Nordic Eats – Digesting Uformel, BROR, Marv and Ben

There are foods that our eyes tell us must certainly be mouth-wateringly delicious. They are beautiful, they are aromatic, and the ingredients are a collection of meats, vegetables, and spices that are familiar and nonthreatening.  Then, there are other dishes assembled with ingredients or in a fashion that leaves even the most stalwart culinary adventurer skeptical.

My favorite is the Icelandic dish, Hákarl. It is fermented shark that has been buried to slowly rot for at least six months before being dug up for preparation and consumption. I always chuckle thinking about the long road of experimentation that led to that discovery. After all, there had to be some folks that dug up the shark at 2 months, 4 months, or 24 months to give it a go.  The horror and comedy of it gives me goosebumps.

I have to admit that I haven’t tried Hákarl but, quite often I find that many of the New Nordic dishes end up embracing many of the same principles that led those early pioneers to sample Hákarl.

I’ve mentioned New Nordic, though now that more than a decade has passed since Noma launched the New Nordic movement, there is pressure to move away from the term simply embracing “Nordic” or even more specific niche terminology invented by a plethora of restaurants, many of which have been founded by Noma disciples. Each of these restaurants shares some common traits and approaches – a focus on local ingredients, freshness, a head nod to fusions, historic dishes, ways of prep, or hyper-local foods. Yet, each has distinctly unique approaches to how they assemble their menu, the meals they seek to inspire, and how they prepare dishes.

One other compelling hallmark of the Nordic culinary scene is its sense of camaraderie and collaboration.  In an era where most chefs are glorified for being overly flamboyant hyper-competitive petulant tantrum-prone assholes, the Danish food scene is, as far as I can tell, extremely supportive, nurturing, and widely collaborative.  Traits I find mirrors the organic and healthy nature of the food and which makes me feel good about supporting the chefs and their undertakings.

In the last few weeks I’ve had the opportunity to sample three of Copenhagen’s Nordic restaurants. One of these visits was for work, one upon the invitation of Visit Denmark, and the third, a celebratory birthday dinner with a friend at a restaurant of my own choosing.  These restaurants were Uformel (the new sibling to Formel B, Marv & Ben (Marrow and Bone…not two men’s names), and BROR (which means brother in Danish).

Given the focus of each of these restaurants on seasonal ingredients, it was interesting to see and experience commonalities between many of the plates. Things that stood out in particular were the use of burned cucumber and mushrooms. The burned cucumber was tasty and good across the board with a fairly similar taste, though each had their own unique way of preparing the cucumber.

Fancy Danish Smorrebrod

Fancy Danish Smorrebrod

It’s delicious, it’s distinctly Nordic, it’s relatively healthy, and it’s surprisingly more complicated than one would think.  What is it?  It’s Danish Smørrebrød or “Smorrebrod”.  In the past I’ve written about local Danish cuisine and more specifically the every-day variety of Danish smørrebrød while suggesting several local hole-in-the-wall venues around Copenhagen where cheap and delicious smørrebrød could be found. Today I want to talk about the other end of the spectrum – fancy Danish Smørrebrød.

Fancy Danish Smorrebrod

In recent years Nordic cuisine has exploded onto the international stage led by restaurants such as Copenhagen’s world famous Noma restaurant.  These foods are known for using fresh, local ingredients in innovative ways to create flavorful plates that are both a delight to taste and a feast for the eyes.  One incarnation of this push towards fancy Nordic food has been a re-visit of one of the staples of the Danish diet.  In so doing, modern high end restaurants have re-worked smørrebrød while capitalizing on the food’s inherent inclination towards color, attractive appearance, and diverse use of ingredients.

Fancy Danish Smorrebrod

I recently had the opportunity while in Aalborg to sample a mixture of re-imagined modern smørrebrød at Utzon Restauraunt.  The venue is situated in a gorgeous center that overlooks the city’s fjord while providing a great modern-Danish backdrop.  The food served consisted of beautifully colored and portioned pieces of smørrebrød which used ingredients such as steak tartare, herring, various fish fillets, giant capers, beats, giant asparagus, shrimp, fish eggs, pickles, dill, fresh onions, Danish remoulade, and of course the cornerstone of it all – Danish rugbrød.

Fancy Danish Smorrebrod

While all of the smørrebrød we sampled was fantastic, I think the most unusual was the steak tartare which had raw ground beef and used fluffy white bread in place of the traditional dark rugbrød. Accompanied by sauce, onions, pickles, giant capers, potato chips and greens it had a light, fresh, flavor which nicely accompanied the meat without being overpowering.  During previous meals I had encountered more basic versions of the other variations of smørrebrød we tried, but in the case of the steak tartare it was the first time I’ve seen raw meat used. While not for the feint of heart, I can say I eagerly await my next opportunity to dive into a similar variation on traditional smørrebrød.

You can find my previous post on budget smørrebrød in Copenhagen here.  Have you had any experiences with smørrebrød?  I’d love to hear what you thought of it!