With Copenhagen not only the setting for the world’s best restaurant but also home to Rasmus Kofoed, who recently won the title of world’s best chef at the Bocuse d’Or awards, you could well imagine that the average Copenhagener’s culinary prowess (not to mention gastronomic standards) were far higher than that of other earthlings. But what Nordic delicacies can really be found in the Danish larder? What do Copenhageners actually sit down to eat when they come home from work and school in the evening?
Despite global influences, Danes still eat fairly traditionally. Perennial favorites include frikadellar (pork and veal meatballs, made fresh or bought premade) and meatballs with rice in curry sauce,as well as pork cutlets and ‘tarteletter’—small pie cases filled with creamy chicken and asparagus, both served with thick, rich sauces. The traditional rye bread is still a lunchtime staple, with white bread (referred to as ‘French bread’) being more of a weekend treat. Fish is still not particularly popular, despite a flood of PR campaigns to promote its health benefits.
The sudden international rise in interest in Danish cuisine is comparatively recent, and just a decade ago would have been seen as a gastronomic joke. One of the people responsible for promoting ‘new Nordic cuisine’ (he and Noma’s Rene Redzepi coined the term), is culinary entrepeneur Claus Meyer, owner of Meyers Deli and a slew of other food-oriented enterprises. Yet while personalities like Meyer and Redzepi have changed the way the world views Danish cuisine, have they really changed the way Danes eat?
Perhaps the fact that Danes do still choose rye bread over a bagel, munch happily into a slice of liver pate on rye before they’re old enough to handle a fork properly, or buy ‘unpopular’ root vegetables like parsnips and beets as much as they do zucchini and squash is proof of how much new Nordic cuisine has influenced the population. Who could have imagined a decade ago that the humble Jerusalem artichoke could be seen as a trendy vegetable, or that the tartlets your grandma used to be bake would be back in vogue?
The colorful menus of restaurant Noma, sourced from some of the remotest part of the Scandinavian region, or the biodynamic, organic dishes at Kofoed’s restaurant Geranium are as outlandish to the average Copenhagener as they are to anyone else; of all the upscale restaurants in the Danish capital, Paustian is probably the closest to a real Danish kitchen. Having recently reopened in the capable hands of chef pair Bo and Lisbeth Jacobsen, Paustian’s changing a la carte menu includes plenty of traditional staples like smoked fish, pickled vegetables, soups and desserts with berries.
Head chef at upmarket Restaurant Herman in Nimb, meanwhile, Thomas Herman, has his own ideas about Danish ‘comfort food’. His book on food is titled ‘Brændende Kærlighed’ (Burning Love): the name of a traditional Danish dish of creamy mashed potatoes, bacon and onions as well as a comment on Herman’s own passion for his national cuisine.
Whether the frikadellar served in most ordinary households are home-made or out of the freezer section of the local supermarket, what is clear is that for Danes, the act of dining is very important. Considerable weight is placed on festivals and ceremonies like Christmas Dinner, Easter, New Year, etc, but even on an everyday basis, most families will turn off the TV and have a proper sit-down meal together around 6pm, with the younger generation much less likely to indulge in the dreaded ‘TV dinner’ than the over-50s.
Top image of a typical Danish dinner courtesy of Betsy Weber/Flickr.