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!

Food For Thought

When I first heard about FoodSharing Copenhagen, I got a little nervous about what exactly we would be doing. I had been told that the food that was going to go bad or be thrown out would be redistributed to whoever wanted it. When I first heard this, I was concerned. Why would we be volunteering to give out old and expired food? But upon further investigation, firsthand experience, and better explanations, I realized it was not that simple. A lot of the food we received was good to eat, but grocery stores and markets just needed to make more shelf room or they were not able to sell the unique and “unpopular” products. These products were still edible; they just might not have been as fresh as the foods available in the markets. Not to mention, we made sure that if there were any bad food, it would be weeded out and taken care of immediately to make sure that none of our fellow food-sharers would get the bad food. This, however, was just one of the aspects of volunteering that surprised me. 

    Another surprising aspect of FoodSharing Copenhagen was that, unlike other charities like it in the United States, did not only cater to poor populations. Instead, the focus of this organization was to ensure better usage of food and eliminate food waste as much as they could. Even with the food we received that was not edible and had to be thrown out, it was still put in bags to be given to farm animals. I thought seeing this full cycle was yet another satisfying part of volunteering with FoodSharing Copenhagen. Even the food that was “waste” was still being used for good. I never thought about why we don’t feed our animals the food that will go to waste, in order to ensure better animal care standards and healthier animal diets. Of course, we often give our dogs scraps at the table, but taking it to the level that FoodSharing Copenhagen has done never occurred to me.  

    Before volunteering here, I had never known the amount of food that was being wasted. When we got to the location and saw the small size of the room we would be in, I figured there was no way we would be getting that much food. But, after the first van full of food arrived, the room looked like it was overflowing with food. When I heard that there were about three more vans full of food coming, I was sure they were joking. There was so much food! To think that all the food we were sorting was not even a third of food waste, I truly realized how much of a problem food waste poses. With children and adults suffering from hunger and food insecurity around the world, I realized the problem was really just the distribution of food. According to Selina Juul’s video on “The Danish Recipe to Cut Food Waste,” the food we waste could feed three billion people. With one billion people starving in the world, all the food we throw away could solve the problem of food insecurity. 

    Of course, we did experience some difficulties within the organization. Perhaps it is the difference in culture, but it all seemed very unorganized once the vans full of food arrived. We were trying to get the food in as fast as possible with little instruction on where to put it all. Even when we were given instructions, a lot of the lead volunteers would become frustrated because we were not doing exactly how they wanted in the rush of everything. I had one of the leads grab my hand and put me somewhere just to have him come back and tell me I was standing in the wrong area. Not to mention, with their attempts to make their organization more professional, the new rules they had set in place about sanitation were loosely enforced and confusing at first. It was evident that they didn’t know how to handle the rush or the new rules they had set in place, but we all made it work through teamwork and cooperation. 

    But, seeing people come together for this small organization from around the world was really one of my most favorite parts of volunteering. We had volunteers from Britain, the Czech Republic, Denmark, America, and even Greece. It was a great way to see the diversity that makes up Copenhagen. It was especially pleasing to see the care they had for the organization. Some volunteers were new like us, and some were experienced volunteers, but the care they had for the organization was evident throughout the volunteers. Due to the amount of diversity I saw, I never felt like an outsider in this organization. It made me feel a lot more like an “insider” in the sense that I was contributing to the city of Copenhagen, to the country, and the fight against food waste. As Michael Pollan’s “The Food Movement Rising” article states, “the food movement is also about community, identity, pleasure, and, most notably, about carving out a new social and economic space.” I definitely felt that sense of community as we all worked together to make a difference, not only amongst the volunteers but amongst the mass of people coming to collect the food. Stepping outside of the building, you could see people talking, laughing, and creating new connections just by coming to the event. As volunteers, we also made these new connections with people from diverse backgrounds and from around the world. Whenever we had a break, it was a chance to talk to people we may not have gotten the opportunity to meet otherwise. Since it is difficult to meet a Dane randomly on the street, meeting people through volunteer work made that a lot easier and helped connect us to the city we are visiting.

A Taste of Tradition

According to The Economist’s “Bringing Home the Bacon” article on the Danish pork industry, Denmark is home to more pigs than it is to humans—a whole 24.4 million more. In fact, according to The Salt’s “Pork Politics: Why Some Danes Want Pig Meat Required On Menus,” pigs outnumber humans two to one. With these statistics in mind and the growing political controversy over pork, I had to see what all the hype was about. With Danish flags lining the outside of the building and its cottage-looking exterior, it seemed like Det Lille Apotek would be the perfect place to try a good plate of Danish pork. 

Upon entering Det Lille Apotek, I immediately felt a sense of coziness. Looking only from the outside might lead someone to believe that this is a hole-in-the-wall type of place, and maybe it is, but it certainly seemed a lot fancier than that. With “reserved” signs on every table, I was scared we wouldn’t even be able to get a table. Luckily, we came before the rush of tourists like ourselves (without reservations) and were seated with ease. The restaurant seemed like a maze, with a lot more rooms and tables in relation to the overall size of the place. With such little space, the tables were substantially close together, but it contributed to the warm and cozy feeling. Every wall was filled with old photographs and art pieces, topped with shelves of antique books lining the ceiling. It reminded me of a Buca di Beppo, except, instead of large portraits of Frank Sinatra, Det Lille Apotek had large vintage paintings of Carlsberg advertisements. 

Table mats told the history of the restaurant, with its start in 1720 as a local pub home to artists and writers. Even Hans Christian Anderson frequented Det Lille Apotek! With this piece of history at our disposal, the look and feel of the restaurant made a whole lot more sense. Its vintage petroleum lamps gave the entire restaurant a warm and intimate atmosphere and its unaltered interior design, dating back 150 years, made it feel like you had been transported back in time. Without the typical light music you usually hear in the background of most restaurants in America, all that could be heard were different conversations in languages from around the world and hearing the roar of conversation only fostered more conversation. Of course, there were Danes there as well, but many patrons were visitors to Copenhagen. Hearing the roar of voices throughout the restaurant only fostered more conversation. 

  The food consisted of traditional Danish meals, appetizers, and desserts. There were traditional meals for every part of the day: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The servers were very accommodating and let us know exactly how to eat our meals when they served us. They were ready to help and give suggestions, often helping other foreigners around us navigate the menu. 

I have to admit, I am not usually a huge fan of sliced pork. I can be quite picky when it comes to pork chops at home and usually opt out of even ordering pork unless it’s a good rack of ribs or sausage. Now I know I simply was not having the right pork. I ordered roasted pork served over a slice of rye bread with pickled red cabbage on top. As soon as I bit into the pork, I was in heaven. The outermost part of the pork slices were lined with a crispiness that reminded me of chicharrones (except even better). The crispy, salty outer layer along with the perfectly cooked meat made me melt. I finally knew what all the hype was about, and I couldn’t be happier with my meal. 

Det Lille Apotek certainly has its own little culture, which truly brought home the feeling of tradition by fostering an atmosphere of conversation and connection over food. From the tourists to the locals, the restaurant provided happiness in the form of good food and good people. You could see the contentment on every person’s face (especially mine) when the food came out and, with the soft lighting, conversation, and coziness, it brought the Danish phenomenon of hygge right to your table. Looking toward the proud history of the restaurant and the care that went into crafting the menu, it was evident that Det Lille Apotek was, and still is, a little treasure of tradition amongst the streets of Copenhagen.

My First Taste of Denmark

I always thought an open-faced sandwich was just a way of cheating a low carb diet, but, it turns out, open-faced sandwiches are a staple of Danish cuisine. Smørrebrød, the open-faced sandwich that seems to be the face of nearly every restaurant and cafe across Copenhagen, still surprises me every time I see it. There are so many different variations from restaurant to restaurant it’s hard to keep track of which one of the many variations I’ve already tried and it seems impossible to try them all. Shroeder and Shroeder’s “Eating Smart in Denmark” mentions the original intentions of smørrebrød as a take away lunch option, back when bread was used as a plate. That may make it seem like these Danish sandwiches are small and a natural “to go” option, but their sky-high toppings make it quite the opposite. Even with a fork and knife, a smørrebrød is not the simplest thing to eat. 

    While there are traditional smørrebrød ingredients at nearly every place I’ve seen, the toppings and flavorings vary from place to place. But, if there’s one thing I’ve noticed from smørrebrød to smørrebrød, it’s that these toppings are always fresh, colorful, and delicately placed on top of rich rugbrød. It’s suiting that these open-faced sandwiches seem to be everywhere — they perfectly resemble Danish cuisine and foodways. 

    Danish cuisine is always fresh, and it’s apparent chefs receive their food from locally grown sources. Their food tastes real. Eggs are always “happy eggs,” as my mom calls them, and have a bright orange yolk. Even foods you wouldn’t consider to have a fresh taste, like French fries, have a certain crispiness, taste, and color that makes it seem like they’re fried in gold. This trend doesn’t just start and end with Danish cuisine but transcends into their international foods as chefs continue to use local and fresh ingredients. No matter where you end up having food, you can count on the ingredients being colorful, bright, and tasteful. 

    But, smørrebrød also represents how Danes eat together. I have never seen a Dane eating with someone while on their phone, which is something you don’t see in America very often. Every time I see them eating together, it looks as though they’re right at home, dining in their living room. They’re lively with each other, always relaxed, and open to each other, not closed off by technology or the constant rush we experience in America. There’s never a rush to order or finish, and it’s evident that they enjoy their time with each other. Much like Watson’s descriptions of McDonald’s in Hong Kong, in Copenhagen, food has a significant role in the social life of Danes. Restaurants serve as a setting to do more than just eat; they also serve as a place to connect. It seems like they’re a home away from home you can find anywhere within the city. Restaurants not only have the ambiance of home but the cooking of home. From the bottom of the plate to the top, it tastes like every piece is made with the same care you’d get with a home-cooked meal.

    There’s no doubt that Copenhagen is home to a variety of different food options, from fancy to casual and Danish to international, you can always count on the food being fresh and locally sourced. 

Smørrebrød variations

A Whole New World of Food

Mac N Cheese, bread, cereal, or pasta (with only butter and cheese)— to me, those were the only tasteful food options when I was growing up. Anything that was not a high-carb and flavorless meal would never even go near my mouth. The rest of my family, on the other hand, loved to explore new foods and flavors. While I was perfectly content having bow-tie noodles with butter for every meal, my family was not. I was always pushed to “just try” new foods, but the stubborn tastebuds I had could not be more resistant to change. One might think that, as a kid, I must not have been exposed to exciting and culturally charged foods. Quite the opposite happened. 

My Argentinian culture was often celebrated in my family with empanadas and never-ending servings of different meats at Argentinian barbecues. But, even with these foods, I made sure to make my plate as plain as possible. No chimichurri, no meat empanadas (because they had too much flavor), and definitely no blood sausage at the barbecues for me. Not to mention, my mom always made food that was outside of my carby comfort zone. To put it in plain terms — I was a stubborn little girl with a never-ending love of carbs and plain foods. It took a long time, but eventually, I somehow gained the courage to really give good food a chance and let my tastebuds explore the different flavors of my culture and cultures around the world. 

Now when I say it took a long time, I mean it took a long time. I only really started to try new foods and enjoy them about two years ago. But, in these two years, I have made leaps and bounds and I have definitely become significantly more adventurous. Last year, the thought of having to eat sushi would immediately result in a disgusted face and begging to go somewhere else. Now, I actually crave sushi. Eventually, the things I once thought of as food I would never even come close to eating again, became some of my favorite foods. Now, I try everything! In this way, I do believe I eat “like an American.” By that I mean, I eat foods from around the world, the same way America is home to many cultures from around the world. But, I am also an American eater in the sense that I still love to eat a good In-N-Out burger and some Chick-Fil-A nuggets.

To me, food is something we all tend to bond over. Due to conflicting work, school, and after-school activities in my family, eating dinner together was something we always saved for Sundays. On Sundays, my dad will get to the barbecue and grill or smoke something special for us. Our Sunday tradition was always a time for us to talk about the week, random stories, or just how good the food was. Whatever the conversation ends up being, it’s being together that makes me appreciate Sundays (but the good food is always a plus). Nevertheless, in all my relationships, food is an important bonding mechanism. Sure, we don’t talk about food too often, but the social aspect of getting the food is what brings us together. What is the one thing you can always do if you run out of ideas when you’re seeing a friend, partner, relative, or even meeting a stranger? Get food. Even asking someone what their favorite food is or what their favorite restaurant is is a great way to get insight into someone’s personality. I have found that food is a lot like the weather. Whenever you run out of things to talk about, you can always talk about how great or even how awful the food is; you can always count on food. 

I have to admit I can still be picky with my food (especially with fish), but with a little push I try to at least taste new foods. Although, to some people, I may just be a normal eater. Since I had little to no exploration in food before a couple years ago, what I think of as an adventurous food may be completely normal and out of the ordinary for others. Maybe it has to do with the new friends I have made, the places I have traveled, or just the natural maturation of my tastebuds and personality, but trying new and exciting foods is not something that I dread anymore— it is actually something I look forward to. It may have taken me a while to fully appreciate tasteful meals, but getting to know food has been a pleasure and I can’t wait to continue exploring it and making memories with the people I eat with. 

The joy I used to experience eating anything but carbs
Asado de mi Abuelo — Grandpa’s Argentinian barbecue feasts!