A Year In Food

From New York to Costa Rica to Europe to California: 365 Days of Dining Out

Friday, December 09, 2005

Sept. 21.

Copenhagen, Part Three - Supermarkets in Europe can be a real experience. They can range anywhere from the palatial Auchan in Bordeaux to the dingy, depressing aisles of Netto in Copenhagen. The latter looked like some holdover from a Bolshevik-era Baltic state, with sparely stocked shelves and unappetizing options. Even exiting was an issue, as the only way out involved pushing past the staggeringly long lines at the one open checkout. After giving Netto a few chances, we resolved to go to the Irma a few doors down instead. It was more expensive, a concern in already-expensive Copenhagen, but its relatively large layout and recognizable products made it seem like a Whole Foods in comparison.

At the Irma, I bought my breakfast that morning. Once again, I went with a jar of trustworthy taramosalata, but in the name of innovation, paired it with a package of garlic-coriander naan. Vince and I found a nearby park to sit in, not a difficult task in Denmark, and I proceeded to attempt my Greek-Indian fusion. It was mostly a tasty success, though the bread itself was too dry and boring. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if my idea inspires a trailblazing restaurant called Curry Roe or Athen’s Delhi.

From there, we set off on our day’s itinerary. Because it was Wednesday, all of Denmark’s museum were free, so we started with visits to the Staten Museum for Kunst and the National Museum. The Staten Museum for Kunst, or the State Museum for Fine Arts, was renovating its gallery space, so walls that usually displayed four paintings now had fifty. It made for a novel though overwhelming viewing experience, as any one room saturated hundreds of works mere inches away from each other. Still, the power of the collection, which spotlighted Danish art and covered the centuries admirably, made it a valuable visit. Less interesting was the National Museum. There, we checked out a special exhibit about toys, but it was only a paltry few rooms of stuffed animals and soldiers.

After the museums, we went to Christiania, a spot that I’d been eagerly awaiting. It was a commune that operated independently from the rest of Copenhagen, populated by hoards of hippies, squatters and radicals. It was, until 2003, considered very dangerous, because of the heavy sales of hard drugs and a tendency toward violence, with the worst offender being the notorious Pusher Street. Since then, the increasingly conservative government has cracked down on alternative Christiania, with aggressive raids that closed down the drug shops. It's tried to bring the “free state” under control, while threatening to shut it down permanently.

Christiania ended up being very interesting though also at times, uncomfortable and depressing. On the positive side, the omnipresent graffiti was beautiful and passionate. For an aficionado like me, it was startling, almost as inspiring as all the walls of the Staten Museum. Also, it was nice to see a self-sustaining community, complete with bars, homes, vegetarian restaurants, and communal meeting areas. (It’s impossible to buy property in Christiania. When a space becomes available, the community decides who can move into it.) On the other hand though, so much of the area was in disrepair, with bare barracks and broken-down shacks serving as shelters. Many of the inhabitants looked dirty and unhealthy, smoking and drinking throughout our visit. Dirty dogs roamed around too.

There were many other downsides. For one, the police presence created an uneasy tension between the residents and the officers. At one point, some of the drunk and angry residents got into the faces of the cops, chanting and screaming for them to leave. Also, in order to supplement their incomes, some of the Christiania population sell cheap souvenirs to tourists and operate more expensive, tourist-friendly places, diluting the character of the independent-minded community. Lastly, for all of its trouble over drugs, the problem still lingers, both for residents who use and visitors. Throughout our walk, men in trenchcoats whisper-asked if I wanted hash or coke. My stress-free experience in Amsterdam seemed to make more sense by the minute.

After spending about forty minutes there, I was glad to have seen Christiania, but I was also glad to leave. While I respect the counterculture, my experience there also highlighted many of the shortfalls of isolated life. So we headed back to society, where we again had to choose a dinner option for the night. Tonight, Vince suggested Middle Eastern, which seemed just as curious an experiment in Copenhagen as pizza. I ordered a falafel sandwich with hummus and hot sauce, and the owner filled it up with lettuce, tomatoes and cabbage. I was shocked at how good it was, and Vince, who got a sampler of dishes including baba ganoush and hummus, agreed. Unlike the pizza, it wasn’t just good for ethnic food in Scandanavia, but flat out delicious, with every element at its prime. Best of all though, it meant that I’d never have to see the Netto again.


Blogger MEM said...

Moving to Amsterdam from America, I was also really surprised initially by the quality of middle eastern food here, and then I was surprised that I was surprised...I mean, Europe is quite a bit closer, right?

2:31 AM  
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11:22 PM  
Anonymous Levinson Axelrod said...

Very nice post.

1:04 PM  

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