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.

Food Waste in Copenhagen

Never before this program had I ever been part of a foodsharing experience. Besides the short video on some of the people involved with foodshare Copenhagen I truly had no idea what I was getting in to. The concept sounded simple enough, leftover food somehow needed to be shared amongst the people of Copenhagen, but the execution of this plan was what surprised me the most. Our first day of volunteering we were not in the nicest area being that the jazz fest was going on and the outdoor area was taken, and we were able to set up in the community center upstairs. My fist impressions differed from what the video led me to believe definitely. What I almost immediately began to notice was that this was not as well run, and efficient as the video made me believe it would be. With no real chain of command and a lack of leadership the volunteers including the students like myself often needed to take the initiative with the cleaning of tables, setting up of trash bags, cleaning of food boxes, etc. Usually the “veteran” volunteers had to guide us with specifics on what to do.

I thought it was a shame initially that such a good idea that really benefited the community had such poor execution. But then I considered how these people that are running the program are learning as they go much as we were. On our first day volunteering actually one of the new obstacles they were facing was getting certified to be able to continue what they are doing. I think before I had began helping with the program I had anticipated it would have been much more streamlined, and it was surprising that even after their weeks and weeks of doing this they still had much to learn. One of the best things I think I was able to get out of working with this program was not only the vast amount of produce to bring back to our kitchen, but to see the good that foodsharing could do for people back home. Denmark like the US has a variety of food it produces, and also wastes, and to see their own efforts to cut back on waste is inspiring, and definitely something we could learn from. Seeing from the article The Danish Recipe to Cut Food Waste that they were able to cut food waste by 25 percent is honestly astonishing. Granted Denmark is a much smaller country than the United States and making that big of an improvement in food waste would be much harder. However the message proposed in the video by Selina Juul could definitely apply.

When I was able to bring home produce without having to use money of my own to get it I felt like this allowed me much more freedom to experiment in the kitchen. Like my interviewee Emil said, Americans are not very affluent at cooking at home, and even on this trip alone I have expanded greatly on the type of food I am capable of cooking at home. Part of the issue with college students and their cooking skills is that when they leave the home they are abruptly placed in situations where they either do not have a kitchen in their living situation, usually dorms, or they are not familiar with how to actually shop for their own food because their parents had done that their entire lives before they left the house. On top of this with “meal plans” that colleges provide for their variety of fast food companies that they house on campus usually, students are not inclined to cook for themselves when they can swipe their cards and be handed Panda Express almost instantaneously. The article The Food Movement, Rising goes into detail on why Americans have been relying on fast food, and it does no good for the student in my opinion to be so reliant on fast food caterers for their meals while at school.

Truthfully I think the foodshare program would be perfect to implement into college life. While students may be busy during the week with school, I think they could greatly benefit from the sense of community you get from helping others with their food, while also being able to save some money and get food for themselves. As I said earlier when there is food readily available literally for free, you feel more inclined to try to experiment, and learn how to cook with it. If students could spend maybe a couple of hours on Saturday helping their other students while also getting some free food the benefits would be huge. Shane from foodsharing on our first day explained that even with the massive amount of food they collect with their vans, they only save about 10 percent of all food that is being thrown out. That number to me was amazing simply because we had filled this one room to the brim with fruits, vegetables, bread, etc. everything that could make our own grocery store. If I have the time when I return home I would want to look in to how this foodsharing could be implemented in partnership through the school. For one in California we have such a variety of food found at our supermarkets that I am sure a massive amount of it never comes to the table. Secondly, with a partnership with the school the facilities that go unused on campus could easily be used for hosting the food events.

Contrasts made in Copenhagen

Initially when I think of my latest food experience the first word that comes to my mind is chaotic. Another CSUF student and I decided that Japanese style noodles sounded absolutely amazing for dinner this one night, and having seen a noodle stand just a couple minutes walk away from our housing this seemed like the best idea for our ethnographic assignment. The restaurant was called Momo Wok Box, and upon arriving to eat the first thing we noticed was that it was so busy there was hardly anywhere to sit and eat. With Steve (CSUF student), myself, and two other students from Wisconsin also in our housing we were hard pressed to find 4 compatible seats, taking this meal to go was not an option. This tiny hole in the wall restaurant/eatery was tightly packed in the area of downtown Copenhagen next to the Radhuspladsen and had only a handful of tables outside and maybe 6 chairs on the inside ; definitely a low maintenance type of establishment. Luckily while looking at the menu we were able to hawk down one seat after the other from patrons that had finished their noodles and left their seats unattended. These seats however were squeezed tightly right next to the register and throughout our dining experience we were surrounded by other patrons to the eatery. Something about that claustrophobic seating arrangement felt distinctly Asian, and it reminded me of how Mr. Watson described the eating styles in Mcdonalds in Hong Kong.

What I was in search for specifically was one of my favorite things to eat from back home, and it was some Japanese Ramen. Somehow in this chaotically small environment my order was taken down wrongly, and I ended up with my noodles with beef and all the vegetable toppings I desired. On the bright side the only thing that I was missing was the broth, but having no broth surely took a toll on my ramen craving. Why I stick to this kind of dish back home in America is that there is something so satisfying about the mixture of vegetables, broth, and some kind of meat usually chicken, pork, or beef with a hard boiled egg. One of the biggest issues that I think the US currently is facing is obviously obesity, but part of that issue I believe revolves around our reliance on corn and meat and less so on vegetables. This issue is brought up in the article The food Movement, Rising where in America our huge corn industry fuels our reliance on corn, and allows for a huge amount of animals to be raised off of corn feed. With Asian dishes such as ramen there is a much wider variety of food that you can eat especially vegetables. Although I usually get some meat when I order it you can usually find vegetarian options as well. I’m not vegetarian myself but with the rice noodles and vegetables along with some meat I think this kind of dish is perfectly balanced with its variety of food groups.

As I was saying I did not end up eating the ramen they offered but instead I was given my noodles, vegetables, and beef without the broth in a bowl. Despite my disappointment the overall flavor of this dish blew me away. I had it made with their homemade red sauce, and added some spices of my own that they offered and it truly was great. Even with the extra beef I added to the assortment this whole array of food in the bowl I got had so much flavor I soon was over my lack of broth. Even my lack of personal space with a line queuing directly behind me was pushed out of my mind. My one issue with this whole experience however has to do with the price of what I got. For about 18 US dollars I got this noodle dish with extra beef, and although it was delicious I don’t think 18 dollars really is worth coming back to this place. Back home 18 dollars for noodles would get me sat down at an actual table with a waiter, elbow room, and maybe even some edamame appetizers.

Generally going out to eat in Denmark can be expensive so maybe it is not fair to compare this situation to anywhere back home. However having said that if I were to compare this dinner out to anywhere else I could have gone in Copenhagen, I think my money could have still gone further had I gone elsewhere. We were lucky to have even gotten seats to sit in this tiny little place, and had we not found seats I would have taken my noodles to go, and sat on some steps over by the Radhuspladsen wondering not only where my broth went, but where my money went too. Perhaps I had chosen unwisely with my noodle choice because there were definitely cheaper options, but then again there were also even more expensive options. Being that there was obviously a huge local presence here with people that I am assuming are regulars maybe I am being to harsh about the pricing of this place. I think as of now though I will leave Momo Wok behind and taste some other noodle places that are local to Copenhagen.

Copenhagen Cuisines

Although the first week abroad has been a blur luckily I have found time to fit in some delicious meals and drinks. My overall understanding ofhow Danes enjoy their food is that it is similar to a lot of other cultures in Europe in that they enjoy treating it as a social excursion. By doing this it is not simply filling their stomachs in the most efficient way possible like the typical American while eating, but it is instead an act of enjoying their food simultaneously while enjoying the company of others. Already this style of eating that was also reflected in Hong Kong in Mr. Watson’s article, shows how different not just American food is, but also the way we eat it. It was said in Honk Kong in McDonald’s by the local managers that, “the average eating time in Hong Kong was between about 20-25 minutes, compared to 11 minutes in the United States fast food industry” (Pg. 9). That to me summarized one of the underlying cultural differences that separates American style of dining from the rest of the world. Even in the most busiest McDonald’s in the world, local Chinese find time to sit down and enjoy a meal. Part of me is relieved to have left that aspect of our own dining behind and to be able to have the chance to take time with meals, and enjoy company of other students.

Part of me does not even care to see the major differences in the McDonalds and other American chains in Copenhagen because I simply want to utilize this opportunity being in another country to leave these lower-end chains behind. I realize that the 7-11’s and even the TGI Fridays are much nicer than they are back home, but still itdoes not do the chains and restaurants significant to Copenhagen any justice by relying on American outlets I am familiar with already. Some of the students went to the McDonalds yesterday and I had to decline because of this. To me there is a small and finite number of opportunities to eat out while I am abroad, and there is no need to use one of those opportunities on American fast food.

Of the food that I have had so far and the food that I have yet to try Iam very excited for what Copenhagen has to offer. Surprisingly out ofthe various cities I have been to in Europe I think that Copenhagenhas the most diverse array of food options. There is everything from Mexican food, to Japanese noodles, to even Middle Eastern cuisine to go along with the typical Italian and French restaurants. Our culinary visit to Ishtar today truthfully was some of the best Middle Eastern food I had ever had. Even the hummus blew me away. The foodwas so good we were willing to carry to-go boxes to our final two restaurants after just about stuffing ourselves. Leftovers are a dream for a room full of college kids.

I think what I still haven’t gotten a grasp of yet is what kind of eateries here are distinctly Danish. So far I have been to the local Netto multiple times everyday and it is clear that a healthy diet for the most part along with cheeses, breads and pastries are a centerpiece of Nordic culture. The Hungry Dane is one of the few actual restaurants I have been to, and truthfully I am not that impressed by Danish hamburgers. Honestly one of the best things toeat in America is our American style hamburgers. We did not invent this food obviously but I think we have taken it to the next level. Besides that I am still longing for some seriously good seafood. I know from the article by Shroeder & Shroeder The Cuisine in Denmark that there will certainly be some good Salmon and Cod here which are some of my favorites. The price of these is most likely going to be cheap at the markets and maybe even at some restaurants depending what the fish is paired with. Although I know sushi (one of my favorite things to eat) is most likely going to be on the expensive end like it is back home in America. Regardless I think it will be worth it. So moving forward now that everyone has started to settle here I think I have the power to make a conscious effort to hunt down some seriously good fish.

Before I post this blog I have to share the meal I had just yesterday. Just a couple days after our visit to Ishtar I have had even more of the best middle eastern food I have ever had. The place itself was somewhat of a hole-in-the-wall, it was called simply “BBQ House” and they specialized in almost every kind of middle eastern meat you could imagine. What I ordered was this minced beef with spices and herbs that had fries on the side, along with lettuce, cucumber, tomato, and a ton of tzatziki sauce. It was a huge plate, and so good I had to bring the leftovers with me on the rest of my bike ride.

Countdown to Copenhagen

When I think about my own personal foodways it doesn’t necessarily relate to my family’s culture so much as it does to the area we live in here in southern California. I think we have some of the best food in the world where we live simply because we have access to so many different cultural cuisines in this area, and we have constant access to exotic vegetables, fruits, meats, etc. that are not consistently available everywhere in the world. There is something for every pallet here and I have learned to be adventurous in the new foods I try truthfully just because there is so much to enjoy here. The featured pic for this post is one of my two personal favorites, poke. As well as mexican food such as tacos, recently this has been my go-to lunch food. It is somewhat of a Hawaiian style of food with tuna and salmon on top of rice with spicy mayo and avocado. In my home town of San Clemente, my favorite poke place is known as Kawamata seafood, and as far as my favorite taco eatery I have many to choose from, but one of my favorites as of late is known as Sanchos Tacos. Both have become staples to having a good lunch out. Even within this one city on any given day I could go from having middle eastern lamb chops, to some Italian pasta, all the way to some Hawaiian poke. That to me is the beauty of being in such a culturally diverse area such as California.

Being exposed to such a variety of foods I believe made me become much less picky of an eater than I used to be when I was younger. I had to be willing to try things I wasn’t initially comfortable with eating and truthfully it has made a huge difference in how I enjoy food. Even now I am just starting to open up to the idea of mushrooms on pizza. Never before would I have thought that would be possible. But that is somewhat of the fun of experiencing new food, stepping outside of the comfort zone. You are always surprised by something you like it, often it just takes some curiosity and even courage. I think we are lucky to have such a variety of food here in California because there are certainly parts of America that have much less variety for food. The region in America somewhat plays a bigger role than culture. We are part of one big cultural melting pot, but depending on your region’s local foods and raw goods, this control’s the specific tastes and dishes that become popular in the region. When I think of the southern diet in America for example I think of comfort food like mac and cheese, fried chicken, biscuits, etc. We undoubtedly have a taste of that style of food in California too, but at the same time we have so much more outside of that one genre of food that our food is never constrained by the regional tastes and food the produce.

I remember the first time I tried eel on a sushi roll I thought it sounded like one of the strangest types of sushi you could order. But now it is truly one of my favorite things to get at sushi restaurants. I think my affinity for seafood in particular is something I will have to rely on while in Copenhagen. From what I know about their types of dishes they do incorporate seafood a lot into what they eat. The only thing that potentially makes me cautious is the different types of fish they have locally compared to what we eat here in California. I could eat salmon and tuna all day, but I am sure I will have to step outside of this comfort zone when it comes to their seafood.

I wrote about this a bit in my other journal entry, but I was considering how much more thoughtfulness is put into food in European culture than in American culture. I feel as though we are in far too big of a hurry during our everyday lives to sit down and consistently enjoy meals whenever we are in the mood. When you go to a restaurant even they often expect you to want the check within 10 minutes after you finish eating just because Americans don’t value time spent at the restaurant. I am definitely eager to experience the different pace to enjoying food in that aspect. Not being in a rush to sit down and eat is kind of a relief, and if anything Americans could learn to adopt that kind of cultural tendency.

As far as anything that I will not try, I don’t think it is fair to draw the line anywhere before I am even in the country. The point of traveling I think is to expand on your experiences in a completely different fashion, and to constrain that experience even through the food you taste doesn’t do the journey any justice. Honestly as much as I enjoy seafood there may be something that I am not brave enough to try, and that is okay, leaving your comfort zone should be the goal.