You know where I’d live if I could? Scandinavia. Clear glacial air. Crisp fields of untouched snow. Sparkling blue fjords. Nice jumpers.
They just seem to have their shit together don’t they?* In fact, Norway is officially the number one country in the world to live in, and Denmark’s in the top five too.
They have a better quality of life than pretty much anywhere else on the planet. They’re healthier. They have magnificent hair. The only thing they seem to be lacking is enough vowels, and considering the country I live in it’d be hypocritical for me to call them out on that.
The one thing stopping me from packing my bags and buggering off to Oslo, other than my total lack of any marketable skills, is the language barrier. It’s like Welsh had a baby with Klingon then dropped it on its head.
But there’s also the food situation, which can get pretty weird.
That’s why mums go to Iceland
Back in 2013 I was lucky enough to spend a few days in Iceland, which is probably the most beautiful place I’ve ever visited, and it was also mercifully free from Peter Andre.
If you’ve never been, picture the kind of demented landscapes an eight year old makes on Minecraft after one too many Fruit Shoots, only in real life. Within an hour’s drive you can see volcanoes, glaciers, geysers, black sand beaches, and that cave Russell Crowe strops off to at the end of Noah.
All this geographical weirdness actually affects the food, too. See, apart from some depressed looking grass and a handful of skinny little trees, sod all grows there. Which means the average Icelandic restaurant menu looks like some kind of nightmarish zoo guidebook; ram’s testicles – check. Smoked puffin – check. Whale steaks – check.
Essentially it’s the Arctic version of the banquet scene in Temple of Doom.
Then there’s Hákarl, of which Wikipedia says, flatteringly, “Those new to it may gag involuntarily on the first attempt to eat it” – kind of like an Egg McMuffin. In fact it’s so vile, you’re meant to have a shot of schnapps afterwards to take the taste away like some kind of reverse tequila slammer.
It’s a nice simple dish. First, catch yourself a Greenland shark (a sleeper shark will do in a pinch). Then you’ll want to decapitate it and disembowel it. Now, it’s important at this stage that you don’t eat it, because it’s actually horrendously poisonous. But don’t let that put you off, we’re going to bury it in the ground for THREE MONTHS so all the nastiness will rot away – top tip – chuck a few rocks on top to make sure you squeeze out all the putrefying shark juices.
The final step is to dig it up and hang it up to dry (preferably not in the living room) for about another six months. Et voilà – Hákarl. Clearly, there is something deeply wrong with a people that would inflict such culinary masochism on themselves. Probably something to do with all that darkness.
But then the Scandis get so much right food-wise too; their non-putrefied seafood is so fresh it introduces itself to you when it arrives at the table.
Their meat, especially beef and lamb, is some of the best in the world too. And then of course, there’s the Danes and their pastry. If only there was somewhere in Cardiff where you could get a little taste of Denmark…
Waiting for Brød
I don’t know much about Denmark if I’m honest. I’ve only met a couple of Danes, but they seemed very nice. Other than that I just mentally associate it with mermaids, Hamlet and Peter Schmeichel. But I do know that a leisurely brunch at Brød is pretty much the best thing you can do with your clothes on in Pontcanna on a Sunday morning.
As you might imagine, Brød, AKA The Danish Bakery, which I’ll refer to it as from now on because I can’t be arsed to keep copying and pasting that funny ‘o’ thing, does a pretty spectacular line in pastries and breads. But don’t be expecting chocolate eclairs or cream horns – this ain’t Greggs.
Instead, they focus on old-school Danish delicacies with names that are like a cross between Pokemon and IKEA soft furnishings. I especially enjoy Snegl, Spandauer and Romkugle, which taken together sounds like it could be the name of a viking accountancy firm. Again, I live in a country where it was deemed acceptable to name a town Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, so I can hardly judge.
One of the most impressive things is the amount of variation in their pastries; some, like the Chokolade Bolle are as light and airy as the inside of Joey Essex’s head, while something like the Kanel Snegl is denser, and almost more like a bread.
One thing they have in common is that they are uniformly bloody lush. Like having a big, buttery, flaky cuddle, which probably doesn’t sound as appetising as it’s meant to. Flavour wise, apple and cinnamon are common themes, as is custard and the odd drizzle of chocolate.
Their coffee, courtesy of the increasingly ubiquitous Clifton Coffee Roasters, is also great – a punchy little number from El Salvador with enough grunt to make a measurable dent in a mid-level hangover.
Eat like a Norse
The Danish Bakery is predictably steeped in Scandi cool when it comes to the decor too – all retro 70s chairs and rough-hewn wood. If it just had a roaring log fire I’d probably move in. The staff, while for the most part not Danish, are super nice, and in the fine tradition of Scandinavian folk being all round good eggs, the owners even give their leftovers away to charity rather than chucking them in a skip and pouring bleach on them (e.g. Iceland, ironically).
If you’ve not been yet, do yourself a favour and go – preferably when it’s lashing it down out, you’ve got a slightly fuzzy head from the night before and you feel like a cosy and leisurely late breakfast. It’s definitely the best Scandinavian inspired grub in town – admittedly other than The Norwegian Church and the IKEA cafe there’s not a lot of competition, but The Danish Bakery really is in a league of its own.
In all honesty, I’ll probably never get around to moving to Scandinavia, but in the meantime, at least there’s Brød. Now, who wants another slice of putrefied shark?