Back when I was last in Copenhagen, I had only vague—and likely erroneous—ideas about Scandinavia. Those included Michael Learns to Rock, herring, The Little Mermaid and minimalist but expensive furniture. None of them included the cuisine at all.
This is not to say I didn’t do the usual wandering around old town, venturing further into Vesterbro, Nørrebro and even around Ørestad to do the usual touristy things, with the usual transportation mishaps (mostly to do with malfunctioning ticket machines and several ways of paying for a fare) along the way.
But how things have changed, at least on the culinary front.
Danish cuisine has since then, developed a reputation for solely using produce that is regionally available. The result is a dish that’s modern, environmentally respectful and sumptuous and brilliant on the palate.
What had happened in the time the world wasn’t looking?
Nearly 10 years ago, Claus Meyer finally decided to put his foot down where Danish food was concerned. Tired of the low quality and tasteless yet clinically perfect food that had come to pass for Danish food, Meyer sought answers by studying the history of agricultural production. And learned that that the international success of Danish butter and pork had a disastrous effect on local cuisines as it muscled out most other areas of production and forced small unproductive farms to shut. Seeking redress to this imbalance, Meyer and others looked long and hard at the natural Nordic environment, studied old recipes and talked with those old enough to remember when food wasn’t shrink wrapped and flown in from the other side of the world.
The New Nordic Food movement was born from this undertaking, a new culinary trend that had a dozen prominent chefs from around the region committing to a Kitchen Manifesto that emphasises age-old techniques of food preparation (drying, smoking, pickling, curing, smoking) with a larger goal of returning balance to the earth itself.
Meyer’s 2-Michelin starred Noma is widely seen as the epitome of this movement – with a huge dose of molecular gastronomy that’s not unlike the techniques adopted in the now-defunct Ferran Adriá’s El Bulli. Noma now has a 3-month wait list and a hefty price tag that will set its visitors back by and arm and a leg, but many other restaurants have jumped on this speeding freight train of local produce and extreme innovation to boost Copenhagen’s culinary status on the world map.
The many cafes and restaurants in the gentrified, trendy Nørrebro district exemplify this growing trend, capped off nicely with the opening of a glitzy gourmet food-hall-cum-market Torvehallerne. Höst (part of the Cofoco restaurants group), is one of such places and came highly recommended by Tommy Pedersen, the host in my AirBnb apartment in Ørestad. Online reservation just had to be made on the same day and then off we went for the first seating, in a beautifully austere and sparse interior, softened by wooden floorboards and soft candlelight. Like Noma, tons of food enthusiasts flock here to sample the New Nordic kitchen—and got something wonderfully bizarre, mad but so brilliant.
These were just some of the dishes we had:
Bread made with Manitoba flour and soured, whipped butter
Smoked lumpfish and lumpfish roe with broccoli and foamy sauce from beer and sunflower seeds
Norwegian lobster, seabuckthorn, juniper cream, roasted hazelnuts and browned butter
Birch bark ice cream with chestnut and vanilla caramel, herb chocolate, chervil and hazelnut sponge cake
If that doesn’t give Scandinavia a new, authoritative voice when it comes to food, I would probably never know what would. Buy me a habit dusted with Onion ash, Reindeer blood and lobster shells. Call me a convert.