My mom and dad are both of Danish descent, so my first language was Danish, and I spent my childhood summers visiting my family in the viking town of Roskilde. Some of my best ever memories were formed as a kid on those trips, and a large portion of those focus heavily on food. Summer foods, like soft-serve ice cream with coarse chocolate flakes, or perfectly grilled hotdogs from street kiosks, crispy, salty french fries with remoulade dipping sauce. Breakfast foods, like a soft boiled egg eaten with a teaspoon and some salt, a slice of fresh bread from the bageri spread with Gamle Ole cheese and homemade strawberry preserves, and yes, danishes (but not the kind you’re thinking of). Family lunches in Denmark are always seated around a large patio table in a green backyard (weather permitting) with a smorgasbord of coldcuts, pickled things, a variety of herring, cold eggs and potatoes, freshwater shrimp, raw veggies and baskets of pumpernickel and French bread for creating open-faced sandwiches which are eaten with a fork and knife and plenty of dollops of mayonaise. And for dinner, meat and potatoes a thousand different ways, followed for dessert by strawberries splashed with sugar and cream.
Of course, Danish food is best when served in Denmark. Because it’s not just the flavors, smells and textures of the cuisine itself. It’s cobblestone streets, outdoor cafes, ancient cathedral spires, Tivoli’s twinkling lights, blustery fjords, rolling wheat plains, thatch-roofed summer homes, bike rides, harbor trips and my family. Despite the geographical distance, though, it is possible to make some excellent Danish dishes outside of Denmark. My mom, who moved to the U.S. when she was 18 years old and ended up staying, is a fantastic home cook, having learned from her mother, and always cooks vast Danish feasts even on an average Tuesday night. My family also shops regularly at Nordic House in Oakland, California for impossible-to-find ingredients like cheeses, salty licorice, meats and sassy licence plate signs that say things like, “Uf, da!” and “Caution: Danish Driver.” You can also find these in mug and apron variety.