Saturday, August 24, 2013

Restaurant Radio in Copenhagen: the first of the farewell meals

With only a few days left living in Copenhagen, I made a lunch reservation at Restaurant Radio.  It was to be the first of many farewell meals in this city, my home away from home for the past 15 months. Time spent here as a working expat among the Danes (plus a four month exchange in college) means that Copenhagen will always be a part of me.  The Danish food culture is inherently connected to that, and I've done my best to explore and appreciate it wholeheartedly.

This year has led me to some great meals, many that have happened in the homes of Danes who welcomed me in and graciously took the time to help me learn about their food traditions.  As I look back on so many treasured moments of immersing myself in their food culture, so many of these meals flash through my mind like the scenes of a Perennial Plate episode: tasting the fresh venison hunted by my former Danish host family, savoring the crunch of flæskesteg (a traditional pork dish) washed down by strong schnapps at Christmas time, and learning how to make "snegls" (cinnamon rolls.) And one can't forget the bakery scents wafting down the bike path during my morning commute. I'm hanging on dearly to these snapshots of food exploration and hoping they never fade.

Radio was a great chance to add another scene to the episode.  With a menu based on locally farmed, seasonal ingredients, they also have a table bread that I would dare say is one of my favorites in any bread basket. The butter served alongside the bread, placed atop a small wooden platform, was flavored with what I suspected to be caramelized onions-- but I was too caught up in the moment to confirm.  This meal was not one for taking lots of notes-- it was a chance to have a great dining experience, and to celebrate a great friendship made during my time here.  (Everyone knows the best way to say goodbye to a fellow food enthusiast is over a great meal!)

Both my Danish friend and I could not resist choosing the cheese course as our last: a raw cheese from Germany called Deichkäse from Backenholzer.  It was served with sugar beet syrup, and was the perfect course to nibble on with the last few sips of my IPA from local brewery Evil Twin Brewing.  In just a few days, I'll be hopping a flight to LAX, so raw cheese seemed like the choice that would be truest to my philosophy to sample the maximum possible amount of European cheese before entering stricter cheese law territories.

I'm still reflecting on the last 15 months in Copenhagen, but with exactly one week to go until my return to the States, I still have 7 days to take in a lot of new experiences.  For now there's no time to think, only time to be grateful.  With my hard drive much more full of photos, my head full of new memories, my heart full of friends who I'll miss, and my suitcase full of Danish cookbooks to keep the spirit of culinary exploration alive, I'm grateful for all that I'm taking back home with me.

Thanks to Copenhagen, thanks to the team at Radio for making one of my farewell meals a charming and delicious experience, and thanks to all my Danish friends who helped me translate portions of recipes Google translate wouldn't.  Finally, thanks to everyone else in this city, who through big gestures and small kindnesses, made this Californian feel a bit more at home in Scandinavia.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

The hunt for artisan koldskål in Copenhagen

If you're a traveler, or you've lived in more than one city in your life, there are inevitably things you miss from your temporary homes.  Some things may even go into the category of items you "can't live without."  (Such is the case for a dedicated cyclist coworker who took apart his entire bicycle part by part before leaving America so he could transport it to Copenhagen.)  But for cherished culinary treasures, sometimes the option of transporting your favorites across the pond is not possible.  This can be a good thing sometimes, forcing you to try new ingredients, new cooking techniques, and develop new recipes.  But sometimes you can just tell you will miss something before it's even gone.

This is especially true for the European dairy products that have entered your palette's personal hall of fame (mimolette cheese, anyone?)  Mimolette's recent brush with scandal reminded me that I soon won't have instant access to the abundant supply of freshly made Danish koldskål in Copenhagen's supermarkets.  This Danish summertime treat made of buttermilk, egg yolk, sugar, fresh vanilla, lemon, and "ymer" (Danish 'soured milk') is apparently not easily replicated in the US.  While Danes have encouraged me that koldskål is easy to make, the trick is in the mysterious ymer ingredient.

Multiple sources confirm my fears that one cannot find ymer in the US.  Initial internet searching even reveals an entire thread about this elusive ingredient on a message board.  One user laments, "No, I am devastated...also cannot believe there aren't more misplaced Danes worldwide quietly making this their mission."  Well, I will go on the record reassuring this dejected ymer searcher that I am on the case!  I may not be a misplaced Dane, but my love of Danish koldskål surely rivals that of a native eater.  Take this photo documentation as proof:          

This was the beginning of what I thought would be a long friendship between my sweet tooth and koldskål, a relationship now doomed towards separation!  (This koldskål is from Thise dairy and is my favorite supermarket version thus far.)

Since realizing my dilemma, I have made it my purpose to investigate the best versions of koldskål in Copenhagen.  Perhaps I'll never get my chance again!  I've tried almost all of the supermarket versions, but I was curious to see what else was out there. (Perhaps trying only the Danish koldskål from the supermarket is a little like coming to America and sampling apple pie for the first time from a vending machine? The horror!)  As a non-native explorer of Copenhagen's koldskål landscape, here is what I discovered: supermarket koldskål can actually be quite delicious, and in fact, it often sells out on summer days.  But there are some special versions out there worth trying.  So for the sake of research and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I had to invest some time and Danish kroner into trying a few luxury koldskål brands.  

So I made it my summertime mission to seek out some small batch koldskål-- a 'last hurrah' as I prepare to journey back to the US. After getting a hot tip about a dairy shop that makes fresh small batches of koldskål every Friday, I called ahead mid-afternoon on the big day to see if I could get a bottle. Success!  Rasmus Sprotte, the chef at Unika Arla, sold me one. 

 My enthusiasm and photo-snapping prompted the intrigue of a couple of Danes passing by, who also ended up buying a bottle.  A good decision!

 Chef Sprotte very kindly tipped me off to the fact that I could buy some accompanying kammerjunkere (cookie topping) just a few steps away at Cafe Rosa (both are located within the glass market retail space Torvahallerne, near Nørreport station.)

I pedaled fast on my bike ride home to ensure the koldskål would be in optimal condition for the tasting!  A short bike ride home later, the jar had survived the bumpy bike basket transport and all was well. 

The Unika boutique's koldskål was delicious, and unique for its use of cardamom pods (which floated in the koldskål and gave it a bit of a kick!)  

It was a mostly classic version of the dessert with just a little bit of a cardamom twist, and the ingredients tasted very fresh. The kammerjunkere was crumbly and delicious-- with the quality of homemade cookies, a welcome change in texture from the mass-produced store-bought versions (which also can be good, but in a different way.) After discovering this koldskål, my quest to try more versions continued.

  The very next day, I found myself biking over to Løgismose, a food specialty store near the harbor.

Løgismose sold a version with lime, making for a slightly more tart, less traditional koldskål, but still a refreshing treat nonetheless. 

If you're in the area to see the famous Little Mermaid statue, then you're just a stone's throw from Løgismose.  You can buy some kammerjunker, some koldskål, and partake in a little taste test by the  harbor.  In fact, there's a whole bunch of traditional Danish food items here, so if you're a culinary traveler, you can check a few items off of your list in this one-stop shop (including Nordic licorice, if you're brave enough to try it.) 

If you're like me and you have no idea where in the world to find "ymer," then make sure to put koldskål on your food souvenir checklist when you pass through Copenhagen. 

Once you've slurped every last drop of your fancy koldskål, the jars are perfect for storing homemade iced coffee (with homemade vanilla sugar too!)

*Koldskål is most popular during the summer season, but you can find versions during the rest of the year too.  If you're not dropping by Scandinavia anytime soon, you can also make a homemade attempt at koldskål by omitting the ymer.  Online versions from blogging Danes are everywhere, and if the Danes themselves say an adaptation is okay, then it must be!

Recipe links:
Nilsson's Ambrosia: Koldskål and Kammerjunker
My Danish Kitchen: Homemade Kammerjunker
Adapted recipe sans ymer from unknown Dane at Yahoo Answers (this is a more common problem than I thought!)