The average Pole knows little about Denmark. And what do we know about Danish cuisine? Probably even less. Meanwhile, it is a country with a rich culinary tradition, home to many Michelin-starred restaurants. Perhaps it is worth getting to know this cuisine?
Of all the Scandinavian countries, Denmark seems to be the least known. Norwegian fjords, ferry trips to Sweden or fabulous Iceland – green land of dwarfs and geysers. And what do we associate Denmark with? Lego blocks, Andersen and his fairy tales, Copenhagen as the capital city. Danish cuisine does not bring clear first associations
How geographical location determines cuisine
The Kingdom of Denmark is not only the mainland, but also Greenland and the Faroe Islands. This geographical aspect has played a big role throughout the Kingdom’s history and has also left its mark on gastronomy. Susanne Sørensen, Keld Ejdrup Markedal, and Jens Christian Sørensen in their study “Nutritional and Health Aspects of Food in Nordic Countries” (2018) point to Denmark’s geographic diversity as an important determinant of nutrition in the region. The continental part of the country was famous for its agricultural, dairy, and meat production. In opposition was the island part of the country, where farming was not possible. The Faroe Islands and Greenland also had limited access to firewood and salt. This led to the widespread use of drying and fermentation of fish and meat as methods of preservation. These products form the basis of terroir products in Denmark today.
Terroir in Denmark and its influence on cuisine
Terroir is French for habitat, region. The term is most often used to describe wines and coffees, pointing to the origin of the product as a determinant of its uniqueness. Climatic, geographical and geological conditions mean that one region grows something different from another. Moreover, the same strain of plant grown in different conditions will have different characteristics, taste and color.
The inhabitants of the Faroe Islands and Greenland, due to the nature of the islands, fed on fish and meat, preserving them in the only way possible at that time. Characteristic of the Faroe Islands are also ræstur fiskur and Skerpikjøt, or fish and sheep meat dried at the bottom of houses.
Culinary revolution and a return to the roots
The 1960s was a time for Danish cuisine to move away from its roots and to embrace globalization in this area as well. Imported products, admiration for Mediterranean cuisine on the one hand, and fast food on the other. All this made traditional, local products and recipes a thing of the past. In the 1990s, Denmark even switched to breeding the products consumers wanted, at the expense of its own. Many native species were lost. The turn of the century was a time of shaking up the Danes and culinary reform.
In 2004, Claus Meyer, along with a group of prominent Scandinavian chefs, released the Nordisk Køkkenmanifesto. Called the New Nordic Cuisine, the proclamation contains 10 points calling for cooking with local and seasonal produce according to traditional methods.
“We Nordic chefs find the time to create a New Nordic Cuisine that with its good taste and uniqueness can compete with the world’s greatest cuisines” (Nordisk Køkkenmanifest 2004)
Contemporary Danish cuisine
Over the past 30 years, Danish cuisine has rediscovered its roots and reinterpreted old recipes for today’s guests. Thanks to this incredible revival, it has become one of the world’s finest cuisines. In 2020, Danish restaurants were awarded a total of 35 Michelin stars. Danish chefs win prestigious awards and young adepts of the culinary art dream about internships in Noma or Geranium (3 Michelin stars).
A synonym of Danish culinary heritage is a restaurant Noma opened in 2004 in Copenhagen. The place very quickly became a success. By 2010, Noma had received 2 Michelin stars and was ranked number one on Restaurant Magazine’s list of the world’s best restaurants.
According to Hanne Pico Larsen of Copenhagen Business School in a study titled “Performing tasty heritage: Danish Cuisine and playful nostalgia at restaurant noma,” behind Noma’s success is not just gastronomy, but a guiding idea. The aim of the restaurant is to promote the country’s history and culture. The very location of Noma points to the importance of a broader context. The restaurant is located in a former warehouse on the waterfront in central Copenhagen. Historically located in the Greenland Trade Square, the building served as a center for trade to and from the Faroe Islands, Finland, Iceland and Greenland.
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