The term “new Nordic cuisine” is setting hearts aflutter on the international food scene, and any gourmand worth their salt (French fleur de sel, preferably) is placing Copenhagen high on their food-fancying holiday itinerary.
The Danish capital is home to the world's number one restaurant Noma,
taking the top spot in the S Pellegrino
World's 50 Best Restaurants rankings in both 2010 and 2011. Copenhagen is
also home to 10 Michelin-starred restaurants and the best young chef, Rasmus
Kofoed, gold medallist at the prestigious Bocuse d'Or.
So what has taken this city from its humdrum pork-and-potatoes tradition
to culinary dynamo, and what exactly does “new Nordic cuisine” mean? Chief
responsibility for the spotlight now shining Copenhagen's way lies with the
city's young chefs, many of who have apprenticed with some of the most
influential chefs in the world.
These chefs have taken their experience and combined it with a passion
for Denmark's local raw ingredients - its excellent pork, game, seafood, root
vegetables and berries - and a reverence for the seasons. Taken to extremes,
this means Noma's owner-chef René Redzepi eschews all non-indigenous produce in
his creations (no olive oil for example, and no tomatoes), plays with modest,
often-overlooked ingredients (pulses and grains) and forages for herbs and
plants. Ingredients are skilfully prepared but technique never overshadows
The day after Noma won the title of world's best restaurant in 2010,
100,000 people attempted to make a table reservation. The restaurant does
around 75 covers a day, five days a week. In other words: landing a reservation
is the equivalent of winning the food-lovers' lottery.
If you do get lucky, you are in for a sensory treat: familiar
ingredients are used alongside intriguing Nordic delicacies such as reindeer
moss from Finland, Icelandic skyr (similar to strained yoghurt) and sea
buckthorn berries. Vegetables feature as dessert (beetroot granita, for
example). And there are loads of edible greenery; Noma explains that at their
venue “greens take up more room on the plate than is common at gourmet
restaurants”. Flavours are fresh and clean on both the plate and palate.
Diners choose between seven or 12 courses and there is a comprehensive
wine list or a wine-matching menu (there is also a wonderfully executed juice
menu). Service is exemplary -- with the chefs delivering many of the dishes --
the décor is elegantly rustic and the atmosphere warm and convivial, not fussy
and formal. At meal's end you may be offered a tour of the kitchen, where you
can see the hard work that goes into such gastronomic genius.
For all the hype surrounding Noma and new Nordic cuisine, however, this
is clearly not how the average Dane eats every day. So where can you go in
Copenhagen to get a more prosaic picture of dining, Danish style?
Near-unpronounceable smørrebrød is
Denmark's famed open sandwich. It generally consists of a slice of rye bread
topped, for example, with roast beef, smoked salmon, pickled herring, liver
pate, or fried fish fillet and finished with a variety of garnishes. The final
sculptured product often looks too good to eat and it is usually only served at
lunchtime. Top spots for a fix include traditional Schønnemann
and contemporary Aamanns,
the latter offering takeaway and a restaurant. Try to pronounce smørrebrød as
"SMUHR-bruth", but do not feel bad if your pronunciation does not
match a native Dane’s.
With a dozen outlets around town including at the airport, on Strøget
and next door to the tourist office, Lagkagehuset
is a bakery chain selling all the buttery, carb-loading treats you could
dream of. Rugbrød (rye bread) is a
must-try, but you are probably here for the sweet pastries. Note that while
they are called “Danish pastries” around the world, in Denmark they re known as
wienerbrød (literally, “Vienna bread”).
In Copenhagen's hip “Meatpacking District”, the fish-focused Kødbyens
Fiskebar has been generating lots of heat since it opened in mid-2009
and is a favourite of Noma's Redzepi. The menu lists the provenance of all its
seafood, from Greenlandic snowcrab to Danish Limfjord oysters and mussels. This
is also a good spot to sample Danish white wine.
Classic Danish street food is the pølser
(hot dog in a bun), sold from the ubiquitous pølser vogn (hot-dog cart). At the Andersen
Bakery hot-dog kiosk, across from the main train station, fast food goes
upmarket. Made from organic pork sausage, Bornholm mustard and a chanterelle
sauce, Andersen's “Grand Danois” hot dog is quite possibly Denmark's finest.
The article 'Copenhagen on a plate' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.