My Single Story for New Nordic Cuisine

Prior to entering the New Nordic dinner, my expectations were very low. I fully intended the dinner to be somewhat of a pleasantry, because I do not believe in a system designed to tell us the hierarchy of restaurants and I did not think this meal would make me full. Additionally, I came in with my own single story which is reflective of dinners I had seen popularized in media. In Always Be My Maybe, for example, there is a dinner between the two main characters (Sasha and Marcus) and their partners at a restaurant that resembles New Nordic in American Gastronomy. The parody shows, Marcus who is not from the high brow culinary world being baffled by each course which is seemingly more bizarre than the next. The theme is playing with time, and the main course involves a sound track which allows the diner the option to listen to the cow prior to slaughter. It was with these preconceived notions, that created my very low bar for the New Nordic dinner at Høst. 

The sustainable salmon that reminded me of poke

Fortunately, I was wrong, and this meal was executed very well! For our first taster, we had a radish, pickled strawberry and shrimp cup. Our first actual course was sustainable salmon from Hirtshals with green tomatoes and horseradish. Then we had our second taster which was a crabcake inside of a crepe taco. Our main course was baked hake with green asparagus and fish fumé. The first dessert was a nitrogen meringue with a pinecone on top. The final course was Danish strawberries with yoghurt sorbet and rhubarb. Each dish had a uniquely earthy taste, but all dishes had their own distinct tastes as Jared Demick would say in his poem, Tasting a Landscape: On the New Nordic Cuisine, “tattooed on your tongue.” (Demick) For example, each dish did have their own sets of greens on the plates. On the shrimp cup dish, there was a dill sprig, whereas on the final course there were fennels. These different greens gave each dish a little kick of spice, and set each apart from one another, making each dish have a unique set of earthy tastes that I would say danced on your tongue at different times. 

The atmosphere was very rustic and minimalistic. For example, there were pizza cutting boards on the wall, whereas other walls were barren. The floors were concrete and the table and chairs looked to be reused (old door for the table, mismatched chairs). At the table, there were only two candles, both held information about the food being served that night. The mood of the event was very inviting, everyone was talking and having a family style type of conversation at the table, it was very warm and “hyggeligt.” 

The food was not what I expected of the New Nordic Movement at all. Since we have learned that the New Nordic Movement promotes “the manifesto promotes a cuisine based on purity, simplicity and freshness, one that reflects the changing seasons […] menus were to be inspired by traditional dishes and the use of ingredients that benefit from the nordic region’s climate, water and soil,” I did not expect to have very many options. (New Nordic Food Program, 6). I expected this limitation because of the different seasons the movement adheres to that helps with the reproduction of animal and plant life. Although all of our dishes were pescentarian, I still was wholeheartedly impressed by the uniqueness of each dish. I thought the salmon dish reminded me of poke, and the main course reminded me of sea bass. I am glad it exceeded my expectations and that it left me feeling satisfied in the end. I would not say I was full, I would say each dish left me very satisfied. Although I am sad I originally had such a single story about New Nordic Cuisine, I am happy to have given this meal a chance by trying every dish and holding an open mind throughout the night. Overall, this was a lovely way to conclude the program because we were all able to be together one last time and share an experience.

the dessert! YUM!!

Get on your feet, get up and make it happen!

Brittany, Shelby and me at FoodShare Copenhagen!

“Can we have one second to just take this all in? Everyone come and stand in a circle together. Please close your eyes. Let’s all breathe in, and out.” These were the motivational words of one of the leaders as we were being trained on the food safety handling our first day after arriving at FoodSharing Copenhagen. He then had each of us turn to our left as we did a message train, then our right and continued the message train. This was to lift our spirits and help us relax before we began handing out food during the second shift. This was after we had arrived to find that the truck carrying the food had been later than usual, so the first shift was behind, and we had inserted ourselves into the assembly line of people that would pass the food upstairs to the tables where it would be sorted and eventually taken by the general public. I remember thinking prior to this day that I was prepared to volunteer because I had a lot of volunteering experience under my belt, but I was very wrong. Volunteering in Denmark is not similar to it is in the States, in Denmark they expect you to take on a job, they do not assign you a task. Realizing this expectation early on, I began to see what those in the blue “FoodSharing Copenhagen” shirts were doing and would either follow their lead or ask if they needed help. I worked this way for two weeks learning what jobs needed to be done. I think this expectation I put on myself comes from the way Americans work, and the expectation is that we are told what task to do then the next and so on. At FoodShare Copenhagen, it is a collective effort, almost like a beehive in which everyone contributes to a common cause, and they automatically understand what the end goal is.

I definitely felt like an outsider looking in during the first two weeks. I think it was a combination of trying to understand all the food safety regulations, making sure all the work is done in a timely manner, and understanding how the organization is run administratively. Today, I found myself feeling like an insider. When we arrived, we had a little downtime, and there was a new volunteer who asked me about the sorting process and what was happening. I found myself using the word “we” rather than “they.” Although I have only volunteered for this organization for three weeks, I felt comfortable enough to consider myself apart of it where I would use the term “we.” The difference between being an outsider and feeling like an insider was that I do not speak Danish (most people assume I do) and that I am only a part of this experience for a short while (participating in three events). This connection gave me confidence to begin understanding what it means to be a part of a food movement to end food waste. It also helped me understand why the people participating enjoy coming back each week.

The largest surprise for me was how social volunteering is for Danes and travelers. I personally volunteer to socialize as well, but I usually have a circle of friends which I volunteer with at home. Here in Denmark, the Danes volunteer to meet one another and build lasting relationships. For example, last week I met Thomas, it was his first time volunteering and he knew no one. Today, he saw us, he knew everyone, and he was hugging multiple people in every group. It was exciting to see this transition. It has also taught me to be more outgoing with Danish and European people. Today, I spoke with a young woman from Hungary. She is visiting on holiday and went to FoodShare Copenhagen two weeks ago as someone from the public. Today, she volunteered and learned about the organization and how to save food waste. The first time I was participating I was so involved with my work I rarely stopped to socialize, but today I made it a point to converse with people and participate as the Danes do.

The line outside the first FoodShare day

What I learned most from this experience is that saving food and giving it to people who need/want it is not the only thing that matters but that it can also improve the environment. Michael Pollan writes in his article, “The Food Movement, Rising” that “for some in the movement, the more urgent problem is environmental: the food system consumes more fossil fuel energy than we can count on in the future (about a fifth of the total American use of such energy) and emits more greenhouse gas than we can afford to emit, particularly since agriculture is the one human system that should be able to substantially rely on photosynthesis: solar energy.” (1). As we have heard discussed in detail from various guest lecturers in both our classes here in Copenhagen, the new Danish government which has been newly elected would like to reduce levels of CO2. I think that if movements like FoodShare Copenhagen, we could see an improvement towards this goal. This might seem like a small footprint, but if larger countries like America did it, it might have a profound effect on the environment and at the same time help solve food insecurity in America.

This experience also taught me that it does not take a large effort to establish something profound in your community. Food justice is not something limited to Denmark, in fact it is a universal issue. “Globally, about one third of the world’s produced food is either lost or wasted.” (2) Knowing that a smaller nation like Denmark can make such a lasting and substantial impact in Copenhagen gives me hope that it might one day reach the States. “Denmark has reduced its food waste by 25% since 2006.” (2) This number has likely grown since 2006, and I hope that it is something the United States might consider. There is no reason we should be one of the most powerful nations in the world, yet we have children and families who go hungry. If I were to bring anything back to the United States with me, it is the knowledge that programs like this exists in other countries, they have people who contribute to them, and the benefits could very well outweigh the negatives.

Cheesy potato soup and garlic bread Shelby made with our FoodShare Food. The Best meal I’ve ever eaten!
  1. Pollan, Michael, “The Food Movement, Rising,” The New York Review of Books, Published: May 20, 2010, Accessed: July 16, 2019, https://michaelpollan.com/articles-archive/the-food-movement-rising/
  2. “Danish Recipe to Cut Food Waste,” CNN World, Modified: July 21, 2017, Accessed: July 24, 2019, https://edition.cnn.com/videos/world/2017/07/21/going-green-selina-juul-food-waste.cnn

Red, White, and Bacon Blue

The Midwestern Diner

The smell of onion rings and whipped cream, the sound sizzling burgers on the grill and the sight of the red, white and blue scattered throughout the space instantly brought me back to a more familiar space. As I entered into the newly opened Midwestern Diner on Gyldenløvesgade 4, 1369 København I was instantly drawn back to my wholesome childhood and recent memories of American Family Diners. I knew when it came time to writing this mini-ethnography about a restaurant, I wanted to compare this diner experience to my hometown diners. When I walked into the space, it had clean white walls, with crown molding, Americana decor surrounds the sides of the seating area (not the walls since they just opened), and the seating is colored red, white, and blue. The decor resembles a farmhouse style or a rustic look which serves to add to the authenticity of the Midwestern title. The music being played in the background is classic rock from the 70s thru 90s, including Joe Walsh, The Who, AeroSmith, Black Sabbath and Nirvana. Before I walked through the front door, I was greeted by one of the owners, Lulie, who is from Illinois. She actually welcomed me in, allowed me to choose my own seat, took my order, and answered all my questions. Since there was only one other customer besides myself and he was speaking with the other owner, Lulie’s husband who is Danish American, I had a unique opportunity to get to know the owners of this establishment. For example, Lulie’s husband grew up in Denmark since he was thirteen years old, and calls Denmark his home more than America, whereas Lulie has been here since 2006.

Bacon Grilled Cheese, Mozzarella Sticks, Jalapeno Poppers and Onion Rings

When I ordered, I chose the grilled cheese with bacon, the platter mix (a variety of mozzarella sticks, jalapeno poppers and onion rings), and a caramel “freakshake.” The reason I chose what I did is because of Sidsel Overgaard’s “Pork Politics: Why some Danes Want Pig Meat Required On Menus.” I noticed that the grilled cheese was only offered with bacon on the menu which is unique to Denmark, not something that can simply be added on as it is in America. The article states, “in Denmark, pigs outnumber people 2 to 1. No traditional Danish meal would be complete without something wrapped in, wrapped around, or topped with pork.” (1) It was only fitting that my meal in Denmark had some sort of pork included. Each item on the menu seemed to include some sort of pork element which ties into Overgaard’s argument that pork is typically on the Danish menu, even the American inspired ones. The food itself, although it was fried had very little grease and butter that was left on the plate. As I mentioned to Lulie before I left, in America we typically see grease leftover on the plate with this many fried foods. She explained to me, they prepare their food fresh daily, using organic local foods (except for the ice cream which is from the midwest), and they try not to use grease in their cooking, opting to bake instead. 

Caramel “freakshake”

The desert was my favorite part of the meal because of my sweet tooth. It was a caramel milkshake piled high with whipped cream, potato chips, chocolate chip cookies, and pretzels! The perfect combination of sweet and savory. I mentioned to the owners that the milkshake ice cream reminded me of Culver’s Custard, which is a treat I typically get when I am visiting my family from the midwest. They affirmed for me their supplier is in fact from the midwest which gives the ice cream its creamy frothy texture that is the perfect combo of smooth and sweet. It was one of the best treats I have had since arriving in Denmark! 

One thing I did notice about the space was throughout my meal Lulie and her husband would come to check on me to make sure my meal was good. They would also refill my water regularly (with many ice cubes too). This to me felt very different than other Danish restaurants I have recently dined at. Typically waiters like to take your order, bring you food, and wait for you to call them over when you need them rather than taking the initiative to serve you. This is because Danes like to give you privacy to enjoy your meal. In this instance, I enjoyed having a little slice of home, created a welcoming space I was used to in diners and something I very much appreciated. 

Empty diner at 17:00.

Additionally, I noticed there was a lack of people when I arrived at the diner at 17:00, but service started to pick up as I began to leave two hours later. This reinforces my stereotype about Europeans eating at a later hour versus Americans who eat directly after they get off of work. In Michael Pollan’s “The Food Movement, Rising,” he discusses the idea that with women entering the workforce therefore families began eating out and the production of cheaper foods created a more convenient way of consuming meals rather than the traditional family dinner. (2) There was a father and son eating dinner next to me as I left, and I believe they chose this restaurant because it is a novelty (they both ordered milkshakes and bacon burgers). I am unsure if they chose this restaurant as a convenience or because they wanted to dine out on a nice meal. None of this proves Pollan’s argument regarding cheap and fast food produce a similar environment in Copenhagen. In any case, I believe that Denmark takes their time with meals.

This diner had a culture of its own that was similar to those in America but also unique to the ones I have experienced in Denmark. I did not feel rushed to leave, they never brought me a check, I chose when I would go to the counter to pay, which is similar to other Danish restaurants. At the same time, the owners were very inviting, making small talk with me, and checked on my table regularly. They even had a guest book, where people could share their thoughts about what they ordered, why they liked it, and leave their own food reviews with their date attended, name, and hometown. I thought this added to the charm of the place, because I have always thought of a diner as a space where everyone can get what they want and feel welcome. 

Enjoying my “freakshake”

1. Overgaard, Sidsel, “Pork Politics: Why some Danes Want Pig Meat Required On Menus,” NPR, Published: September 25, 2013, Accessed: July 16, 2019, https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2013/09/25/226129821/pork-politics-why-some-danes-want-pig-meat-required-on-menus

2. Pollan, Michael, “The Food Movement, Rising,” The New York Review of Books, Published: May 20, 2010, Accessed: July 16, 2019, https://michaelpollan.com/articles-archive/the-food-movement-rising/

May[o] I tak[e] your order?

Rye bread, mayo, mozzarella cheese, parma ham, pesto, cucumbers, tomatoes, and spring salad. This was my first impression of Danish cuisine, and it was delightful! For dessert I sampled “Smarties” ice cream hoping it would resemble the American Smarties candy or sprinkles, instead it was a very sweet gelato with M&Ms. This experience although very different than what I initially expected from Danish food was actually very comforting to me because ultimately it was a sandwich. I purchased this sandwich from the Sweet Shop on Strøget street, and I was not expecting to be impressed since it was considered a “non-fancy” location. I think what surprised me the most was the amount of fresh ingredients in the sandwich, which is something never included in a cheap sandwich in America. If I were to purchase a sandwich for 65DKK ($9.76 USD), we would expect a toasted footlong sandwich from Subway Sandwiches that does not nearly include as many high quality fresh ingredients. This is the largest difference I noticed between Denmark and the United States. Denmark cares about how their food is sourced (typically locally), how it is prepared (fresh and in house), and how it is served (quality over quantity). 

The freshness of food in American cuisine is discussed in Amy S. Choi’s article, “What Americans Can Learn From Other Cultures,” where she briefly talks about the decentralization of many types of traditional cuisine such as Mexican, French, and so on. She states, “‘American’ cuisine is moving in the same direction [as other countries], becoming more localized, not globalized.” (1) This is what we have seen in the “farm to table movement” which has been coursing through many California communities over the past decade. Instead of having limitations based on geographic location and seasonal limitations, Americans are able to cook types of cuisine that use locally raised produce and cultivate many types of multicultural backgrounds or fuisions. An example of this would be in my local community, that there are various “farm to table” or organic restaurants which boast the ability to produce dishes that are fresh and seasonal using ingredients from local farms. These restaurants range in varieties of cuisine from Asian fusion to Mexican cuisine. Although this is a very recent movement, this is something Denmark has been participating in for many years. My overall impressions of Danish cuisine has been that they make their food using fresh ingredients, even down to the mayo on your sandwich. Since we will be volunteering with Food Share Copenhagen, it is obvious that they are aware of their carbon footprint wishing to reduce their food waste to as little as possible by participating in the program. 

Another experience I chose was to go to a restaurant I knew from back home, TGI Friday’s. My experience at TGI Friday’s in the past has been that it is a keitchy restaurant where Americans go to eat happy hour appetizers and drinks for a cheaper price. The walls are typically littered with sports memorabilia from the local teams, televisions playing multiple sports games from across the nation and other types of American decor which makes the space loud yet inviting because it is known as a typical “American Sports Bar/Restaurant.” Meanwhile, in Denmark, the TGI Friday’s was quite different. It reminded me of a fancier American steakhouse because the waiters wore button shirts and ties, while the walls had pinstripe wallpaper and gold plated mirrors. I also noticed there were no televisions in my line of view, which signaled to me that this was not a “sports bar type” establishment. I chose the Italian Stackhouse Burger, which consisted of a burger topped with mozzarella sticks, then cheese and pepperoni and instead of ketchup it came with marinara sauce. No Danish burger would be complete without mayo, and at the bottom of my burger, there was in fact mayonnaise. While eating at this establishment, I quickly began to take into account the argument of James L. Watson’s work, McDonald’s in Hong Kong: Consumerism, Dietary Change, and the Rise of a Children’s Culture, where we learn that it is not just about the Americanization of foodways to other countries but rather the globalization of American food to meet the cultural standards of the area (Watson, 79). What is most interesting about this is that countries adapt to the cultural standards already set within society. An example of this was the integration of the breakfast items at McDonalds in Hong Kong being introduced slowly rather than rolled out at once similarly to the burgers and french fries (Watson, 86). These items were not traditional to the area, therefore they had to either be scrapped or introduced slowly to accommodate local customs. 

When I ordered my Italian Stackhouse burger at TGI Friday’s I ordered it with the intention of finding something that was uniquely offered in Denmark but also as something I believed the Danes thought was an “All-American” burger. This burger was featured on their menu with a star to indicate it’s popularity, and it also was pictured in the menu making it a premium selection for those looking to order something that was considered “American.” When reading the menu, this burger screamed “pizza-burger!” to me which also highlighted what I think this TGI Friday’s was trying to pursue with this unique menu item. The Italian Stackhouse Burger is an Americanized food, but it meets the cultural standards for Danish cuisine. Let me explain. As mentioned before, this restaurant is meant to be an establishment for Danes to receive an “American” eating experience, yet from the moment you walk in it is very European. Again, it is not keitchy in decor or in what the waiters wear, there is not a television in sight playing a loud sports games, and the food is high end including fresh burgers, chicken and steak. The next thing is the style of food I chose, as mentioned, I chose a burger. When I ordered it, they did not ask me about modifications, including how I wanted the burger cooked, what type of cheese I wanted on top, and if there were any sauces I wanted on the side which is something almost every American restaurant does. Finally, when the burger arrived, it included the most Danish thing I have noticed since arriving, mayonnaise! Who would put mayo on a pizza burger? Only a Dane! So even though this was still considered to be an American restaurant, it still upheld cultural standards in its dining space and food standards which to me means it is a clear example of the globalization of American food and culture. 

Italian Stackhouse Burger from TGI Friday’s
Overhead view of the “pizza burger.”
  1. Choi, Amy S., “What Americans Can Learn From Other Countries,” TED: Ideas Worth Spreading, Published: December 18, 2014, Accessed: July 9, 2019, https://ideas.ted.com/what-americans-can-learn-from-other-food-cultures/
  2. Watson, James L. McDonald’s in Hong Kong: Consumerism, Dietary Change, and the Rise of a Children’s Culture. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006.

From Family Dinners to Family Diners

My mother is my hero. She worked every night at her local diner as a waitress to put herself through high school so she could afford college. Then she graduated top of her class as one of the few women in her program at the University of Iowa. She put in tireless hours each week at the office as a young lawyer until she grew into her own practice, which eventually led to her working fifty to sixty hour weeks. Something I will never forget is coming home from after school daycare and although she was tired from an endless day of work, she began to cook our family meals so it would be ready when my dad arrived home at six-thirty sharp. My parents, brother and I would then gather at our dining room table, say grace, and eat dinner together. We would discuss our days, our highs, lows, our on-going dramas, or good times with friends. When dinner was finished, my brother and I would clean the dishes (after much protest on who would wash or who would dry) and together we would turn on a family primetime comedy or our favorite show Jeopardy! These small daily routines became so ingrained in my brain that when I left for college in 2009, I realized that I missed these family dinners deeply. Whenever I would go to the dining commons, I would refuse to attend alone. Instead I would knock on almost every door of my friend’s dorm inviting them to join me for dinner, this way my family away from home could continue the tradition my mother had instill in me from childhood.

When I moved into my first apartment alone it was a turning point for me. I began to realize I did not need to eat with others. This is also when my bad eating habits began. I started eating a lot of fast food and junk food. As a young working professional, it was whatever food felt convenient at the time of purchase, which usually consisted of high carbohydrates, sugar and sodium. During this time my taste buds also evolved. Having grown up in the Central Valley where there are a limited number of choices in restaurants and having been raised on my mother’s Midwestern style cooking, my palate consisted of mostly meat and potatoes, and Mexican cuisine. While living in Sacramento, I began to experience Mediteranean, Japanese, Indian, Southwestern and many more styles of food. By expanding my palate, I realized although I ate out of convenience, I truly enjoyed finding foods I had never tried before to see what I would enjoy. I wanted to find a way to expand my palate and try new foods, but stay within budget.

Eventually, I began graduate school at California State University, Fullerton and again the opportunity to try new and exciting foods were before me. For the first time I tried Poke bowls, Korean BBQ, Ramen, Cajun, Fusion styles and so many more! Graduate school also showed me how much I began to miss my family style meals. In between undergrad and grad school, I had been living and working in Merced to help my parents with caretaking for my grandpa who passed away in 2017. During the three years I was home, I had countless family dinners, including some with my grandparents that built some beautiful memories. I believe that these wholesome memories are tied to wanting to eat in a family dinner like atmosphere. 

To combat this, I discovered a local diner in Fullerton where I visit once a week to do my weekly Homework readings. The staff know me now and allow me to stay in the diner for many hours and even greet me by name. This friendly and inviting atmosphere is only part of the reason I go. Diners have been a safe and inviting space to me growing up, and when I was older I would treat my grandparents to dinner at local diner called Paul’s Place weekly. The beauty of a diner is it serves something for everyone (breakfast, lunch or dinner). I have included photos of some of my favorite foods I get at local diners, they are larger portioned so I feel I am getting more for my money. Something else I enjoy about this diner, it is affordable and it is very “American” in it’s portions, which to me means there is enough food left over for lunch tomorrow. Finally, I enjoy that even though I am studying, I can look up anytime, and see a family sharing a special meal or a smile with one another. This comfort provides me with the atmosphere my mother provided me growing up, a shared, wholesome, welcoming environment where everyone can enjoy themselves and share their thoughts.

Fish and Chips, my Grandpa’s favorite dish, I usually order it on his birthday in honor of him.
French Toast is my favorite breakfast combo.
Sometimes you have to “treat yo self” to a sundae if it’s Sunday!