with sliced bananas on top. At the rellies house, we mostly had the usual things for breakfast, eggs, bacon, pancakes that sort of thing. But one morning my aunt cooked oatmeal. I stared in amazement as my uncle started eating his portion without pouring milk on top. He stared in amazement as I poured milk on my porridge. It was a long time before I tried eating oatmeal without milk.

Sometimes I really hate grocery shopping. I won’t go to the supermarket until my cupboards are almost in Mother Hubbard territory. Of course, my stomach doesn’t care that I don’t want to go shopping. It wants food now, not tomorrow, not next week, NOW. So, one time when I was out of milk but had rolled oats at home, I remembered my uncle eating his oatmeal without milk. Rather than go buy milk, I tried his way. To my surprise, it was good. After that, my oatmeal no longer sees milk. I eat it with blueberries, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Sometimes with raisins or craisins, sometimes with sliced strawberries or bananas on top.

That’s better.

Because my uncle was born and grew up in Latvia, I assumed that all Latvians eat milkless porridge, but I like evidence, so I posted the question in a social media group devoted to Latvian foods. No, eating porridge without milk wasn’t just my uncle’s eccentric preference. The majority of Latvians eat the hot breakfast cereal the same way. One woman even said that until she’d traveled outside Latvia, she’d never heard of eating oatmeal with milk. Another woman thought it’s yucky.

I learned of a variety of ways to fix and serve oatmeal. Not everyone cooks it with water. Many people cook oats in milk, then serve it with a pat of butter or with salt and/or cinnamon. One man cooks his with bananas and pours browned butter on top. Several people stir jam or jelly into their cereal.

In most cultures, only very young children drink milk. Sixty percent of adults around the world can’t digest milk. The rest, mostly Americans and Europeans still produce the enzyme that helps their bodies digest milk. Naturally, of the ones who can drink milk, some simply don’t like it or they like it with some foods, but not others. Being able to drink milk, or put it on their oatmeal, is what’s weird, not being able to is the norm. If you’re an adult who still wants wet oats, but can’t tolerate milk or want to save calories, and fat, you can wet your cereal with soy milk, coconut milk, or oat milk. Twice the oats.

I think there’s porridge under there. I’ll have to try this sometime.