Tag: Copenhagen

Just back: Copenhagen cooking with Kids


Copenhagen really gets food this days.

What with Noma and all that foraging, not to mention all those Michelin stars.

But there’s a higher purpose beyond the hyperbole. A slew of initiatives from local chefs, NGOs and government agencies are helping Danes to educate their kids about food, tackling social issues in the process.

That’s why Olivia [above left], Maya [above right] and myself are just back from a long weekend in Copenhagen.

It wasn’t all hotdogs and fairground rides at Tivoli. We also rolled up our sleeves and joined a cookery class at Meyer’s Madhus, the cooking school founder Claus Meyer, a leading light in the New Nordic Kitchen movement.

The full article will appear in Family Traveller magazine in July to preview child-freindly events at the Copenhagen Cooking Festival in August.

But here’s a sneak preview:

Back in the kitchen, things were hotting up. With 30 minutes to complete the two-course meal, Maya was busily adding lemon juice to the simmering rhubarb while Olivia helped head chef Matte to thicken the sauce for the chicken.

Across the kitchen, 12-year-old Tobias, a veteran of Meyer Madhus’ cookery classes, was chastising his team of three teenage boys for burning the butter with a fiery flourish worthy of the young Marco Pierre White.

“Yes, I’d like to be a chef,” he tells me, taking a temper-cooling breather on the terrace outside. “I love to cook and I love to eat.”

But, just like a scene from the kitchen at Noma, the service comes together at the last moment and we all sit down to eat around a large, communal table and toast our success with glasses of organic juice.

Plus you can find a set of images from the trip at my Flickr page.

And watch a video of the cookery class for kids at Meyer’s Madhus in Copenhagen on Vimeo:

Liked this? Try also The Holy Grail of Hotdogs in Copenhagen.

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Visit Copenhagen

Meyers Madhus

Copenhagen Cooking 

Family Traveller

Story of the week: Green tourism initiatives in Scandinavia


By 07.45 the total is 544.

Since May 2009, some 1,470,783 have passed this way.

I’m standing in Copenhagen’s Town Hall Square, by the statue of Hans Christian Andersen and the Tivoli amusement park, watching the rush hour. Businessmen with iPod earphones gleaming against brooding Nordic skies, students in brightly coloured Wellies and parents taking kids to school in waterproof tag-alongs.

But they’re not driving. As the roadside electronic counter beside me confirms, peak period in Copenhagen is an increasingly two-wheeled affair.

Green debate

Copenhagen hosts the United Nations Climate Change Conference from Monday, welcoming Messers Brown and Obama amongst others to hammer out a replacement for the Kyoto Protocol.

The politicians seem unlikely to reach a consensus but the Oresund region, comprising Copenhagen and Sweden’s Malmo, the two cities at either side of the Oresund Bridge, plans to use the event to showcase how Scandinavia does green tourism better than anywhere else.

Copenhagen is already rated as one of the world’s greenest cities with parks, harbourside swimming pools and a recent explosion in organic eateries. It aims to be the world’s first carbon-neutral city by 2025, Tivoli [pictured above] plans to run on renewable wind energy by 2010 and, in September this year, it hosted Co2penhagen, the world’s first carbon dioxide neutral-festival.

Throughout the conference, Town Hall Square will be full of stands showcasing Oresund’s green projects. Hotels and restaurants are busily trumpeting their eco credentials and tour agencies arranging green-themed itineraries for delegates.

Even the National Gallery of Denmark is getting in on the act with the exhibition, RETHINK presenting a utopian vision of the future, whereby we all live in floating biospheres.

Swedish scene

But how to spot the green gems amongst the green wash?

I start my quest in Malmo with the kind of roof-lifting gale that strikes cold fear into the most stoic of Viking hearts. “There’s an old Swedish saying, ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing’,” says my guide, Jennifer Lenhart, a sustainability strategist, eyeing my ill-prepared attire with the withering look of a women who spends a lot of time outdoors – and in all weathers.

Jennifer leads me through the windswept Western Harbour, an eco-showcase district regenerated from derelict industrial warehouses. After we explore the rabbit warren of sustainable built apartments, cute harbour-side cafés and green-powered galleries, we duck into the flagship organic restaurant, Salt & Brygga.

Over a late lunch of Smaland sausages, creamed potatoes and beetroot salad in the country-kitchen restaurant, Jennifer, who will guide UN delegates during the conference, explains how the harbour is a showcase for Scandinavia’s can-do attitude towards green living.

“Oresund may be small on the world map, but it can stand up and show the world how to make green projects tangible.”

Cycling ambassador 

The next morning in Copenhagen, after a breakfast of low-food-mile eggs, fair-trade coffee and organic orange juice from the Scandic Hotel’s new Climate Menu, I have a date with an ambassador. A cycling ambassador, that is.

On a nondescript sidestreet behind Norreport station, the Cycling Embassy of Denmark is planning to take their specialist knowledge of cycling culture to the world. Outside the work-in-progress office, a blue signs boldly proclaims ‘Pedal power. Yes, please!’

Lise Bjørg Pedersen, Head of Political Affairs, greets me with coffee and a vision of the future, whereby 50 per cent of all commuters will travel to their place of work or study in Copenhagen on two wheels by 2015. She says:

“In Denmark cycling has no gender, race, age or social status. Even our Crown Prince Frederik travels by bicycle.”

Lise will be hosting a group bike ride around Copenhagen during the UN conference to show the world that cycling is part of the solution. “People travel bike in Denmark because it’s easier than the car, not just because it’s a green,” she adds.

Copenhagen already boasts a slew of themed bike tours for visitors, including City Safari and Bike with Mike. There’s also a new sightseeing bus tour, the CityCirkel, which runs entirely on electricity.

City tour

But the latest green tour features around another form of transport and is run by a gregarious ex-pat Irishman with a fleet of Segways, a sort of two-wheeled, electric scooter priced at €6500 (£5850) a pop.

Seamus Daly gives me a crash-course in handling the Segway in a quiet car park before we hit the streets. The tours appeal to eco freaks and the downright curios alike with Seamus’ insider view of the city providing the commentary. Most involve a coffee stop at a cosy café, or a drop of the hard stuff at one of his favourite bars.

We set out to sample the new Globe Ale, the carbon dioxide-neutral beer from the local Norrebro Bryghus microbrewery, cruising in the cycle lane at a steady 13mph.

“Green living is not a theory waiting to be proven,” says Seamus, as we sip our slightly fizzy, amber-coloured ale, the gentle glow of candles bouncing off the stark, steel microbrewery vats.

“In their slow and subtle Danish way, the locals have already integrated the green mentality into daily life.”

On the way back to Town Hall Square my Segway skills are much improved for a pint of strong Danish lager. Weaving in and out of the bicycle rush hour in the half gloom of a winter afternoon, I can feel Oresund’s pragmatic enthusiasm for all things green rubbing off on me.

The politicians may not reach a consensus about a greener lifestyle this week, but the people of Oresund are already living it.

* This story was first published in the Daily Express in 2009. Liked this? Try also: West Sweden: Folklore traditions of midsummer.

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Story of the week: Santa Congress in Copenhagen


* So, 37 days to Christmas then. I’ve delved back in the archive on a Christmas theme for an early freelance story from Copenhagen. Follow me on Twitter, or subscribe to the RSS, for more update.

* Photo via AP.

Paradise Yamamoto is running late.

He’s got jetlag having just come off a plane from Japan, a rip in the pants of his Santa suit and one of his bongos is missing.

But there’s no time to worry now. It’s 9am on a sunny July morning in Copenhagen and the official opening ceremony of the 39th annual World Santa Claus Congress is about to get underway.

Back home in Tokyo, Paradise-san lives a double life.

Not only is he an accomplished bongo player with his own Latin club nights and CD back catalogue, but he has quickly risen through the ranks to become Japan’s leading – indeed only – mambo Santa.

Today he will be flying the flag for Japanese Santa power while bashing out a Latin rhythm with the assistance of his trusty helper, Rudolph-san, dressed specially for the occasion in a fetching crotch-hugging jump suit and tinsel ears.

“OK,” he beams, securing his stick-on beard, “let’s mambo. Ho ho ho.”

Summer summit

While in Britain we bemoan the arrival of Christmas lights and grottos hot on the heels of Bonfire Night, the spirit of Christmas comes especially early each year to Bakken, an Art Deco amusement park north of downtown Copenhagen – exactly six months before Santa’s big day to be precise.

This uniquely festive gathering made its debut in 1963 as a slightly incongruous one-off event in Bakken with Santas from across Denmark coming together to play games, swap ideas and kick off the countdown to Christmas against a backdrop of green fields and sunny skies.

It proved such a success that organisers made it an annual event. Today the Santa Claus Congress is a truly global event.

Over 120 bone fide genuine Santas from countries as diverse as Greenland, Venezuela and the Congo (this year, Great Britain was conspicuous by its absence) come together for a three-day festive get-together that is part corporate bonding session, part harmless – albeit slightly surreal – fun.

“The Santas are too busy to met up and talk shop in the run-up to Christmas itself.”

“This event allows them to raise the burning issues and resolve conflicts before the Christmas rush,” dead-pans Tina Baungaard, one of the event’s organisers.

As I watch the assorted Santas, Mother Christmases and token elves registering for their name badges, I learn from Tina that Santa Congress has a serious agenda like any other trade fair or conference.

Amongst the topics for discussion at this year’s talking shop are EU moves to standardise Santa footwear sizes, concerns that hard-working reindeer are increasingly hard to come by and fears that false beards are spoiling the good name of Father Christmas.

The year’s burning issue, however, is a motion tabled by the Spanish contingent to have Christmas Eve moved to January 6.

The Scandinavian Santas, who celebrate December 24 as the main day of Christmas with presents at midnight and a large family meal, are said to be incandescent with rage at the prospect. At least, the ones whose faces I can see under a mountain of greying facial hair appear to be.

The formalities and introductions dispensed with, the Santas are gathered together on a makeshift stage overlooking the park’s fast food stands to break the ice with some Santa tai chi exercises.

I find myself standing next to a man flipping hot dogs in a burger van who looks as if the sight of around 100 middle-aged men in red fluffy suits and fake beards exposing copious amounts of bum cleavage is an everyday occurrence in the Danish countryside.

For me, however, such a wanton display middle-aged spread puts me right off breakfast and leaves me pondering ‘who ate all the mince pies.’

Serious talk

After a spot of dancing round the Christmas tree, we form an orderly procession and, led by a troupe of what can only be described as Santa bunny girls whose costumes set some of the old codgers hearts perilously racing, we head down to Bellevue Beach for another annual congress tradition: Santa paddling.

En route, I get talking to Toshi Kawanuma from Japan who describes himself as Inamoto Santa in homage to the Japan World Cup star and is making his debut at this year’s event.

According to Toshi, behind the smiles and talk of goodwill to all men, professional rivalries and jealousies run rife in the backstage area with Santas jostling for the position of Santa of Honour. It is, prsumably, like being backstage at a Milan catwalk show – except with fewer eating disorders and bigger knickers.

“I feel I have to prove myself as I’m new here,” says Toshi, rubbing his stubbly upper lip.

“That’s why I bleached my moustache white – to show them I’m serious about being a proper Santa.”

“It really hurt,” he adds despondently.

Back among the inner circle of anointed Santas, however, the mood is ebullient.

Indeed, by the end of the first day, the good people of Copenhagen have been subjected to semi-naked Santas bathing, a procession of Santas running riot along Stroget (the main pedestrian shopping street) and a pre-Xmas open air concert in Town Hall Square complete with carol singing and generous helpings of ho-ho-hos.

For even a Christmas cynic like myself, the infectious atmosphere has me fighting an overwhelming urge to rush out and deck the halls with bales of holly.

Christmas cheer

But before I leave the Santas to their serious discussions to be conducted behind closed doors, we all have one last appointment – a Christmas dinner in the town hall hosted by Bente Frost, deputy leader of Copenhagen City Council.

As the Santas hang up their suits and make a beeline for the turkey drumsticks, I go to take a picture of one Santa in civvies talking on his mobile phone.

“No pictures,” he snaps at me, “we’re off duty now.”

And a very merry Christmas to you too.

* This story first appeared in The Big Issue in 2002. Liked this? Try The Holy Grail of Hotdogs in Copenhagen.

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Story of the week: The Holy Grail of hotdogs in Copenhagen


* This is the second post in a new weekly series, highlighting stories from the archive for which the is no active link. I’m running them here in full. Subscribe to this blog for more.

They’re long, pink and very, very satisfying. The Danes consumed 27,000 tons of them in the last 12 months alone and companies like Danish Crown and Steff-Houlberg produce over 25 varieties of them, ranging from the humble røde pølse to the exotic-sounding kaempe knaek.

They are, of course, hotdogs, a culinary phenomenon in Denmark and as integral to the Danes’ culinary identity as smorrebrod (open sandwichs) and the koldt bord (cold buffet).

There are hundreds of hotdog stalls (pølsevognen in Danish, meaning “sausage waggon”) in Copenhagen alone, with most privately owned and operating round the clock.

“The food culture in Denmark is very rustic and based on Viking recipes. Hotdogs are the ultimate comfort food for Danes as they need a minimum fat intake to keep warm in the extreme climate,” explains  Essex-born chef Paul Cunningham who, in eight years in Copenhagen, has built a reputation as one of the city’s leading chefs.

“The city’s best pølsevognen,” he adds, “are ones that serves the bread warm, and those with home-made sauces and relishes.”

Personally, I’d never been much of hotdog fan. Not until, that is, I tasted my first proper Danish hotdog one Sunday evening in July.

Arriving late, I found myself wandering around Nyhavn, Copenhagen’s picturesque canal-side café district, with a severe case of munchies. With the streets almost deserted and café owners closing up for the night, my eyes were drawn to a lonely fast food stall on Kongens Nytorv, the square that is home to the majestic Charlottenborg Royal Academy of Fine Arts.

Outside a gaudy picture menu displayed a range of unfamiliar sausage and bread roll combos with exotic names like the Ristet Pølse, Pølse I Svob and, rather dubiously, Hot Lips.

The most expensive item on the menu cost 25 Danish kroner (£2) and, presumably the royale with cheese for the hotdog cognoscenti, came served with lashings of ketchup, mustard, fried onions and remoulade, a pickled sauce. I was instantly hooked.

The first hotdog stall was introduced to Copenhagen in 1921 selling hotdogs for 25 “oere” (2.1 cents in today’s money). Today, the Danes take their street food very seriously indeed and prefer one of three types of hotdog: the American, a frankfurter served in a bread roll, the classic pølse med brød, a frankfurter served with bread on the side, and the French dog, which comes served in a half baguette with a customised sausage hole.

All three can be made with any one of 25 different types of sausage. A recent story in the Danish newspaper Politiken reported that 116 million red frankfurters are used each year alone.

Over the next few days I became a man possessed by the quest for the ultimate hotdog. Forget the city’s burgeoning dining scene and celebrated café culture, I wanted it long, thin and served in a bread roll.

Furthermore, I trawled the city’s hotdog stalls, I came to realise that, to the Danes, the hotdog is not just a savoury treat after a night on the local Carlsberg or Tuborg beers, it’s the ultimate social leveller. The pølsevognen is where Danes from all walks of life come to worship en masse at the altar of hotdog haute cuisine.

One night I was happily munching on a Mozzarellapølse outside Q’s club on Axeltorv near the terminally fashionable Latin Quarter. The next day, I found myself sharing an Alm Hotdog and a pleasant chat with a middle-aged businessman at Harry’s Place, a modest stall on Nordre Fasanvej , adjacent to the Norrebro subway station in northwest Copenhagen.

Clearly delighted to share his insider knowledge with a hotdog-hungry foreigner, he told me in conspiratorial tones that Harry’s had, in fact, won the 2001 award for the best hotdog stall in Copenhagen by a local website. With a frisson of excitement, we both hungrily ordered another.

Even the Tivoli Gardens, the family entertainment hub of the city dating from 1843 with its flower gardens, amusement rides and open-air shows, is host to a hotdog stall in keeping with the prevailing ambience — a Art Deco cart dating from the 1920’s. It serves a mean Fransk Dog.

But still I hungered for more. Deep down I knew that somewhere in the city was the holy grail of all hotdogs, a place where man and sausage live in perfect harmony.

On my last day, I found myself following Amagerlandevej, a country road in Kastrup, 10km southeast of the city on the outskirts of Copenhagen’s airport. Acting on a tip-off from the hotdog underground, I was searching for a stall referred to in hushed-tones as ‘Flyvergrillen’, the Flying Grill.

As the road gave way to dirt track, the familiar aroma of fried onions told me I was close.

I jostled through ranks of Danish plane-spotters, fought my way to the front and ordered a pølse med brød, the classic hotdog meal.

My taste buds twitched but then, strangely, a feeling of Zen-like calm washed over my body. This was the greatest hotdog I’d ever tasted — pristinely warmed bread, a meaty red frankfurter and an expert ying and yang balance of tangy remouillade and spicy mustard.

Three days, a dozen hotdogs and a whole slew of disappointments later, my quest was over.

I’d found hotdog heaven.

* This story won the British Guild of Travel Writers European Travel Article of the Year in 2005. It was originally published in the Independent. It was such a good angle, I subsequently sold again it to the Observer.