Samui Wining & Dining
Det Smager Godt! – It Tastes Good!

From vintage Viking to modern Nordic cuisine, here's the low-down on Danish food.

 

10Vikings. What words come to mind? Well, literally, the word Viking means raider. And one theory on why the Vikings started to attack and gain notoriety was, well, food – as Scandinavia could not provide enough to feed its clans. These early Scandinavians had a variety of foods available, despite the harsh climate, but were also clever enough to preserve any food not immediately eaten, by means of pickling, smoking or drying.

    Well, the ancestors of the Vikings may be quite different today – and probably a lot less feared and a lot more liked! But much of the food eaten by modern Danes can trace it roots back to the time of the Vikings. Fish was, and still is, an important part of the diet, and includes cod, herring and haddock, in both their fresh and preserved forms. Probably the best known is the pickled herring, often served with fresh dill or pickled red cabbage.

      Ah, but it's beer that Denmark is probably better known for today. This yeasty brew has been a part of Danish culture for the last 5,000 years. And today there are over 200 microbreweries, with an assortment of styles, and

hundreds of craft beers currently being brewed in the country. Even Carlsberg, Denmark’s largest brewery, has joined this trend and established its own microbrewery, Husbryggeriet Jacobsen.

       Traditional Danish cuisine has many similarities to the other Northern European countries of a similar climate. However, Danish food has many of its own very distinct characteristics, and this small country is actually world renowned for a number of its food products. Danish pork (more specifically bacon), as well as their cheeses, hold a reputation as being amongst the very best in the world. The Danes are brilliant cheese-makers, and create an assortment of this delicacy, from hard to soft, mild to sharp as well as various forms of blue-vein cheeses. Havarti, named after a farm in Denmark, is a semi-soft cheese, with irregular holes throughout. It's also available in a richer version, with cream added in the process, and there's yet another version with caraway seeds. And Danish butter is considered to be the finest around. Denmark is particularly partial to anything liquorice, whether it's liquorice beer, ice-cream, chocolate, fudge, mints or in its candy form. The Danes chew their way through tonnes of salted liquorice; a local speciality and somewhat of an acquired taste.

      So what could you expect to eat should you be invited to a Danish luncheon? Well, generally lunch is a cold meal consisting of slices of rye bread buttered and covered with, for example, a variety of sausages, sliced boiled egg or liver paste, cold fish such as pickled herring, small hand-peeled shrimp, cheeses, pickles, vegetables such lettuce, tomato and onion and perhaps some fresh dill, and rounded off with dressings such as mayonnaise. Unlike other popular sandwich lunches, the Danish version is an open one, with ingredients piled onto a thick slice of bread, and eaten with a knife and fork. So how did this tradition come about? Well, during the 16th century, slices of bread were used instead of plates as crockery was a very expensive and rare possession. The King, Christian II, abolished the use of bread-plates at special occasions around 1520, because he now had enough plates to serve all at parties. Nowadays, rye-bread usually forms the base on which you lay the ingredients for the Danish open-faced sandwich, otherwise known as smørrebrød. But, apparently, salmon should only ever be eaten on soft white bread. The making of this tasty meal that most Danes have for lunch, could almost be described as an art form, as it's visually appealing as well as tasty. No doubt this king-of-the-sandwiches will be accompanied by beer, and probably also Danish schnapps. Any dessert served would depend on the season, along the lines of traditional apple cakes in the winter, rhubarb trifle in the spring, and a thick strawberry soup in the summer.

      The Danish evening meal, on the other hand, tends to be very rich and somewhat heavy. Dinner will usually be based around meat, potatoes and gravy, and more often than not, this meat will be pork. In fact – the Danes eat more pork per capita than any other nation in the world.

      You'll find bakeries all over Denmark, as not only breads, but also sweet pastries, form a big part of Danish cuisine. Bet your mouth's watering now at the thought of a sticky Copenhagen bun or a cinnamon and apple-filled Danish pastry! But these two name-sakes are not the only varieties of pastries, and you'll find a huge selection of cakes, buns, tarts and breads available.

      Now when we think of fast food, the country that first comes to mind is America. But 'take-aways' have been known by the Danes for centuries as a fast cure to hunger pangs. The 'Rød Pølse', a red sausage made of pure pork, is bought at the 'Pølsevogn', a mobile sausage stand popular year-round. Other than the red sausage, a variety of other types of pork sausages, as well as various dressings are displayed on a menu alongside the stand.

      Denmark is proud of the fact that Noma, a restaurant located in a converted waterfront warehouse in Copenhagen, has been crowned the world's best restaurant in 2012 – for the third year in a row! As chef, René Redzepi says, “In an effort to shape our way of cooking, we look to our landscape and delve into our ingredients and culture, hoping to rediscover our history and shape our future.” This statement is very fitting, and sums up the fact that over the last few years, Denmark's top chefs have developed a whole new food movement. Branded 'New Nordic Cuisine', it's based on seasonal produce, traditional preparation and local knowledge. Its aim is to revitalise traditional food, with a contemporary twist, putting Nordic food back on the foodie map, so to speak.

      So in support of this movement, grab a sandwich and a beer and say, “Det Smager Godt!”

 

Rosanne Turner


 


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