“Wonderful Wonderful Copenhagen!”
I grew up, like so many others, with the stories and songs of Hans Christian Andersen. When my friend recommended Copenhagen as a ‘must go’ on my trip, the songs of my childhood instantly came to mind, and what a wonderful place it is.
After a few days of culinary experiences, on my last day of touring I signed up for a ‘Copenhagen Food Tour’ ….best money spent ever (approximately $110 for the record)! Whilst the tour can take groups up to 12 people, I was fortunate to have a small intimate group of only 4 others with me. The guide was delightful and her extensive knowledge of both the city and it’s food provided for a most educational experience. There was so much to take in, I’ll try to give a brief report, though I suspect it might not end that way, and please forgive me if my recollections aren’t 100% accurate …I’ll be close!
Denmark has a long history dating back to Viking times, land wars and the usual industrial development. For many years a large wall surrounded the city to protect it from invaders but as advancements in warfare grew it became apparent that the wall no longer did it’s job. The locals complained of the entry taxes and eventually from 1968 the ‘ramparts’ came down. In the 1880’s ‘supermarkets’ developed and it became a second class act to shop at the existing market stalls and slowly over time they disappeared in favour of the more ‘modern’ style of shopping. With that too came advancements in food production and kitchen facilities and soon the gap between the producer and then consumer grew. Also in 1880, Danish farmers considered what farming should take place, changing from thoughts of wheat to production to pigs, with today pork being the primary food product of Denmark, much exported as bacon.
Apples and grapes are also grown in Denmark, though grapes only in recent years. It wasn’t until the year 2000 that a grower produced a bottle of wine that, when presented to the authorites, was finally given permission to have the first authorised vineyard. We sampled their ‘Æbleu’ apple wine, a sweet dessert wine, possibly an acquired taste I think I will stick to my Aussie grown ports, liqueurs and muscats.
Copenhagen can definitely sing it’s praises as a city for food, hosting the World’s Best restaurant 3 years running and 12 other ‘Michelin Star’ restaurants. We jump forward to the year 2004 when the Nordic Cuisine Symposium formed to consider the food market of Denmark and the ‘New Nordic Kitchen Manifesto’ was developed. Concerns had grown that the country had lost touch with its traditions and many decisions were made to support local growers and their produce.
In 2011 the farmers market on Vendersgade, Copenhagen, was established. Consisting of two large pavilions it houses 30 specialty stores in each as well as a few open air market stalls outside. The purpose is not for people to do their weekly grocery shopping here, but instead find a few special ingredients and use them for inspiration to create wonderful meals at home. There is a large focus on organic ingredients and quality products. I took some time before the tour to take a look around with the temptation ranging from the beautiful fresh summer berries that smelt divine to the wicked pastries baked on site. Gourmet preserves, chocolates, ice cream, coffee, fresh herbs and veges, seafood or meat there was no doubt a fine feast could be prepared.
We began our tour with some cheese sampling at ‘Unica’ including a delicious ‘unpasteurised’ cheese followed by various treats of liquorice and preserves, not to mention a good shot of Akuavit from ‘Bornholmer’ (an island close to Copenhagen), before moving out for our next stop.
‘Smørrebrød’ are what we know as open sandwiches or oddly enough ‘Danish sandwiches’. Aamanns Deli prides themselves on their smørrebrød and we were given samples of four of their favourites including potato tarragon, salmon and capers, mackerel, and chicken. I must say I had never thought of putting potato on a sandwich before (despite my in-laws love of a good ‘chip butte’ ) but it sure did taste good. The fish I’m still not overly keen on though they were a good balance of flavours and the chicken was not unlike a regular chicken sandwich we are accustomed to.
Moving along, J.C. Jacobsen many years ago dreamed of greatness and through his life worked hard in business to make a name for himself. As an island city, sources of clean fresh water are hard to come by, not to mention in days-gone-by there was an inability to clean and filter water adequately. As a result, ‘ale’ became very popular as the malt, hops and distilling process cleaned the water and made it more palatable. J.C. Jacobsen was known for his ale making, and in 1844, he established his breweries and named them after his son Carl, known today as the World famous ‘Carlsberg’ beer. His son too worked hard and in time earned the favour of many as his father had so dreamed for himself. Consequently, jealousy ensued and Carl was cut from the family business. Not deterred, Carl set up his own ‘New Carlsberg’ in competition with his father. Years of legal battle followed and during that time Carl developed his own lighter ale. Both J.C. and Carl left their money to the Carlsberg Foundation which has funded many great projects around Copenhagen, including the large greenhouse that forms part of the botanical gardens, large art collections and the World famous ‘Little Mermaid’ statue.
We next stopped at the Nørrebro Bryghus ‘micro-brewery’ owned and operated by one of the prior Carlsberg long-standing employees. I don’t like beer, but had a small sip of each anyway …..I still don’t like beer. This brewery has developed over 300 beers, approximately 2 per month over it’s nine years of business with around 13 available on tap at any time.
After the temptation of ice cream on every corner of the city in Sweden, we arrived in Denmark for them to be all but a memory, but now instead were faced with a plethora of hot dog stands. Fortunately I’m not such a fan of hot dogs. Perhaps it’s a good judge of the national cuisine to consider the posters our front of the 7-11 stores, of which again there are many here (I think I counted 5 in a 2 * 2 block area when on the bus). One of these was hot dogs. Indeed, the Danes love their hot dogs. Originally better known as ‘the sausage man’, many sausages are sold in Denmark (no doubt due to the high supply of pork). In 1810, an application was put forward to sell sausages between the hours of 2-6am. It was declined as inappropriate particularly for young ladies as it would seem quite ‘provocative’, however, eventually it was allowed and many vendors rode around the town with baskets of sausages for the people to buy an eat. In 1944 however a young man was so cold one day he only sold 3 sausages, choosing to spend the rest of the day in the pub, looking out at his bike in the cold. His boss, not too happy with this result, made a shed and hence independent hot dog stands became the norm. In the 1970s there was approximately 700 got dog stands around the city of Copenhagen. Over time, with the growing competition of cheaper hot dogs in stores or other fast food competition, both the number and quality of hot dog stands has dwindled to around 60 today, most compromising their quality to remain competitive. However, we were taken to ‘Den økologiske pølsemand’, a hotdog vendor of gourmet organic hot dogs. From the outside it appeared no different to any other got dog stand, however offered a range of sausages (an no, not the awful red-skinned, highly-processed mystery meat variety we get everywhere else) with home made sourdough rolls and specialty dressings. I chose a ‘French-style’ hot dog consisting of a pork and garlic sausage with a herbed dressing. French style has the sausage slipped into the bun through the end, with a regular style also available but also a local variety which has no bun and is accompanied by potato, root veges (beetroot) and dressings, eaten with a fork. Maybe it’s just me, but that’s just not a hot dog.
Our journey passed many Copenhagen places of interest including Rosenberg Castle (home of the crown jewels and also the worlds oldest sandwich, found during some renovations mummified in a wall), Copenhagen’s oldest restaurant and finishing at a 120 year old candy store. Here you can see candy in production as well as purchase a range of boiled sweets and lollipops. They had a special ‘Olympic Candy’ they had made, it definitely is a fine art producing some of these sweets. We finished at our starting point, near an ice cream store with apparently the best ice cream there is, made with organic cream and traditional methods. It wasn’t part of the tour and I wasn’t prepared to just take her word for it, so I helped myself to one to eat on the long walk back to the hotel …I needed sustenance right? Well, she was spot on, possibly the nicest ice cream I’ve ever had, vanilla caramel was divine. If you’re ever in Copenhagen, pop into ‘Hansens’ and get yourself one.
Of course, no trip to Denmark would be complete without mentioning Danish pastries. Yes, that’s the second 7-11 poster proudly displayed stating ‘Yes we are Danish’. With many local patisseries with the most tempting cakes and pastries, usually offered with a coffee, Coeliacs need not apply. I’m sure the city streets are vented with the aroma of freshly baked goodies pumped out to tempt you at every corner. With all this carbohydrate on offer I guess the first thing that comes to mind is how do they stay so thin? As you look around very few Danes appear overweight (in fact the small percentage of people who are are probably visitors). Either they are very lucky or it can be attributed to one more thing this lovely city is renowned for …..bicycles. I underestimated just what it meant when I was told everyone rides a bike here. Everywhere you look there are people on bicycles, watch out, don’t mistake a bike path for the footpath and mind your step as there are just as many bikes as cars here, with roads and parking designed specifically to accommodate them. Approximately 36% of people in Copenhagen ride their bicycle as their primary mode of transport. We definitely could use this as common practice back home and probably solve a lot of health issues into the bargain. Of course, I wont be in a big hurry to dust of the bicycle when I get home in fair trade for a few extra Danish each day, Copenhagen’s geography lends itself well to bike riding as it is dead flat ….Toowoomba on the other hand? Let’s just say that range is hard enough to tackle in a motor vehicle and I occasionally question the insanity of the odd cyclist I see taking it on, I doubt I’d ever make it to work each day.
Certainly Denmark has been a foodies paradise if like me, you have a sweet tooth and an eye for the pretty stuff. Wonderful wonderful Copenhagen …..Copenhagen for me!