Easter is King
Photos: Lars Gundersen
Like most traditionally Christian nations, people in Denmark too, celebrate the coming spring during the Easter holidays. As a nation tied to the sea, fish are the dominant ingredient in traditional Danish Easter Lunch. Meet one of the most respected and celebrated traditional Danish chefs, residing in one of the oldest houses in Copenhagen, and get a peek at how Easter is celebrated in the small Nordic Nation of Denmark.
“People forget – we’re an island nation. We’re five million people, an appendix to Germany, the smallest of the Scandinavian countries. But we have an extensive coastal line. We are traditionally a sailing and fishing nation, depending heavily on the foods from the sea,” Claus Christensen explains, bend over his massive Molteni stove in the middle of the basement part of his restaurant Gammel Mønt. The stove is like an alter: From behind the hissing gas, he rules the floor. People who come here often try to get a table downstairs, from where the massive, redheaded chef cooks right in front of his guests. Claus Christensen is a walking advertisement for his own cuisine, weighing in well beyond anything recommended. He is running one of the best traditional lunch restaurants in Copenhagen, at night serving a traditional French cuisine, based on Danish produce in season.
The restaurant where Claus resides, Gammel Mønt, is like a backbone in Copenhagen’s restaurant scene and Danish food. Everybody else can be creative and reinvent stuff – he does the classics the way they are supposed to be done, confiding in craftsmanship and quality in produce. Many new chefs, especially in Copenhagen, are heavily influenced by the tidal wave of the New Nordic cuisine, spearheaded by the remarkable Noma restaurant. But the whole thing would not make sense, if there was no point of departure, no place dedicated to an original approach to Danish foods and traditions – like the Easter Lunch Feast.
Traditional Easter lunch is like many Danish traditions built around fish, and pickled and fermented herring always with a place at the table. A lavish Easter lunch, a tradition all over Denmark during the Easter holiday, is served every year at Gammel Mønt. Claus Christensen explains: “Being a peasant nation, the holidays were celebrated with a lot of different courses, distinguishing holidays from everyday life, where porridge more or less made up the main component of most meals. The holidays gathered near and distant family at the farms. The celebration had to do with demonstrating surplus and serving plenty of courses – at a large table there could be twenty or thirty dishes”.
Very few, if any, get do that many courses anymore. Getting an Easter Lunch in a restaurant in Copenhagen, like Gammel Mønt, will take you through six or seven courses before cheeses and dessert. If you can handle the weight, that is – it is no walk-over.
“The two most important things to me in Easter Lunch are eggs and fish. Eggs are, since before Christendom, a symbol of birth, of the arrival of something new. After Christianity it became the image of resurrection and has been the symbol of Easter. This is the feast of resurrection in a religious context and in a seasonal one, of the coming of spring. Also eggs were a delicacy a couple of hundred years ago, not everyday food at all”. Claus Christensen explains, pointing to several other seasonal must-haves in Denmark in the start of April. Lumbsucker roe is very important, if you can get it, and the Danish fjord shrimp that are painstakingly peeled by hand, which takes an insane amount of time, is the most sought after delicacy. The season for the tiny shrimp, around 2-3 centimeters long, starts in April, and their slightly sweet taste and incredibly soft texture make them a desired delicacy at the Danish tables. To Danish shellfish eaters, they are the most exquisite thing, very expensive, and found in no other food culture.
On the other hand of the price scale are cabbages, which are traditional vegetables in the Easter lunches. In medieval times, a soup was served called Nine-Cabbage soup – either because nine sorts of cabbage were used or because every kind of cabbage left by winter was used. Today, cabbage still find its way into the Danish Easter lunch.
Beer is important too. Many breweries do special Easter brews that try to get the fresh feel of spring fused with the heaviness of the departing winter. Easter Lunch is served with beer and the omnipresent schnapps, of course. In the recent years, Denmark has experienced a surge in the number of breweries, and there are no single notion of what an Easter Brew should be: “The important thing is that it is not too heavy. It’s a large meal, and you have to eat for a while, so the beer shouldn’t fill you up on its own. Traditionally, Easter brews were like any other special brew for the religious holidays where work was suspended. Regular beer had very little alcohol, but intoxication was allowed during holidays like Christmas and Easter. So the brew was allowed to be a stronger and better flavored one. Every farm and major household would have their own recipes for flavoring beer, but basically it was the regular stuff, just stronger”, Claus Christensen explains. Many of the modern Easter brews are Ales with a lot of hop for freshness and some sweetness.
The Gammel Mønt Restaurant: Gammel Mønt 41 // 1117 København K // Danmark // 0045 3315 1060 // www.gammel-moent.dk