Last week I was invited to a great pair of tastings in Copenhagen. I will have to wait till March to write about them, but I cannot help but write about the Danish food scene, but do not expect news from the trendiest new hamburgers, Noma-protected new outlets, fermentation craze and how Copenhagen became the gastronomy capital of the world. I would like to write about the city I remember from my childhood, the old school cooking, the tastes I remember fondly, and my quest on finding them. Copenhagen was the first city I visited abroad with my family when I was in primary school, so in a way, my first bites of foreign food were Danish. Needless to say that I fell in love with Danish pastry instantly. But then there were these unexpectedly tasty open sandwiches. Strangely enough, one of my first foreign food words to learn proved to be “smørrebrød,” or maybe it was the second word, as I picked “pretzel” before in Berlin, where we stopped on our way to Denmark. I’ve never seen such a dish before, it was not a sandwich, but it was not like a cooked dish either. It was just bread piled with a wild variety of things. The reason I am saying things is that there were the most unexpected combinations of various foodstuff that went into the piled heap on bread, lingonberries, roast beef, eggs, shrimps, curried chicken salads, and lots of cured, smoked fishes that I did not know about. I remember how I was shocked when I saw lingonberry jam topping the pinkest roast beef and my first nose ripping raw horseradish shaving.
Apart from the chefs’ tastings, my urge in Copenhagen was to find my childhood memories. Luckily, we had another reason to explore. My food writer friend, Ebru Erke, planned to shoot an episode of her documentary show about the smørrebrød culture and Danish pastries, and I was to be the fixer to establish contacts with Danish food writers and also to talk about the fakelore about the Turkish influence on flaky doughs in Vienna and its connection to Danish pastries. So, we started our search for the best smørrebrød places. Of course, things change, classic places disappear quietly leaving their places to trendy venues. To find the right place, an old-school classical one, would not be easy. So, I called my food writer-researcher friend, Katrine Klinken, for help. We knew each other from the Oxford Symposium of Food & Cookery and also from Slow Food circles. She had a book on the topic and knew about the right places, that is how we ended up discovering Restaurant Kronborg. We also got a contact of Ole Troelsø, a famed scholarly writer, but he was out of town, but to our delight co-owner of Kronborg, Walther Griesé, greeted us with his book which tells all about the Danish flag mark open sandwich, the unwritten rules, the etiquette of eating it, the order of courses, starting from the seafood going towards meat toppings, how to pace it with sips of Aquavit, and so on. Every single bite in Kronborg was truly authentic, with the highest quality of ingredients, including seasonal specialties. While Ebru and Katrine were shooting the episode, I kept savoring the bites and browsing through the pages of Troelsø’s book. Interestingly, there was a familiar face, Turkish-Danish chef Umut Sakarya, diving into a perfectly plated smørrebrød with a fork and knife, and the subtitle of the picture wrote, “This man is eating the Smørrebrød the right way.” Sakarya was another discovery in Copenhagen, he has a crazy story, worth another article, and his food in Guldkroen restaurant has old-school Danish food, where I found my memories of classic Danish tastes. It was hilarious to see Sakarya’s happy face devouring a good smørrebrød. Yes, it’s true, never treat a smørrebrød like any open sandwich like a canapé, or as finger food, respect it, and eat it with proper cutlery, preferably Danish design. It is not just bread with topping!