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.     

Advertisements

Strengthening the Community while Eliminating Food Waste

When I first heard volunteering was part of this study abroad program, I was excited to immerse myself in a whole new culture while giving back to the community. I have always enjoyed volunteering back home because of the bonds that are created, so I was looking forward to doing the same abroad. I knew the general layout of the program and a little bit of what I would be doing, since Professor Lane talked about FoodSharing Copenhagen in one of our meetings. Handing out food seemed pretty straightforward.     

The first day volunteering I remember feeling a tinge of nervousness, because this was a new experience with strangers and I did not know everything I would be doing. However, when I walked up to the Karens Minde Kulturhus and saw everyone standing outside conversing with one another, the nerves disappeared. The atmosphere was welcoming, and I could tell every volunteer was there for a purpose; to reduce food waste while building bonds with the community. While waiting for the food trucks to arrive, the main leader called over the people from the afternoon shift and gave us a pep talk. As a group, we took some deep breaths to clear our heads. During the talk, one of the volunteers jumped in declaring how grateful he was and how we are all doing such a good thing for the environment and public. In that moment, I had never felt so included and appreciated by a group of strangers. I felt like an insider, even though I knew I was not one because I had never volunteered with the organization before.  

When the food trucks arrived, a sense of urgency presented itself. Everyone rushed to make themselves busy, finding a spot in the unloading chain. I was not given a job or told what to do so I randomly picked a spot and started passing along boxes of food. I was surprised to be thrown into the chain without any instruction. The lack of structure in that matter, shocked me because the times I have volunteered in America, I was given a full rundown prior to starting my job. I was sure of what was expected of me. At FoodSharing, I was expected to take initiative from the get go instead. Personally, finding something for me to do was one of the most difficult things because I am so used to being directed. At times I found myself wandering around, searching for a job, although this did get easier the second time volunteering.        

As I walked through the door after unloading all of the food, I could not believe how many fruit and vegetables were being given away. The CNN video, “The Danish Recipe to Cut Food Waste,” expresses that “about one-third of the world’s produced food is either lost or wasted,” enough to feed three billion people. Physically seeing all of the food in the room put into perspective how much edible produce goes to waste on a daily basis. If one billion people are starving, you would think that an effort would be made worldwide to provide for those people through organizations like FoodSharing.   

A great success and surprise for me while volunteering was interacting with the diverse group of people who came to get food. Walking through Copenhagen I am not as exposed to a variety of different cultures frequently, so passing out food was a way for me to connect with people from various backgrounds. I was able to talk to others while they navigated through line, answering any questions they had. The free food was not only for low-income people, it was available to anyone who desired to contribute to the goal of reducing food waste. FoodSharing has accomplished uniting all sorts of people with differing stories under one roof, strengthening the community. 

Educating people about food justice and food waste is the first step in solving the worldwide issue. Simply letting people know about the amount of food that gets wasted every week will stir conversation. Conversation can then lead to action and a possible solution can be implemented. In America, people “have not had to think very hard about where their food comes from, or what it is doing to the planet, their bodies, and their society” (Pollan). The effort of the food movement has prompted people to question where their food comes from and be more conscience of their footprint, particularly in America. I see a shift already occurring in the U.S. with the existence of companies like Imperfect Produce. Imperfect Produce sells fruit and vegetables that grocery stores have deemed as undesirable, delivering boxes of food to people’s front doors. This company and FoodSharing both aspire to eliminate food waste. FoodSharing is more progressive in that they do not charge people for food, but Copenhagen is not money oriented as America. This organization constantly makes the effort to improve the environment while simultaneously improving community connections. I know I can take the knowledge I have gained from this experience home and educate my family and friends about the benefits of eliminating food waste. A conversation has the power to incite change. With conversation and action, hopefully food insecurity can be reduced. Without a doubt, FoodSharing Copenhagen has paved the way for a healthier and happier world.      

The Truth

There are a considerable number of exceptional restaurants in Denmark, choosing one for this mini-ethnography was no small feat. I turned to my trusty friend, Yelp, to help wade through the countless options. I searched for Mom and Pop restaurants with the desire to eat at a place similar to one I work at home. After scrolling for a while, I happened upon La Neta, a Mexican restaurant that had four out of five stars, one money sign and appealing pictures of street tacos. Immediately, I was sold. 

La Neta is located off of the bustling street Nørrebrogade in Nørrebro. The storefront consists of big windows that welcome those who walk by. Neon pink and yellow letters line the windows, spelling out “La Neta” and “taquería and bar.”  The restaurant is relatively small, but charming. The inside is bright with fluorescent signs and the walls are painted white with accents of blue, pink and yellow, to match the lettering on the exterior. Images from Mexican lotería are also displayed on the white tile walls. Fake plants hang from the ceiling and potted plants sit on shelves, adding a sense of coziness to the space. 

Upon walking into the restaurant, I was welcomed by a Danish man behind the counter. He waited to take my order while I looked over the menu for quite some time. While deciding what to purchase, the man mentioned that the owner of the restaurant is Danish, not Mexican, but really liked Mexican taquerías, so he decided to open up a place similar to ones he was inspired by. 

Although small, the menu consisted of a variety of different tacos, tacos grandes and quesadillas, with meat or veggies. After much contemplation, I ordered one carnitas taco and one barbacoa taco, staying true to the Danish way of eating pork with a meal. The Danish worker proceeded to engage in small talk after I paid for my meal, saying how customers usually do not pay with cash or coins nowadays, but with card. I was surprised at this short interaction because Danes do not usually participate in small talk, and I had not engaged in it with a Dane since arriving in Copenhagen.     

While at the counter, I could see the cook at the grill in the open kitchen, preparing the food with fresh ingredients. After the cashier took my order, he handed me a buzzer and I went to find a table. I sat at one of the red Coca-Cola tables in the back of the restaurant. There were many people throughout the restaurant dining with friends, enjoying the food as well as company, filling the air with their voices. I noticed that the group next to me had already finished their food but were continuing to converse with one another despite their meal being over. When my food was ready, the buzzer went off and I went up to the counter to get it. I stopped at the salsa bar where I chose the least spicy out of three salsas, since I did not want to be sweating mid meal. Cilantro, onions and utensils were also available for the customers at the salsa bar. I went back to the table and savored the extremely tender and flavorful tacos. 

I finished my food pretty quickly, because it was delicious and because I am American and tend to frequently eat my food fast, then took my dishes to the dirty dish bin. I walked out of La Neta completely satisfied with the food as well as the service.       

La Neta, a little Mom and Pop style restaurant, successfully makes customers feel at ease while dining. The bright colors and decor, such as fake plants, adds a certain charm to the place. As Amy Choi states in “What Americans Can Learn from Other Food Cultures,” “food is the physical manifestation of our relationship with the natural world…where culture and ecology intersect” (Choi). Although not apparent or perhaps not the intention of the restaurant designer, the use of plants reminds the customer of the relationship present between humans and mother nature. A message that we are guests on this planet and need to be appreciative of the place we call home. If not for the natural world, we would not be able to physically manifest food to sustain ourselves or have a culture to call our own. 

The ambiance and friendly atmosphere present in La Neta allows people to socialize with family or friends. Just as Michael Pollan states in the article, “The Food Movement Rising,” food has the power to establish communities and identities as well as “carv[e] out a new social and economic space removed from the influence of big corporations.” La Neta is a space where people can do all three of those things while being surrounded by pieces of Mexican culture.   

Serving Happiness

As I stepped off the plane in Denmark, my stomach growled in anticipation for my first Danish meal. After a chaotic full day of travel, with my flight getting delayed then switched to a whole new airline, I was ready to sit down and enjoy some delicious cuisine, airplane food just did not cut it. 

When I finally reached the apartment, I settled in and unpacked, establishing my home for the next month. Eventually, I had my first meal, veggie pizza. I was pleasantly surprised with the slice I had. The pizza was filled with spinach, olives, onions, tomatoes and even pineapple; by the look of all the toppings, the freshness was evident. I never thought for my first meal in Denmark I would have pizza, since it is something I eat in the United States all of the time, but I was largely impressed by the quality and taste.      

The next day, a group of us explored the city and ate at a restaurant called the Hungry Dane, which claims to have the best burgers in Copenhagen. Burgers were a safe choice, something I knew and loved in America, so what could go wrong. I ordered the beef burger with french fries and a drink. When I received my meal, the hamburger bun was filled with shredded beef (a different take on a regular beef patty), cabbage, carrots and mayo sauce. Cabbage and carrots as condiments was something very new to me, since I had never seen a burger filled with such vegetables before. However, the purple of the cabbage and the orange of the carrots caught my eye. The pop of color made the food more appealing and therefore more desirable to eat. As mentioned in the article, The Cuisine of Denmark, cabbage and carrots became a staple vegetable in the Danish diet, present in a variety of different meals, so it makes sense as to why the hamburger was packed with these vegetables (Schroeder & Schroeder 8). The fries were made with no oil and no salt, strange since fries in America are doused in oil and salt, but they were delicious.

A couple of days later, with the desire to compare a Danish McDonalds to an American McDonalds, a group of us went to have dinner there one night. There were a number of different items on the menu, such as the McBacon as well as various desserts like macarons. I ordered the chicken nuggets and fries to see how the taste of chicken compared to back home. We ate at one of the many tables located in the open space offered on the second level. There were quite a few people sharing a meal in the dining area, taking advantage of the social aspect of eating with another person, prominent in Denmark. To me, the chicken nuggets seemed to be of a better quality than the ones offered in the U.S. because they did not leave a bad aftertaste or leave me unsatisfied. It is evident that the Danish McDonalds, became a local institution that “blended into the urban landscape,” incorporating healthier options to adapt to the diet of a Dane (Watson 87). Individuals could enjoy the presence of others while eating at a well-known fast-food place that appeals to people in a culture that deeply cares about locally sourced foods.     

After a couple of meals, it is apparent that the Danish are very distinct on food execution. Every bit of food is purposeful, adding to the overall flavor of the meal. Most, if not all, of the food is locally sourced, greatly increasing the quality. The portions are smaller, not to overwhelm the consumer, but to make them eat slower and relish each bite. Each plate does not need to be packed with food because it is packed with flavor. Meals in the United States tend to be loaded with food, with little to no presentation, and eaten in a small amount of time. In Denmark, eating is more of a social affair, where individuals savor each other’s company as well as the food. Meals are eaten outside where people can take advantage of the good weather and the long hours. Dining is a part of leisure time.  

Witnessing and partaking in the Danish food culture has made me realize the importance of locally sourced cuisine. Foods that are organic and locally grown, tend to taste better and ultimately prompt people to keep on returning. As I continue my stay here in Copenhagen, I hope to try local Danish cuisine that is authentic to the country as well as expand my appreciation for food.       

A burger from the Hungry Dane.

5,591 Miles to Finding Grace

Food has always brought my family together. From as young as I can remember, my parents made dinner for my siblings and me almost every night. My mother specialized in Mexican food, pulling from family recipes and my father specialized on the grill, cooking anything from hamburgers to ribs. 

I come from a fairly big family of six people, two sisters, one brother, and my two parents, so eating out was never a frequent occasion. My parents could not afford to take four children to a restaurant with the possibility that we would cause a raucous and misbehave. Instead, we gathered around the kitchen table each night, engulfed in the comfort of home. 

Each of us had our spot. We carved our name into the wooden table to stake our claim, the big “H” my younger sister, Holly, carved still remains on display. We would say grace and immediately after, one of us would joyously yell “snake!” This was a signal for us to snap our fingers, grab the hands of the people next to us, hiss and shake our arms. As silly as it may sound, it was a highlight of the night. For a moment we entertained our goofy side, carrying out something that was seemingly pointless, but necessary for the advancement of dinner. 

Our front door is one that is revolving. My aunt and uncle live across the street so some nights they show up for dinner and two more chairs are added to the table. Eight people surrounded around a six foot by three-and-a-half-foot piece of wood gets rambunctious. Cackles follow “yums” while arms stretch across one another, reaching for plates of food. More chairs are constantly being pulled up as more family and friends are invited into the home. 

In the sense that my family and I have big meals and there is a welcoming atmosphere, I think I eat “like an American.” However, I also see eating “like an American” as someone who frequently grabs fast-food, which is not how my family and I eat. Don’t get me wrong, I do indulge in fast-food like any other person, but not on a regular basis. 

  The importance of food in my family can be traced back to our tradition of making tamales each year. The Sunday before Christmas, everyone gathers at someone’s home to carry out this custom. Each person has a specific job. Days prior, my mother makes the red chili, de-seeding and soaking the pods to then be ground and made into sauce. Dodie, my mom’s aunt, is in charge of the corn husks, my grandparents, slow cook and shred pork and beef roasts the night before, and my mom’s aunt and uncle bring over the masa to be mixed and prepared. 

Mixing masa is always a spectacle. One of the men gets elbow deep in corn meal, lard, beef broth, Crisco and salt, using their hands to blend the ingredients together. We know the masa is ready when a chunk floats in water, a task that is easier said than done. Once the masa is to our liking, a group of us spread the mix onto corn husks and pass it along to two older family members who then spoon pork/beef and red chili sauce onto the masa covered husks. At the end of the night, after the tamales have been steaming for many hours, we finally enjoy our masterpiece; four hours of work, devoured in five minutes. Tamale day is a time where we can all count on one another to work together to carry out a tradition that has been in the family for many years. The day is filled with laughter and love and everyone is reminded of the significance of family. The heart of my family thrives in the kitchen.   

  Even with a constant flow of homemade meals and my parents always diversifying what we ate, from Mexican to Italian to American, I became a picky eater. I became accustomed to my parents cooking and did not want to turn away from what I found comfort in. I was stubborn and closed off to trying new foods. I stuck with what I knew and loved, foods like my mom’s cheese enchiladas, my dad’s barbeque ribs and the families’ tamales. I was content in my little box.       

As I became older, I started to branch out and try new foods because my family pushed me to do so. I tried Mediterranean and Indian cuisine and found myself fond of it. However, even as I began to develop a new appreciation for food, I noticed I had stepped back into my cozy box. Today, I still seek out foods I am familiar with and know I will like. I am guilty of being the person who orders chicken tenders at any restaurant; they are my go-to food.  

Although it is difficult for me to deter from what is well-known, I must step out of my comfort zone to truly experience something extraordinary. Therefore, I am willing to be more daring and try new foods. After all, food is a gateway into different cultures. If I want to whole-heatedly immerse myself in a new place, especially the Danish culture, I must be willing to try local cuisine. 

I cannot wait for the opportunities that await me and to create a new family who I can crowd around a table with and stuff our faces full of food.  

Me with an arm full of masa on tamale day.
Some of the family making tamales 16 years later from the picture above.
A typical every day family dinner.