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!

My New Perspective to Agricultural Biology

Resolving food insecurity in the United States is an issue I feel strongly about and is a career path I hope to pursue after graduation. I chose to study botany at CSUF with the intent to research methods to increase the affordability, sustainability, and accessibility of whole, unprocessed foods, although after my experience with FoodSharing Copenhagen, I found myself wondering if food insecurity was not so much an issue of inadequate food production, but an issue of poor food management and distribution.

Informational signage outside of the distribution site at Karens Minde Hulturhus.

From the small promo video shown in our classroom for FoodSharing Copenhagen to the CNN segment of “The Danish recipe to cut food waste,” one third of all the food produced globally is either lost or wasted, based on a publishing from the United Nations in 2011. Not only is food waste a huge economical and environmental problem, but is almost a ridiculously scenario to even perpetuate when considering the vast millions of people worldwide who spend days and nights literally starving—sometimes to death. There are few things that are absolutely essential to human survival, and with food as one of them, it is quite disheartening to know that so much of the world’s production is going to waste.

Midway through the food delivery during our second week volunteering.

I did not expect FoodSharing Copenhagen—a non-profit organization which distributes free food from grocery stores to people that would have otherwise been discarded—to be as large as it was. I wish I took photos of the sheer amount of food from our first week of volunteering. As I passed food along our human chain from the vans to the tables, I kept asking myself, “This really was going to be thrown away?” to the hundreds of pounds of edible food. I realized then that much of the world’s and the United State’s issues of food insecurity was indeed far from a productivity problem.

I was surprised by how casual and relaxed the full-time volunteers were, emanating a “youthful, carefree, hippy vibe.” I was also surprised by how mixed the backgrounds of the volunteers were. Most were young people either traveling, interning, or visiting friends over the summer and lived in completely different countries—very few permanently lived in Denmark. In a way, they were visitors like us, so I did not feel like an outsider amongst the volunteers or the diverse backgrounds of the attendees.

My haul from the first week. Each volunteer gets to put together a free bag of groceries as well.

As basic as it is, the most satisfying part of my service-learning experience was seeing all that previously dumpster-bound food going to new homes where they would feed hungry people. There is a belief in the United States that free meals/food should exclusively be given to the needy, but I was happy to see zero judgement towards neediness at FoodSharing. The organization’s mission was to simply prevent perfectly good food from going to waste. A disappointment or difficult part of the FoodSharing Copenhagen experience would be the lack of organization during the set-up process. I feel that with a little more direction for the volunteers, our time and efforts could have been utilized more efficiently.

After FoodSharing Copenhagen, I have been motivated and inspired to bring a service like this to the United States, or at the very least, to our home campus. I was fortunate to be elected this year as the Treasurer/Secretary for Associated Students Inc. (ASI), and one of the Board’s unanimous goals (a very rare occurrence) is to reduce food insecurity among our students. We were able to implement a pilot food pantry program last academic year but are determined to allocate the space and resources to a more permanent aid for those who are in need. While the United States no doubt has many restrictions in place around food distribution which hampers the development for programs like FoodSharing, I am curious to explore how these rules apply to a campus community, and what ASI and I can do to develop a version of FoodSharing on campus, perhaps by expanding the Titan Bites program or by collaborating with our Titan Student Union’s Food Court. I’ve already added this to my list of 2019-2020 goals not only as a personal passion, interested, and advocacy project, but as an obligation to the needs of the students I serve. Perhaps you’ll see FoodSharing CSUF in the next year or two!

Uncomfortable Asian Comfort Food

Interior of this week’s restaurant: Kate’s Joint

Inspired by the theme of diversity and feeling a little homesick, I wanted to sample a very non-European restaurant from the multicultural hub, Nørrebro. I found a restaurant called “Kate’s Joint” which served Malaysian food and was interested to see if Nørrebro had a Southeast Asian presence large enough to create such deliciously authentic restaurants as we had sampled earlier in the program from the Middle Eastern restaurant, “Ishtar.” The 25-minute walk from the city center was a peaceful stroll, but as I should have perhaps gathered from the name, Kate’s Joint would not be what I expected.

Highlight of Kate’s Joint’s menu outside of the restaurant. Many more items were on the menus inside and on their website.

I was first surprised to see that the menu was not just limited to Malyasian or Southeast Asian food but included cuisines as far off as India or Jamaica. I could understand the rational to lump together exotic, tropical regions, but I personally found it out of place to see Thai coconut curry on the same menu as hummus and pita bread. The restaurant’s atmosphere also paralleled the vague fusion menu. The walls were decorated with abstract, tribal, kitsch art and liquor, and I suppose it intended to imitate the worn and exposed stereotype of tropical nations’ hole-in-the-wall shops. I arrived 30 minutes after opening (5:30pm) and was the first and only person in the restaurant. I realized that the restaurant was more of a takeout style of dining, as I paid for my meal prior, chose my own seat, and noticed that more costumers were coming in and out for pick-up than there were sitting down. I also noticed that both the waiter and chef (whom I would catch brief glimpses of from the kitchen) appeared to be ethnically Danish. This—combined with the food I soon after received—made the restaurant seem more like a commercial exploitation of Southeast Asian, Indian, Mediterranean, and Caribbean culture as opposed to a celebration of it.

Malay Chicken Curry. Also, appelsin doesn’t mean apple, but orange? I learned the hard way.

My meal was a Malay Chicken Curry, that was delicious in its own way, but not what one would expect from Malaysian or Southeast Asian cuisine. Southeast Asian meals are usually very wet and drenched in curry and/or other sauces, this meal was quite dry, and the rice was kept neatly off to the side as opposed to underneath the chicken for what I assume to be aesthetic reasons. By the end of my meal, my plate, hands, and face were uncharacteristically clean. I could best describe it as if someone had asked a Danish chef to prepare a meal in their own image with a list and general quantities of Malaysian Chicken Curry’s ingredients. It was very much a Danish/European meal inspired by Southeast Asian cuisine. I would attribute this to the fact that perhaps there are few Asian immigrants currently living in Denmark—especially when compared to Southern California. Although, I was surprised by this, since I feel I have seen a number of ethnic Asians on the streets of Copenhagen, but perhaps they are simply tourists such as myself or I visited an authentically mediocre restaurant. While I recognize that a Malaysian dish in Denmark, the US, Egypt, or Mexico will never be quite the same as a Malaysian dish in Malaysia, I feel that Kate’s Joint was missing many of Malaysian food’s hallmark characteristics.

Taste of Taiwan: One out of two boba shops in all of central Copenhagen

After dinner, feeling somewhat disappointed and craving dessert, I searched for a boba/bubble tea shop to sample a Taiwanese staple. The boba tea shop, “Taste of Taiwan,” was packed. The décor felt genuine and much less forceful. The young man and woman preparing the boba teas hustled to create boba that was rich, creamy, and delicious. The individuals working in the shop as well a majority of the costumers were ethnically Asian—I even heard their phones pinging with the sounds of popular Asian messaging and social media notifications.

A black boba milk tea. Popular and trendy in SoCal, but very rare here. Although rare is better than nonexistent!

I’m still uncertain of the prevalence of authentic versus commercialized Asian culture in Denmark, but it is something I’m curious to observe, explore, and learn more about during my final two weeks in Copenhagen.

Familiar Places, but Unfamiliar Tastes

First bite of Denmark

From my very first meal in Copenhagen, I had a suspicion the food was going to be very different in Denmark. It was 7:30 a.m. in the city center as a few of us from housing and I wandered the streets and squinted at confusing, new maps on our phones for something to eat for breakfast. I immediately noticed that most restaurants were opening at 10:00 a.m., which I found to be incredibly late in the day considering that just two weeks prior I had been searching through dozens of breakfast and brunch options at 6:30 a.m. in San Clemente, CA. As we ventured further from our student housing, we came across a 7-Eleven store that was open. Now was not the time for an “authentic Danish meal,” I thought. I went to bed absolutely starving the night before, and I was not going to snub my nose towards a warm pretzel or the biggest bag of chips I could find.

I bounced around the small convenient store thinking, “that looks really good, I must be in the healthy section,” but soon realized that virtually the entire store was the “healthy section.” The selection was reversed from what one might see in The States: there were primarily healthy, whole foods with only few unhealthy, processed options as opposed to primarily unhealthy options and few healthy foods. I was excited to see so many wholesome options at a place as affordable and easy as 7-Eleven. It has been my go-to place for lunch during breaks, and while I have only a vague idea of what I’m buying (due to their all-Danish packaging), I have yet to be disappointed!

We watched our pulled pork sandwiches/burgers be prepared from essentially scratch

Aside from the differences in the selection of food in Denmark, I have also noticed a difference in the culture towards dining. I have observed a more relaxed pace to eating in Copenhagen. Eating is not always a start-then-stop task but is rather on-and-off. I have noticed that the Danes will either eat their food very slowly or will take long breaks between eating a portion of their plate. I feel that this is because eating is perceived as a more leisurely activity, such as walking on the beach or tending to a garden; there is a vague destination, but the journey is unhurriedly appreciated.

Surprisingly, I have found the quality and variety of food to be quite similar to the United States. I have sampled both traditional Danish food—such as smørrebrød—and foods I eat regularly in The States—such as Asian food—and found the foods of Denmark only to differ by the quality of ingredients. I feel that a high-end smørrebrød or savory carton of rice noodles can be purchased in a variety of restaurants across the U.S.—and especially in a large, trendy state like California. However, I have noticed that in an overwhelming majority of the restaurants I have visited, the food is prepared fresh with high-quality ingredients. Finding a good restaurant in Southern California can be a bit like finding a needle in a haystack (although Yelp helps a great deal in the search), although in Copenhagen, my cohort and I can follow our cravings and walk into any restaurant—without any prior research—and receive an amazing meal.

I feel that this week has changed the way I think about America’s perception of the dining experience. In the United States, an overwhelming majority of the food we eat in restaurants is not prepared fresh. I understand that with busy schedules and lack of cooking expertise, a frozen lasagna is a blessing to throw in the oven after work. However, I feel that there should be a higher expectation for the American restaurant dining experience. I’m not sure if this is due to societal upbringing, lack of knowledge, lack of availability, or lack of care, but thinking back to this past Memorial Day weekend I spent at the Santa Monica Pier, almost every person (including myself) was consuming quick, convenient, heavily processed, low-quality foods. Yet, a long queue for a defrosted hot dog manufactured by some factory machine six states over is a hallmark of American culture. And in these situations, people are not always in a rush but are instead at an inherently leisurely event to enjoy themselves—such as a sports game or stroll in the park. I did not realize how quick, convenient foods with a consequential sacrifice in quality are so prevalent in American society compared Denmark. I will be curious to see how this will shape my eating habits when I return home to Southern California.

Eat to Live or Live to Eat?

My habits, perspective, culture, and experiences towards food have been quite a roller coaster over the course of my life. I grew up eating fairly basic, bland food items in my house, and eating was not an enjoyable experience. My mother and grandmother cooked, prepared, and purchased nearly all our food growing up, and were extremely frugal when it came to meals. Eating was for survival and nutrition. My grandmother often made items like “dumplings” which were made of just flour, water, and baking powder then fried by skillet in olive oil or boiled spinach seasoned with only pepper. My mother was a bit more savory with her cooking, but we would often eat the same dinner for days or almost weeks on end. They were also quite territorial of the kitchen and did not like anyone else preparing meals for the family, including my father (who stuck mostly to grilling outside because of this).

I don’t believe we ate like this because we were extremely poor, but because my mother and grandmother were and are very, very frugal. They also hate cooking, and I don’t think they enjoy eating as much as most. We also never used salt or too many fats in our cooking because they were overly fearful of our family developing health issues.

During the holidays, however, were my favorite. My mother and grandmother would wake up early and spend all day cooking in the kitchen. My two siblings, my father, and I would help them. We cooked so many dishes with different textures, flavors, and consistencies; they were basic American foods—such as baked sweet potatoes, ham, steamed vegetables, wild rice, and ribs to name a few—but these foods were heavenly compared to all the other days of the year.

“Why can’t we eat like this all the time?” to which they would reply, “because it costs too much and it’s too much work.”

A restaurant in San Diego currently holds my title for “Best Tacos”

I would eat more interesting food when eating out or visiting relatives, but this was seldom and far and few in between. It wasn’t until I met my current boyfriend that I started to appreciate and love food. He and his family have such a deep connection and culture with food that, even after three years, I still don’t understand. We used to both go to CSUF and ate out often, usually two to three times a week. He has introduced me to so many new foods—with some of my favorites being phở, dim sum, poke, crepês, and street tacos. These days don’t we see each other very often, but I still try to eat out with my friends and sister as often as I can. Eating out can be expensive, but it is an expense I budget for because food just is so important to me now.

My first crepê and a professional Fishface.

My nickname used to be “Bird” growing up because I was such a picky eater, but now I will eat almost anything. A huge constraint for me now, however, is time. I’m very busy and involved on-campus, so overnight oats for breakfast and rice bowls are my go-to item for dinner since they are quick, easy, healthy, and very customizable depending on what I have on-hand. I usually buy or find lunch on-campus to keep things interesting and easy. I wouldn’t say my race or ethnicity has a strong affect on my food choices in the past and now. I’m so happy to be in a region of the world (especially living near Los Angeles) where so many types and cultures of food are available. Although I am very curious and excited to step outside of my Californian bubble and gain new perspective on what other food cultures are out there in the world!