Matt and Nathan are spending the week in Denmark reporting on food culture, counter-culture and everything in between. An added bonus: dinner at the best restaurant in the world.
We like our travel with a healthy serving of grit. Our first trip took us to Burma, where, against a sweltering backdrop of civil war and sticky curries, we explored an oppressed country on the cusp of radical political change. In Peru, we traveled to the Andes to eat oven-roasted guinea pigs and to the Amazon to consume mind-bending jungle hallucinogens. But today, Roads and Kingdoms makes its first official foray into the developed world, touching down in the most First World of all countries: the Kingdom of Denmark. It’s a land of plenty, and yet so many things seem in just the right proportions. The Danish bullet points read like a social scientist’s wet dream. Here are just a few of the feats of modern civilization Denmark can claim:
—The world’s most even distribution of wealth
—The country with the lowest level of corruption
—The first country to implement environmental laws
—The third highest employment rate
No, we’re not in Rangoon anymore. This is the home of Hamlet, birthplace of Legos, and according to a recent study commissioned by the United Nations, the Happiest Place on Earth (though just wait until Disney’s legal team hears about that copyright infringement). For the next week, we’ll be on the march in the world’s oldest monarchy. Here’s a glimpse at what’s in store for Roads and Kingdoms in the days ahead:
New Nordic Cuisine is the global food press’ latest object of obsession. So serious are the Danes about this movement that they have carved out their own manifesto, a 10-point blueprint for turning the bounty of Scandinavia into a cohesive culinary vision, fusing the latest in technical mastery (spheres! liquid nitrogen!) with hyper-locavorism to create a cuisine that is equal parts sensual and intellectual. At the heart of it all is Noma, currently heralded as the best restaurant in the world, and as such, a magnet for moneyed tourists and young chefs with Michelin stars in their eyes. We’ve broken our backs to lock down a reservation, so we’ll have 20 courses to contemplate whether the reality on the plate lives up to the dizzying global reputation.
But we’ll also be taking an in-depth look at the Noma Economy springing up in Copenhagen and across Denmark. A new wave of young cooks, farmers, and brew masters, recognizing that Noma’s success can mean opportunities up and down the food chain, are taking advantage of the global focus to reimagine the way this country eats and drinks. Is this just Denmark’s moment in the sun, or is the country on the brink of a lasting revolution? We’ll do our best to get to the bottom of it.
Something about Denmark—the endless windswept plain? the feeling of being on the very northern fringe of continental Europe? the history of all those ragged conquerors crossing the northern seas in open-hulled boats?—that makes one think about freedom. We’ll be looking at two very different forms of freedom and self-expression that seem to be, in their passion at least, uniquely Danish.
First up is Freetown Christiania, the sprawling autonomous zone that has been setting its own rules in the shadow of Copenhagen’s Town Hall for over forty years. We aren’t the first to tell the story of this rangy combination of a hippie commune and Mad-Max-Bartertown. But now, right now, is a pivotal moment in Christiania’s history: a landmark agreement with a wary Danish government has given the community the chance to actually buy much of the land it sits on, instead of just squatting on it. But with the chance to stabilize its status comes intrusions of all kinds—land surveyors, government case files, dueling lawyers—that are anathema to the whole idea of Freetown. Our guide to Christiania: Tanja Fox, a lifelong resident of Christiania whose father was an American adventurer and dropout from Canoga Park, Calif. Tanja’s Danish mother brought her to Christiania when she was just four years old; in turn she raised her own children there. Tanja is now in charge of the Christiania People’s Stock, an initiative to raise the money needed to buy their town back from the government by selling shares in the community. Nobody knows Christiania, where it’s been and where it is going, better than her.
But freedom, in Denmark, can also be a weekend thing. That’s the moral of LARPing—Live Action Role Playing—which until recently was Denmark’s second most popular sport, if you can call it that. It’s something like a combination of video games and acting and rural flashmobbing. The American analogues would be RenFaires or war reenacters—also people who don costumes on the weekend—but that doesn’t quite do Danish LARPing justice. What the LARPers create, on a weekly basis all throughout the kingdom, are incredibly complex scenarios that have refined game structures and, of course, elaborate costumes. Some of the events are like D&D or LoR come alive, while others deal with modern, or even post-apocalyptic scenarios. So exactly what is driving its popularity? Escapism? The chance to break out of your weekly routine to be someone completely different? It’s a different animal than Christiania, perhaps, but it seems to have the same engine: a Danish desire to break free, whether for a weekend or a lifetime.