A couple months ago I was in Copenhagen.
No, I did not see the “Little Mermaid” statue in the harbor. I know everybody goes to photograph it when they visit the city. But I remember that this Little Mermaid is based on the Hans Christian Andersen version, not Disney’s romantic feature film.
In the original telling, the mermaid does not get to marry the prince of her dreams and live the happily ever after. Instead, the young scion is married off to a genuine princess, the daughter of a neighboring king. Yeah, turns out the fix was in even before she gave up her fins.
Her mer-sisters offer a nice, sharp knife to gut the prince—a chance to void her contractual deal with the sea witch (which had stipulated marriage to the prince or death). But instead of stabbing her beloved, the mermaid dives into the waves, turns into sea foam, and becomes a creature of the air. The prince never realizes how close he came to being assassinated.
Fairytales are often a bit darker than we choose to remember them. I mean, for accuracy’s sake, shouldn’t the poor heartbroken thing have a knife in her hand?
Whatever, I skipped the obligatory visit to the scorned gold digger’s monument.
I was in Copenhagen for food.
I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to travel here and there around the globe, and my first goal is always food. I believe you get the best idea of what a country is all about by discovering what the natives eat.
In Italy, the Mediterranean diet rules with divine pasta, fresh vegetables, and seafood. I’ve had the best roasted lamb in Trastevere, great liver (yes, liver) on the Via Sistina, and Genoese salami to die for.
Germany is where a Midwesterner can go for comfort food. Schnitzel is basically chicken-fried steak, and potatoes and gravy are everywhere you turn. At a street fair in Cologne, one booth specialized in deep-fried bacon. I felt like I was at the Iowa State Fair.
In Hong Kong, I recommend you try the spicy chicken feet or the hairy crab. Or grab a fish from one of the tanks at the street market and hand it to the woman in the next stall who will kill it, clean it, and turn it into the freshest fish stew you’ve ever eaten.
In Japan, everything is good—everything from street vendor yakisoba to Okinawa-style soba. Everything is good except the natto. Do not eat the natto. Just don’t (unless you enjoy munching chunky booger goo).
I wish I could time travel, because (according to Reddit) archeologists recently discovered the oldest ever recipe on a tomb wall in Egypt. It’s for a soup that includes hippopotamus and sparrow, two delicacies I have never had the opportunity to try.
I suspect the dish represents our primitive ancestor’s first attempt to deal with leftovers.
So anyway, there I was in Copenhagen, skipping the unarmed Little Mermaid statue, looking for good food. And what did I find?
Well, during my short stay, I had great Italian food, some of the best sushi this side of Osaka, along with fish and chips that beat anything in London.
I even found a Neolithic restaurant serving only what our hunter-gatherer forebears might have found while walking from here to there (basically plants and prehistoric roadkill). I skipped that place.
I did try the frikadeller and rugbrød with gherkins. Meatballs and bread. It wasn’t bad.
But here’s the point of the column. If you’re in Copenhagen, try the Danish.
Which, for accuracy’s sake, should be called “Austrian.” The pastry was originally introduced to the country by Austrian bakers when their Danish counterparts went on strike in 1850. After more than a century of acceptance, the pastry has become genuinely Danish. Kind of like an American, Disneyfied version of the Little Mermaid. But more delicious, and you don’t need a knife.
Otis Twelve hosts the radio program Early Morning Classics with Otis Twelve on 90.7 KVNO, weekday mornings from 5-9 a.m. Visit kvno.org for more information.
This column was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.