Three observations on food, society and money in Denmark
I haven't visited the award-winning restaurants of Copenhagen, but interesting things happen in the more popular arena as well and they are not exactly purely culinary
In recent decades, the food culture in the Western world — with Denmark being no exception — has been continuously evolving. Denmark specifically has undergone a significant change – from a country specializing in the open-faced sandwiches (which are delicious and have quite an interesting history) to a country boasting two restaurants that have been awarded the title of "world's best restaurant" over the last two years. Although I haven’t visited these restaurants myself, I’d like to share a few of my observations of food, society, and money in Denmark.
Let’s start with the cost of the meal. One of the markers that quickly reveal the price point of a restaurant is the presence of a white tablecloth. Accompanied by this type of tablecloth is an attentive waiter who approaches your table to ask how you’re doing, to bring you a menu and to answer any questions you may have. In other, non-white tablecloth types of places, you would have to go up to the counter, wait for someone to take your order, and then pick up your food once your name is called (while hoping that they’ll pronounce your name in a comprehensible way, which in my case rarely happens).
What distinguishes between different types of restaurants is likely related to the cost of labor. In countries with high levels of inequality, such as Israel or the United States, what’s found behind the scenes (even in the best restaurants) is the cheap labor of those who cut the vegetables and do the dishes, as well as the waiters. In Denmark, on the other hand, cheap labor is almost non-existent. Therefore, restaurant owners must include the higher labor costs of their employees when determining the price of the dishes you and I see on the menus. Importantly, however, the higher compensation received by employees also means that you will receive excellent service. The waiter will explain the menu to you with the professionalism of someone who has done it a hundred times but with the enthusiasm of the first time. It’s more expensive in this case but, if you recognize that equality comes at a cost, then you might just be happy with it.
Now, let’s move on to the food itself. Copenhagen has a variety of restaurants, including all-you-can-eat sushi restaurants. Typically, these types of restaurants serve mediocre food with some sort of gimmick that’s intended to engage you in a certain activity (for example, gambling in Las Vegas). However, I had a hunch that it would be different here in Denmark, so I went to check out one of those places where you can either order off the regular menu or choose the all-you-can-eat option (which includes the same dishes as the regular menu) and I found that the food was generally of a high standard. With the all-you-can-eat option, you can order whatever you want, as many times as you want, all for roughly the same price as a typical meal. Maybe this type of system works because of the level of trust in Denmark (the topic of my last blog). Although it’s surprising to me as an Israeli, it works well here. Just notice that at the end of the meal, in addition to the price of the meal, you must pay a “penalty fee” for the uneaten portions – a subtle hint about appropriate behavior.
I’ll finish with some thoughts on dessert. In most places in Israel (and certainly in the United States), I would glance at the dessert menu for a moment and immediately put it aside. After a delicious and full meal, it has always seemed illogical to me that the dessert menu only includes options that are both very expensive and very large. Why would I need to conclude a satisfying 600-calorie meal with a 600-calorie dessert? In Denmark, however, it’s sometimes different. I recently went out to eat at a fish restaurant and, at the end of the meal, the dessert menu was brought out – and what was on it? Seven items, each the size of approximately five centimeters in diameter and with a price tag of thirty kroner (a little less than 15 shekels or about $4).