Denmark’s publicity ravenous food and agriculture minister, Dan Jørgensen (a man who would not only turn up at the opening of a fridge, but would also likely try to pitch it as a series idea to DR2), launched an initiative to find the country’s official national dish last week.
He’s gone the full hog in terms of social media, with Facebook and Instagram pages and a website, danskernesmad.dk, run by the Ministry for Food, Agriculture and Fisheries.
With Danes dying from listeria contracted from locally-produced processed meat products seemingly on a weekly basis, not to mention the country’s pork industry seriously undermined by a quite shocking MRSA scandal and the recent news that the much vaunted New Nordic diet actually makes kids fatter, some party poopers might argue that Jørgensen ought to have higher priorities on his mind as he sits down at his ministerial desk every morning.
But, surely, hastily cobbled-together, headline-grabbing gimmicks like this are what government ministers are for! Bread and circuses, and all that.
Danes are being invited to send in their suggestions after which there will be some kind of TV-style cooking competition in which eight chefs from different regions will prepare three different dishes which will then be voted for regionally. Or something. I’m not exactly sure of the process, but apparently already by November 20th, we will have an answer to the most urgent and pressing question of our times, at least as far as Denmark’s agriculture minister is concerned.
So, what will the hallowed dish be? Jørgensen is clearly trying to direct the Danes toward traditional, indigenous fare: ‘What is the Danes’ favourite food? Is it frikadeller, fish fillet, roast pork – or maybe something completely different?’ asks the website (seemingly incredulous that an alternative to this holy trinity might even be thinkable).
Sarcasm aside, certainly, all these Danish classics have their place and can be excellent if properly prepared with good, non-listeria-ridden ingredients, but I wonder if these are the dishes Danes eat day-to-day. Are they really their favourites? And are they really representative of a country which in recent years has become a global leader for culinary innovation. This is, after all, not a quest to find Denmark’s ‘most popular dish’ but a ‘National Dish’, with all that implies in terms of high minded ideals, branding and image.
So, with restaurants like Noma, Kadeau and Relæ inspiring a whole generation of chefs worldwide to shrug off the shackles of French cuisine and turn their gaze towards their own local produce in season, how about having a signature New Nordic dish as Denmark’s new national dish? One of those freeze-dried, powdered sea urchin with sea sorrel mousse and smoked hay-type things, perhaps? Or musk ox tartar with sea buckthorn compote and sorrel? (There has to be sorrel with everything New Nordic: it’s the law).
OK. Wouldn’t it be nice if the dish somehow represented Denmark’s self-proclaimed openness to the world, and its burgeoning multi-ethnicity?
Whenever these kinds of surveys are carried out in my home country, the UK, Chicken Tikka Masala usually beats fish and chips or roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, with pizza or Balti somewhere in the mix, a pleasing reflection of Britain’s multicultural society.
Obviously on the same track, one Danish commentator immediately tweeted ’Shawarma!’, when the hunt for the national dish was announced. And she has a point. It is probably the one, single immigrant food which has the strongest presence on Danish high streets. Kebab places are everywhere in Denmark.
But there is one other dish of foreign origin which, judging by what I see in people’s shopping baskets the most at the supermarkets, would also make a fitting national dish of Denmark, at least in terms of popularity and the central role it plays in the lives of many Danes. It comes to us from Italy, via Germany: Dr Oetker frozen pizza.
Michael Booth is the author of The Almost Nearly Perfect People: The Truth About the Nordic Miracle available now on Amazon and is a regular contributor to publications including the Guardian and Monocle.