Let the Danish Dining Begin!

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Welcome to the collective food blog by the students enrolled in the CSUF H&SS Study Abroad Summer Program in Copenhagen, Denmark, July-August 2019. Here you’ll read about the students’ experiences learning about and indulging in Danish food, as well as about Danish efforts toward socially just and environmentally sustainable food practices.

Nourishment, a basic biological need, becomes something else because we humans transform it symbolically into a system of meaning for much more than itself. That seemingly needless overcomplication is a distinctively human undertaking, which every culture embraces, but each somewhat differently.

–Sidney Mintz, Tasting Food, Tasting Freedom

Unique New Nordic Experience

When I heard that we were going to a fancy three course meal restaurant, I was intrigued because it is something I would never choose to do on my own, since it is so expensive. I was expecting that I would be served tiny portions of food that I probably would not like, but I still wanted to try everything because why not. I also expected it to be a lot like a scene in the movie Always Be My Maybe where they go to a fancy restaurant and eat crystallized lavender sugar bubbles. I thought it would be eating a lot of strange things that you would never even imagine being edible. However, based on what we read about this type of food in the New Nordic Cuisine Manifesto, the chefs who created this cuisine made a 10-point manifesto so that everyone has the same idea of what types of food are prepared and what foods can be used in certain seasons. I enjoyed that this was an aspect of new Nordic cuisine because, in America, people all have different opinions about what kinds of food are considered American. I was excited about this last meal, and I kept an open mind for the food that I was about to try.

When we arrived at Höst, we were told to go downstairs to the staff table in the cellar. It was sort of strange that we were not walked to our table because that is something that would have happened in the U.S. I was also disappointed about eating in the cellar because it was quite plain in comparison to the rest of the restaurant, but I knew that our group was too large to fit upstairs. The part of the cellar we were in had a country rustic feel to it, had a plant in one of the windows, and about five pizza peels were hung on the wall. The lights above us were dimmed, and there was an open archway that led to the other tables. Our table had lit candles, bottles of still and sparkling water, a bowl of two types of bread on hay, and butter on a ceramic dish. The atmosphere was a lot calmer than I expected it to be, and more casual because some people were wearing shorts, while others were wearing suits and dresses. Throughout the meal, there was an excited mood since everyone was unsure of what was being served and no one from our group had been to such a fancy dining experience before.

Once we were all settled, our waitress came to ask if anyone wanted to order any wine as we waited for our first appetizer. Before eating, we were informed that the chefs at Höst change their menu every week, which I found interesting because they want to get the freshest, locally sourced, and in-season produce every week. This is something I also expected because Matt Goulding explained in his article that new Nordic chefs stopped importing produce from different countries. Instead, chefs get it from local farms, since farmers like Søren Wiuff expanded the types of foods that they grew, and they can get better foods from Scandinavia than other countries. Once the wines were served, our first surprise appetizer of shrimp salad cups, radishes, and pickled strawberries, on top of charcoal. The next expected dish was raw salmon with cucumbers, red tomatoes, and a dill spiced horseradish sauce. Our third surprise appetizer was a malt pancake with crab salad and onions, which also had intense flavors from the onion and leafy greens that were inside, so I only liked the crab salad that was inside of it. The fourth dish was our main course, and it was baked hake with green asparagus and fish fume. The fifth surprise dish was a liquid nitrogen cream that had a coffee flavor and a tiny pine cone placed on top, and it sat on a plate of pine needles. The final dessert was Danish strawberries with yogurt sorbet and rhubarb. There was quite a bit of time in between each course being served, but it felt like you had to be done when everyone else was because the waitress took all the plates away at the same time before the next course came. When each new dish arrived, everyone at our table became hushed as we anxiously awaited to be told what we would be eating.

I was not too wowed by many of the dishes that we were served. The only part of our main course that I loved was the piece of asparagus, it was probably the best asparagus I have ever had, and I wish I had a whole plate of it. However, I still ate all the appetizers, even though they were not my ideal choices. The raw salmon was probably my least favorite dish because I do not like raw fish, it had interesting flavors, but it tasted too fishy to me. The one extra dish that I was unable to eat was the pine cone dish because I am allergic to pine trees, and I just never thought that I would need to worry about eating a pine cone. My favorite part of the meal was the sorbet dessert because it was sweet, creamy, and had hints of fennel, so it was delicious and looked beautiful. I enjoyed that for certain dishes, the waitress would come back after setting out plates down, to add a sauce to the fish. The food at Höst was what I had expected it to be because it was quite fresh and they told you where certain fish or vegetables came from, which is an aspect that new Nordic chefs add to their eating experience.

It was something fun to experience with all my friends on the last night because everyone was trying something new. I probably would never go to a restaurant like this ever again because it is just not the types of food that I enjoy. I would not say that I felt full from all of these courses, but I was pleased with what I tried because it was all new to me. I am glad that I had this experience because I most likely would never have chosen to do it on my own since it was so expensive. Overall, it was a truly unique experience.

My Last Meal in Denmark

To be honest, I was a little skeptical of New Nordic cuisine. From what I heard and the pictures I saw, I thought it was too fancy and the portions too small. The food presentation seemed unnecessarily lavish, coming from the viewpoint of an American who carelessly loads a plate with food. After learning about the New Nordic Movement in class, I started to understand the cuisine and why it is executed in such a particular way. The New Nordic Manifesto “promotes a cuisine based on purity, simplicity and freshness, one that reflects the changing seasons.” All of the ingredients are expected to be “distinct and recognisable and their preparation and presentation should bring out their local characteristics” (New Nordic Cuisine 7). This fairly new movement is “changing the way [people] buy food and eat,” noticeable in Danish society (Goulding). I was looking forward to seeing how Høst, a New Nordic restaurant, would comply with these expectations and what type of food would be served.   

Our table at Høst was situated in its own rustic room, surrounded by bare cement walls, with old pizza boards hanging on one side. The table was aged wood, appearing to be unrefined; charming in my opinion. Grey drapes separated us from the rest of the restaurant, but they were pulled open, so I could see into the next room. The dinning area was dark, but candles illuminated the room, making customers feel welcome and at home. I noticed a man wearing a t-shirt and shorts while another was wearing slacks and a button up. Even though the restaurant was recognized by the Michelin Guide, people were not expected to dress fancy. This added a sense of freedom where people could dress how they pleased and truly feel comfortable.

Our dinner started with bread and butter. The two different kinds of bread sat in a bowl of hay, reminding me of eggs in a chicken coop, I assume to allude to its natural ingredients. Our appetizer consisted of radishes, tiny pickled strawberries and cups of shrimp, all on top of charcoal. The presentation was appealing, the bright red radishes contrasted well with the black charcoal. There were two of every item, so you could share with the person sitting next to you. Except for the radishes, all of the flavors were new to me, I cannot describe it as anything other than interesting. The next dish was a mix of cucumbers, pumpkin seeds, bean sprouts, raw salmon and horseradish sauce. After the first bite, I could not decide if I liked it or not. I thought the pumpkin seeds elevated the overall flavor considerably, because I enjoy pumpkin seeds so much. Next, we were served a sort of crab taco that was also interesting. To me, the texture was not desirable, but I kept on eating to clear my plate. For the main dish, we were served a sort of fish that was shaped like a patty with one piece of asparagus. In my opinion, the fish was not appetizing, so I gave it to a classmate, but the asparagus was delicious. I devoured my one piece so quickly, I wish I had more. Hands down, the dessert was the best dish. The ice cream with strawberries and some sort of compote was delicious, it was not too sweet or too bland. Definitely a good ending to the New Nordic experience.  

The appetizer
The delicious dessert

I must say, after all of the dishes I was left feeling mostly unsatisfied, the portions were so small I was not full. Going into this experience I tried to have an open mind and not be picky. I knew New Nordic cuisine would be totally unfamiliar, but I was willing to branch out and try something new. Høst undeniably made me step out of my comfort zone and I am grateful for the experience. Even though I was not totally sold on the food, I was glad to be able to spend the last meal in Copenhagen with everyone surrounded around a table talking and laughing.     

The Last Supper

I personally went into our final dinner at Høst with very high expectations. I consider myself a foodie and have eaten at pretty fancy restaurants before so I thought I knew what our dinner would be like. In my personal opinion, I thought the food was disappointing. However, despite the food not being good, I actually had a wonderful time at our last supper. I got to spend my final night in Denmark all dressed up, enjoying great conversations, laughing and hanging out with the people who I have become very fond of.

 

The restaurant itself was really nice. It had a rustic feel that was reflected in its decor and its dishes. We started our meal with a dish that had a little cup filled with a crab salad, radishes, and pickled strawberries. Next, came the salmon that was served with cucumbers and pumpkin seeds. Then, I had these fried dumpling like things. We then got out main course which was a fish and asparagus dish. Finally, I had a sea buckthorn sorbet with strawberries that was topped with a candied pinecone. To be honest actually did not mind most of the dishes. I actually enjoyed eating most of everything. I think I was just underwhelmed. This is probably because I had such high expectations. I wanted to be blown away by the food and although it was not disgusting it was not phenomenal.

This restaurant is known for being apart of the New Nordic food movement which we had discussed extensively in our class. This movement is the push for using local ingredients and for using traditional Danish recipes. I feel that this restaurant really followed the New Nordic movement and I got a really Danish feel from the food. There was a lot of fish and local vegetables. Some interesting ingredients were the pickled strawberries and the candied pinecone. I expected most of the ingredients that were used but those ones definitely surprised me. The server was also very nice and made sure everyone’s food restrictions were accommodated.

The mood of the dinner was joyous and celebratory. We were all well aware that it was our last night and we all wanted to end the trip on a good note. So, although the food was very interesting, I had a great night which ended my fantastic study abroad experience perfectly.

 

 

New Nordic Cuisine

Having a family meal at Host was something I was very excited for. Being able to sit down with all my classmates and professor was something I had only done a handful of time before. It was beautiful to be able to see everyone well dressed, which might I say everyone looked fantastic. Even though I was only able to bring a shirt that made me seem like I worked at a basic family sit down restaurant , but hey I packed very light, i still thoroughly enjoyed my time. The atmosphere of the diner made me feel that having a button-up was needed.

As I am a vegetarian, most of my plate’s were adjusted to what my companion was eating. I was able to see what everyone was being offered, but my vegetarian dish still kept up to the new plates they were being offered. I especially like the peas soup I had; it was so creamy. I felt that it offered the best of both textures, a soft inside split pea but also presented a crunchy outer layer to offset the creaminess.
For my drink, I had a 20-year-old Cognac, and I was able to finally understand why their is a stereotype and high price point for well aged drinks. This Cognac was so smooth that when It first hit my mouth, I did not taste anything bitter or unpleasant like the plastic bottle vodka I am used to drinking. Then when I really started to taste it, I was able to get a smoky barrel taste with a hint of spice that was unknown to my palette. The best part was the price, as it was a hefty 135 Danish Krone so you could say my wallet felt that one. I considered it a well earned early graduation gift to myself.

As I know, many of fellow classmates got lunch after this meal, however I felt that it was very filling, physically and mindfully because I was able to understand New Nordic cuisine by taste and also nourishment. Also, it was nice to be able to try New Nordic cuisine for free compared to hefty price of Noma were it would have been around 6000 Danish Krone. As for the presentation of the food, it was extremely creative. It took into consideration the environment the indigence were cultivated in . Like the beets, strawberry, and snap peas were placed on top of black rocks. Giving you a sense of the soil and ground in which they can be found, also the pickled baby strawberry was savory and sweet.

The atmosphere felt like we were in some high-end caves. Getting outsource of light by candles, and some high end LED lighting that had soft wattage. You can tell they took into consideration the guest as they dimmed the light around the restaurant. Near the guest table, it had enough light to see yourself and your guest. The table we sat at was made of beautiful wood that i personally have never encountered because most of my experience is with cheap pressed wood from IKEA. The downstairs sitting area felt electrifying to me, almost like a secret underground layer with food that is too sacred to take up to the general population.

The food fulfilled everything I thought about in New Nordic Cuisine and much more. Made me question how things are prepared and served, also the amount of knowledge behind what you are eating. Having this be the last thing we did in Copenhagen was bittersweet like the pickled strawberries. In one case we all got to be able to enjoy a pleasurable evening with some of the best food Copenhagen has to offer. While on the other hand, it was the final day in such tremendous and fantastic city as Copenhagen, which I hope I’ll be able to visit once more. Thank you DIS and CSUF for the opportunity and Dr. Carrie Lane for being such a fantastic professor. We would of not been able to experience this without all your hard work. Thank you once again.

Nordic Proportions

After digesting the meal we had at the New Nordic diner physically and mentally, I am now writing our final food blog from comfort back in the US. Before I bash our restaurant Höst similarly to the way I know most people will I think it would be better to start with the positives. To begin with I initially enjoyed the atmosphere very much of this restaurant, it felt rustic with a hint of Nordic with the exposed wood everywhere, even the antiques hanging from the walls seemed to tie the place together nicely. It felt good to finally sit down at a restaurant in Denmark that actually felt like it belonged there, not just another Italian style pizzeria. My favorite part of the restaurants layout was definitely the spiral staircase, I could barely walk down it empty handed and the thought of waiters running up and down that obstacle with plates in hand was amusing. Other than the aesthetics of the restaurant the only other thing I will put in a positive light is the dining experience itself. I really enjoyed having multiple courses periodically throughout the meal, and despite the size it was always fun to be surprised by an appetizer of some sort. Comparing this style of dining to back in the US I feel so much more rushed here to order and finish my plate as soon as possible; the point of going out for a meal becomes less focused on interaction and socialization with somebody else or a group of people you go with but rather to just enjoy food frantically. I talked a lot in other journals abut how taking time to eat and actually have a conversation with your dining is so much more enjoyable, and I wished that more restaurants back home adopted that style of service.

Next to critique is the food itself, which as far as taste goes I thought was very good overall. There was such a wide and even odd variety of flavors from the smoky mayo to the pickled strawberry to even rhubarb flavoring with the ice cream, that there was always something to be surprised by. One thing that was even more surprsing to me was that there was not one dish that had red meat, especially pork. I know from the article we reviewed Pork Politics on NPR that there is a traditional affinity for Danes to make pork with a lot of their dishes. On my host family’s dinner for example the main course was a meatloaf that consisted of a blend of pork and veal, while wrapped in bacon. There is a 2 to 1 ratio of pigs to Danes even, yet somehow this restaurant excluded it from every one of our plates. Thinking back now I think perhaps we ordered the courses that were based around seafood, because I did see other plates coming from the kitchen with some red meat on it. It looked delicious, better than most of what we were served.

What we were served consisted mainly of vegetables or some fish, often with sides of this white sauce that the waiter would pour over everything, which was actually very good. I believe one of these sauces was a type of horse radish sauce. Of the vegetables and even fruits we had I thought they were all very good, except for the beet we got with our first meal which quite literally tasted just like dirt, like they had pulled it from the ground about an our before putting it on my plate and had not even washed it off yet. Next with the fish I thought it all was pretty good, first with the shrimp chowder in the little cups, and then with the flaky white fish we had with the main course. Most of the people I noticed at the table did not enjoy the taste of the main course, and that was understandable. The fish itself had a pretty pungent taste, and I think it was prepared that way intentionally to give diners a very fishy taste in their mouths. I found it tasty when it was combined with the white sauce they had coated it in, however it was not my favorite thing to eat throughout the meal sadly. The one dish that blew me away actually was the dessert. This ice cream had some kind of rhubarb sauce that came with it, as well as some kind of little bit of cracker that just gave everything a lot of texture and complexity. Truthfully it was some of the best ice cream I had ever had.

Now to go back to the negative aspect I know everyone would agree with I will finish with the issue with the proportions of everything we ate. I understand from reading about the new implications of Nordic food from the article New Nordic Cuisine that the New Nordic movement while revolving around sustainable ways to produce food, it also revolves around food waste. However the serving sizes were so meager with the restaurant Höst that I don’t think food waste would be a problem for any appetite. Some of the portions were so ridiculous, for instance having a single strawberry for an appetizer almost defeats the purpose of garnishing the plate with all of that charcoal. Because one of my classmates ate the table was kind enough to pass on their portion of white fish to me I was able to have a second serving, but even with two portions of the main course I left the restaurant feeling like I just sampled from a variety of entrees. I know one of the biggest produces of food waste can come from restaurants that over-serve people, I think rationing out actual good food in this way will leave customers much less content with their dining choice.

The New Nordic Experience

With the sad portions, odd flavors, and confusion over what was on my plate, my taste of New Nordic cuisine matched my expectations entirely. Before eating at Høst, I expected my previous opinions about high-class dining to be challenged in some way. Seeing the craze over New Nordic cuisine had me hoping for something better than my previous experiences at these types of restaurants. At the same time, I was still skeptical of the idea of New Nordic cuisine. After studying it in class, I had seen how small and how confusingly sophisticated each dish had to be. After eating at Høst, I can at least say I gave it a chance, but it just was not for me. It was very aesthetically pleasing, and waiting to see how the next dish would look was exciting. However, in my experience, it seemed to place more importance on the aesthetic rather than quantity or taste.
Høst’s atmosphere was full of relaxation, yet sophistication. While the inside of the restaurant looked warm and welcoming, there was still a sense of sophistication in the way in which people were dressed. The restaurant itself was very simple. With the candlelight and the cave-like underground room we were in, and the different shades of brown that decorated the table, the facade of the restaurant communicated warmth and closeness. Perhaps that feeling also came from the fact that this would be our last meal together as a class and, sadly, our last day together. But, the overall atmosphere brought some hygge to the table and mirrored the goal of New Nordic cuisine— simplicity.
Our first taste of New Nordic came on a plate filled with rocks, raw radish stocks, pickled strawberries the size of pennies, and little edible cups filled with a sort of shrimp puree. With the bright, red of the radishes on top of the dark, black rocks below them, it looked quite appealing. Besides, of course, the fact that there was barely anything on the plate. But, according to the New Nordic Cuisine Manifesto, “the nordic landscape is sparsely populated, with vast areas of untouched land” and, in this way, the plate perfectly matched the nordic environment. The dish was very sparsely populated with food and had a lot of untouched (and inedible) land in the appearance of rocks. After trying the little cups of shrimp puree, I became hopeful for the rest of the plate. However, upon trying the pickled strawberry and chomping down on the raw radish, I was feeling a little discouraged at what the next course would be.

Our first taste of New Nordic


To my surprise, our entrée was not the same as our little taste test before. It was still tiny, but I was happy to see something I recognized and love: raw salmon. A white sauce was added to it by our server once everyone had been served. With the added sour flavor of the sauce combined with sunflower seeds and salmon, the flavor was, for lack of a better word, interesting. This is how I felt about almost every course we had. It had flavors that were familiar yet strange at the same time, and I could never really tell if I liked it. The more bites I had, the more I began to grow accustomed to the taste, but my tastebuds still couldn’t seem to comprehend the different and surprising flavors. This confusion continued into the main course and the little plate of a crab-filled crepe taco we received in between the entree and the main course. While this little crepe taco was a unique concept, the taste of crab with something that I usually have as a dessert just did not work with my tastebuds. Regarding the man course, the patty-like fish we were served had yet another flavor I couldn’t quite identify. It left me feeling confused and hungry.

The main course


The most exciting dish of the night, however, was the desert. This was the only plate I knew I liked. It was yogurt-like ice cream with cream and fresh strawberries, topped with beautiful, crunchy decor. Our dessert ended the meal on a high note, and I was happy to have discovered something New Nordic that I enjoyed.

The best part of the night


As the New Nordic Cuisine Manifesto states, “simplicity is a key characteristic of Nordic cuisine” and Høst definitely stuck to this characteristic. While I know that the idea of New Nordic is to utilize fewer components and, instead, focus on higher quality, I couldn’t help but feel like the random flavors did not make up for the lack of food. Perhaps I’m just not the right person for this type of high-brow cuisine, but it seemed as though aesthetic came first in every dish.

Nevertheless, I’m glad that we were able to end the trip on a “family” dinner that encapsulated what we had been learning about Nordic cuisine. It may not have been my first choice, but being together made it a whole lot better. Farewell, Copenhagen, and hopefully we’ll see you soon!

Creating and Reliving Memories Through Food

To me, New Nordic cuisine had a big shoes to fill since we had been learning and hearing of it ever since the start of the program. My initial impression of the term New Nordic cuisine was that it would be historic, stereotypical Viking food (such as breads, porridge, and tough, dried, aged meats) but with a modern French cuisine twist. When we first began our readings and studies of New Nordic food, however, I never realized this kind of food was palpable. I was so excited by the Denmark television episodes we watched in the DIS theater. A segment that stood out to me was when a group of chefs were sampling one of their dishes, to which the head chef remarked that the sunflower sprouts should be picked sooner to achieve a more desirable flavor. Not only was the concept of eating something like sunflower sprouts so quirky to me, but I loved the concept eating foods “out of peak season.” Also, in the New Nordic Cuisine Manifesto, I loved how New Nordic cuisine utilizes the environment to flavor their food. The location, temperature, harvest time, and even plant stress all affects the flavor of the food product—such as growing carrots in winter to intentionally stunt their growth. I felt like the concept of New Nordic cuisine challenges convention. Who is to say a tomato needs to be ripe to be eaten and enjoyed? An unripen tomato provides a unique flavor in its own.

I appreciated the idea of New Nordic food, but as we made our way to Höst on our last official day of the course, I was skeptical. I have mixed feelings towards the concept of “fine dining.” I often feel that paying a high price at a restaurant ultimately yields a more positive, high-quality service and experience as opposed to a more delectable meal. Was Höst and New Nordic food nothing more than fluff?

The restaurant was down-to-earth, and as one of my classmates described, like eating in a barn house (but a fancy barn house!). We had a private room to ourselves in the basement. The table was uneven and rustic. No music was playing over the speakers, allowing us all to connect and socialize at a comfortable level. Bread in a bowl of hay next to still and sparkling water was at our table as we waited for all our guests to arrive. Once everyone was seated and settled, our waitress greeted us and explained the number of courses for the evening.

Our first meal was minimalist appetizer: a shrimp-based dish served with a single radish and smoked mayo atop a plate of charcoal rocks. Our first course, and my favorite of the night, was a salmon-based dish served with fresh sprouts and horseradish sauce. Our next course was unexpected. We all exclaimed, “It’s a taco!” although it resembled more of a chicken salad inside a pancake/crepe. Then we met our main course, a fish-based dish and asparagus, followed by two deserts: ice cream frozen by liquid nitrogen garnished with a pickled, caramelized pine cone and another ice cream dish severed with strawberries, fennel sprouts, and a sweet crumb. In my opinion, the quality of the dishes was outstanding. The flavors were genuinely unique and difficult to describe. Perhaps the most creative dish was the ice cream and fennel sprouts; it was such an uncommon combination, yet the textures complimented one another and created a new way to enjoy both ingredients.

I never thought I would be one to feel this way, but I absolutely want to try New Nordic food again and bring my loved ones into this new world of food. Perhaps this is the botanist and outdoor-enthusiast in me, but I loved how earthy our New Nordic food was. As abstract as this may sound, eating the dishes evoked feelings of nostalgia. Eating pine cones, malt bread, and fried marigold reminded me of mountain tops, meadows, and valleys I’ve visited on hikes and in the back woods of Georgia—and I feel that a meal which can transport you through time (and tastes good too!) is worth trying over and over again… should my funds permit!