Friday, May 27, 2011
I've been in Copenhagen this week, attending the Nordic Society of Aesthetics Annual Conference and eating my way through mountains of pastry. Having heard good things about food in this city, I'll say I wasn't disappointed in the least. I normally spend my time travelling in Europe starving, looking for a decent vegetarian option and something without too much wheat. Needless to say, Copenhagen's progressive approach to dining and bountiful stocks of rye bread served me well.
Before anyone asks, I wasn't in any way organised enough to get myself a booking at Noma. I would've had to book three months ago, from what I can tell. But I did lurk outside it long enough to take this photo.
Occupying a waterfront space at the end of a stretch of warehouses, I was certainly underwhelmed by its location. Nice views from within, I'm sure, but if, like me, you are travelling on foot, it's a pretty bleak trek through a wilderness of concrete and old industrial buildings to reach this foodie mecca. But hey, maybe it's worth the trek; I hear the food's alright.
Instead, during my brief exploration of Christianshavn, I wandered through the free city of Christiania to find Morgenstedet, a tiny vegetarian kitchen tucked into an unmarked back lane. I was unsure of whether I'd find the place, winding my way through the makeshift streets of Christiania lined with hashstalls and signs prohibiting photographs. While I harbour plenty of alternative political sentiments, I couldn't help feeling like I stuck out like a sore thumb in my buttoned-down shirt and loafers, a stack of conference papers tucked under my arm. But I found it in the end, right at the end of a road to the north of Pusher St.
Would I be overzealous in saying this was the best meal of my trip? Certainly not. It was the cheapest by far, and did the unfussy, all veggie menu thing better than most places I've been. The staff were incredibly friendly, and when they happened to burn the hot meal of the day - an aubergine sauce of some kind - were incredibly apologetic. Instead, I tucked into a bowl of hot vegetable soup, sprinkled with sesame seeds and served with the softest bread. I ate a plateful of carrot and raisin salad and drank a bottle of elderflower soda and a giant cup of rooibos tea.
This place is just lovely - so unpretentious that even the toilets are located in an outhouse in the garden. There are large picnic tables outside for sunny days, or you can sit inside and watch over the open, homey kitchen. If I could go back, I definitely would.
But this is really where the budget options ended. In my first day in Copenhagen, I somehow blazed through half of the money I'd budgeted for the trip. Living in London, I thought I was used to high prices - but this was on a completely different level. Most of my meals worked out to £20+, and an afternoon snack of pastry and coffee will run you about £6
But if you can hack the prices, what pastry you will find in this city! I popped into Lagkagehuset to try some of the eponymous Danish pastries and was certainly pleased with what I found there.
The bakery itself reminded me a bit of Princi, the Italian bakery in London's Soho. Sleek, efficient, and packed with pastry-loving clientele, Lagkagehuset has room to sit and people-watch if you don't feel like taking your pastry to go. I was completely incapable of pronouncing any of the Danish pastry names, so I pointed to a few things behind the counter and tucked into them all. The direktør snegl, essentially an authentic danish, was the flakiest, loveliest thing I've come across. Like a cross between puff, phyllo, and bread, this was unlike any danish I've eaten before. I also sampled a soft, fragrant cinnamon bun, glazed with icing. With a cup of strong coffee, these made an indulgent afternoon snack.
But one certainly couldn't come to Copenhagen and not try the classic smørrebrød, which I believe translates literally as buttered bread. I was inexplicably destined to sample three types: egg and tomato, potato with smoked cream cheese, and cheese smørrebrød. Incredibly filling - yet strangely virtuous - the dishes showcase the toppings more than the rye bread itself, which hides underneath like a nutty canvas. Sat next to the tall ships on Nyhavn, an afternoon lunch of smørrebrød is certainly not to be missed.
Perhaps the most self-consciously hip restaurant I've come across, Tight made a decent Friday night choice. Dark, candle-lit, and bustling, the restaurant is all exposed-brick and wooden beams. The (all-male) servers showed none of the European indifference to which I've become accustomed; they were all attentive, if a little rushed off their feet. At 235 kr. for two courses, it was middle-of-the-road price-wise; though, that did wrangle me a nice mushroom and truffle soup to start and a gently flavoured asparagus risotto for my main.
But on my final day there, a Saturday, the tradition of brunch simply couldn't be missed. The Copenhageners' love of brunch is something I can get behind; it's a pretty common sentiment amongst my friends, who once paid homage to the midday meal by organising a brunch crawl, complete with brunch-themed t-shirts. So I ventured to Nørrebro, apparently a cool bit of town, to sample the brunch offerings at the popular Laundromat Café. Having loaded up on rundstykke and eggs in my hotel, I couldn't bring myself to eat another breakfast, so instead sampled the veggie burger and chips. At 135 kr., this was a pretty reasonable meal. It is a busy place, complete with laundromat in the back, old paperbacks shelved by spine-colour, and fairly indifferent staff. It's around the corner from the Assistens Kirkegard cemetery, so if you're visiting H.C. Anderson, Niels Bohr, or Soren Kierkegaard, this is a decent place to stop off.
Before leaving the city, I stocked up on pastries from Lagekagehuset, such that on my return, I was able to enjoy Danish pastry once more from the comfort of my London kitchen. But I'd do anything to be back there, eating even more.
See my full photo album here.
See the paper I presented here.
Sunday, May 15, 2011
Growing up, there were few things my family liked to devour as much as a plate of fresh Welshcakes. Tiny, delicate, and mildly sweet, they made the perfect addition to a cup of tea and the perfect snack whilst waiting for a proper meal.
My Nan, who grew up in south Wales, made these when we were very little. I always remember them spread over a plain china plate, tucked onto the counter and waiting to be eaten. And eaten they were - very quickly, so that poor Nan couldn't keep up with how many we could eat.
As she got older and felt less able to do the baking, some lovely Welsh friends of hers would often bring by a tupperware full of these little cakes. We always looked forward to these times - I think it reminded my Dad of home, and it reminded the rest of us of the Welsh heritage beneath our Canadian upbringing. And they filled us to the brim with both delicious memories and, well, cake!
These aren't your typical cake. Halfway between a scone and a pancake, they're cooked on a hot stone or, in my case, a heavy skillet. Best of all, they only take a few minutes to make, so I knocked together this batch after work one day when I was in need of a pick-me-up. And they were the best batch I've made yet - but not a shred as good as Nan's.
120 grams unsalted butter, cool but not ice cold, plus a bit more for your pan
230 grams plain flour
1 tsp. baking powder
60 grams caster sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1/4 tsp. allspice
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
100 grams sultanas
1 egg, beaten
1. Rub together the butter and flour, then stir in the sugar and spices. Mix to form a dry, loose crumb. 2. Toss in your currants and mix well. 3. Stir in your egg to form a soft dough. Handling the dough very little helps these to be lovely and soft when you eat them. Shape it into a rough disc. Wrap the dough up in some clingfilm and put it in the fridge for about 20 minutes or the freezer for 10. 4. Roll out to 1 cm in thickness on a floured surface, and cut into rounds using a circle or crinkle cutter. 5. Heat your skillet over medium-high heat, brush lightly with a bit of butter, and cook the cakes for 3 minutes on each side, or until golden. Remove gently and cool on a plate, sprinkling the finished cakes with a bit more sugar.