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Why Denmark Has Some of the Best Restaurants in the World

Attached to the bridge on its way to the famous row of multi-colored buildings in downtown Copenhagen are locks attached by lovers declaring a love that will outlast time, not to mention the climate.

To prepare for my two-week trip to Denmark, my daughter, who was going to there to teach for a year, gave me the book, How to Be Danish: A Journey to the Cultural Heart of Denmark. I didn’t bother to open it until after I had spent a week in Copenhagen and was wowed by the food. 

The chapter on Nordic cuisine explained why Copenhagen is home to Noma, the restaurant that held the distinction of Best Restaurant in the World for four years. In addition, the city boasts other Michelin Star restaurants including three-star Geranium,  as well as a multitude of pubs, coffee shops and art museum restaurants that serve superior food in both looks and taste. 

Denmark’s long tradition of local family farms was being replaced by factory farms, and in 2004, the owner of the Meyers Bakery chain, Claus Meyer, and the man who founded Noma, Rene Redzepi, decided that Scandinavia needed a regional culinary identity and invented one, according to the author of the book.

“Society needed chefs to act as role-models,” Meyer is quoted as saying in the book. “We didn’t need chefs to be like Gordon Ramsay. We needed chefs to be responsible people who would inspire the whole population to redefine their eating habits and their relationship to Mother Earth.”

The pair invited leading chefs and critics to a two-day symposium to create goals for the new culinary movement. Here’s what they came up with the author says: 1. “To express the purity, freshness, simplicity and ethics we wish to associate with our region; 2. To reflect the changing of the seasons in the meals we make. 3. To base our cooking on ingredients and produce whose characteristics are particularly excellent in our climates, landscapes and waters.”

These trends were easy to spot in the upscale restaurants, but also on the street. One hot dog vendor's menu included a sausage with stewed kale and another with mashed roots—plus goat, beef, chicken and vegetarian variations. 

While the spaghetti carbonara in one Copenhagen Italian restaurant was very similar to the U.S. version, basement-level Barburito claimed to be Mexican with a Danish twist. One appetizer was whole chicken skins with pineapple bits pressed into them, fried to a crisp finish, drizzled with hot sauce.Sitting with a whole bowl of chicken skins in front of me and a vegan across from me, made the guilty pleasure a bit unappetizing. And for the first time in my life, the vegetarian fillings for tacos looked more attractive than the meat—sweet potatoes and portabella mushrooms.

The Danes even protest in style. One day I encountered protesters wearing inflatable pig suits, which was totally apropos in the rain. I’m not sure what they were angry about, I think they were seeking equity in food distribution. But because I had done nothing if not overindulge my whole time in Denmark, I was feeling a bit like I had eaten more than my fair share. I easily could have been wearing the pig raincoat. 

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