…because some thoughts are worth remembering
On his first day of work in Denmark, my husband told me he wasn’t going to be able to meet with his boss because he was away at a conference. It wasn’t until later in the week that his boss scheduled a meeting with my husband at noon. “So I don’t need you to pack me lunch that day” said he. Wrong. They met in his office. They discussed the particulars. The meeting ended. The boss went off to another meeting, and my husband was free to let his stomach growl. Just because a meeting or an event is scheduled around meal times, we have learned since that unless stated explicitly, we should assume there’s no food or beverages served.
Fast forward to a few months later. I get my schedule for my Danish class. It’s from noon to 2:45pm. Wait, when do I eat lunch? Presumably before, but that makes it almost brunch as it takes 30 min. to get to the school. How about my Mindfulness class: scheduled from 10am to 1pm. The list goes on. In those cases, there is usually a break in the middle where students can go grab a cup of coffee or a snack from a nearby cafeteria. I am no longer surprised at the sight of an entire carrot being brandished from people’s bags (and sometimes even purses!) to be eaten on its own or with coffee, as if carrots were perfectly good substitute for a cookie.
When the cafeteria at the Danish language school served moussaka, I asked my classmates from the Middle East and the Mediterranean regions how authentic they thought it was. They responded in unison that it couldn’t be authentic at all with carrots inside. Carrots are everywhere. In a stylishly lit Japanese restaurant in Aarhus, cubes of orange, which I thought was chunk of salmon, were diced carrots. In every cafeteria I’ve been to, there salad bars have several preparations of carrots: carrot slices marinated in some sort of sauce, cole slaw made entirely of shredded carrots, and plain raw carrots soaking in water.
Describing a people’s relationship to food is complex. While eating does not seem to be a priority to me, the country also boasts NOMA*, the vanguard of Nordic cuisine with 2 Michelin stars. Dining out is quite expensive, setting you back at least 200 Danish Krones without drinks at the least expensive places, and I don’t mean alcoholic drinks, any drinks including tap water for which you will be charged 25 Danish Krones per bottle, and more if it’s actually bottled. There’s really no concept of casual dining, and take-out is confined to Asian restaurants (which really are Asian, bearing names like “Thai Sushi”, rather than strictly one country within Asia).
Because of the economics, people not only eat at home nightly, they usually cook nightly as well. They celebrate birthdays at home with home baked goods. The photo above shows some typical treats served at a birthday party (but usually with the Danish flags!). It seems like everyone knows how to bake. I heard that when the truckers went on strike, the first things to disappear in supermarkets were cubes of compressed fresh yeast (vs. rice and toilet paper in Hawaii when the shippers went on strike).
The part of the complexity is that Denmark is an old country. They have traditional dishes they have been enjoy before the US had any form of western government. Their traditions run deep: remoulade sauce accompanies the fried fish, not the vinegared fish, which is accompanied by curry sauce (which tastes like mayonnaise with turmeric…absolutely NOT spicy). Confusing the two sauces, which look similar in the cozy lighting they are so fond of, is a major faux pas. It’s one way the Danes can tell if you are one of them or not by the way you put together your fish smørrebrød, the Scandinavian open sandwich. This and your ability to be nourished by carrots of any form at any time of day, is their version of shibboleth.
*We did secure a reservation at NOMA and enjoyed the experience, but that’s a whole separate blog post.
Other Danish food photos:
Lakrids (licorice) is not just the flavor of jelly beans that are the last to be eaten (if at all) here. Licorice gummies, chocolate bars, cakes, sprinkles for ice cream (which tricked me into pouring a huge scoop thinking it was chocolate), tea, liqueur, and now on potato chips!