Cooking, baking, and finding ingredients in Aalborg: some tips and creative tricks (Guest blog post part 1)
Hello, fellow foreign friends! Sarah’s asked me to talk a little bit about cooking and baking here in Denmark from the expat perspective, so I’ll do my best! I’m a professional musician, but cooking and baking has always been a hobby of mine. Since moving to Aalborg 2.5 years ago, I’ve been doing a lot more cooking, partly because of the lack of reasonably priced restaurants, and partly because my job has afforded me more time than in the past. I’m writing this post from an American’s perspective, and I know that many of you come from lots of different places. So while the specifics of certain ingredients might not apply to you, a lot of these stores carry a great selection of ingredients from all over the world.
There are a few things about cooking in Denmark that I find very different from my Pennsylvania upbringing. One of the main ones is that I find myself going to many different stores to get all the ingredients for dinner. It’s rare that I find everything I need in one place. It annoyed me at first, but this is my third year here, and I’m getting used to it. I even sort of like it because it forces me to walk around more. And often, I stumble on interesting new ingredients or products this way.
The second thing is that grocery shopping in Denmark is much more seasonal. I was very used to being able to get, for example, kale (gronkål, in Danish) any time of year. But in Denmark, you will really only be able to buy kale in the autumn, usually October/November. Cranberries, again, only in the fall. Things like this have their disadvantages when you want to make cranberry muffins in July and there are no cranberries ANYWHERE. Or your summer kale salad turns into a summer not-with-kale-under-any-circumstances salad. However, the advantage is that you start to use and think about ingredients in a new way. When Danish strawberries start showing up in June, it’s SO WONDERFUL! Somehow, it feels a bit more special because they’ll be gone soon. And then when the weather starts turning to autumn and all the really nice winter veggies start coming in, there are lovely soups and casseroles to be made! If you’re not sure what’s good or what’s in season, I suggest that you start at the farmer’s market and talk with the vendors there. (More information on the farmer’s market later!)
The last thing is the cost of food: Look, this is an expat blog, so I don’t have to tell you that stuff’s expensive here. I have paid more money than I care to think about for a simple ingredient like fresh jalapeno peppers simply because they were literally the ONLY fresh jalapeno peppers and darnit, my tacos demanded them. We all draw our lines in different places, though. There are some things that will make some people roll their eyes and say “No way am I paying $__ for THAT.” But sometimes, when you’re in a new country, you’ll pay anything for that taste of home. So that’s my last word on the cost of things. The rest of this will just be devoted to where to find things and how to successfully substitute. I’ll leave the rest up to you.
A word on organics: Even in the two years that I’ve lived here, I’ve seen a huge improvement in the availability of organic produce and meats. Fotex, Salling, and Brugsen seem to have the largest selections, but if you keep an eye out, you can find certain stuff anywhere. Netto carries frozen seafood with sustainability labeling. I’ve seen organic meats and poultry at most regular grocery stores, and organic/free range eggs are widely available. Another option is to have your organics delivered to you from a company called Aarstiderne. This is a little bit like a CSA in America*, but you have a bit more control over what comes in the box. I’ve tried a few of their veggie boxes, and they are great. Nothing like coming home on a Wednesday and finding a whole box of organic fruits and veggies waiting for you! You can sign up to have your veggies delivered every week, or you can just try it once in awhile. It comes at a price, but depending on your situation, it can be worth it. Their website is all in Danish, but Google Translate is always an option. They also stock lots of fancy specialty organic items, like cheese, fruit juices, chocolates, as well as full meal boxes. They have a “Chat med os” function on their site and I’ve used it (in English) and they’ve been really helpful when I had questions.
Here are just a few of the places I’ve found that carry more unusual ingredients. This list is in no way comprehensive!
Eliksir – Located at 6 Lille Kongensgade, behind the Burger King on Nytorv. Look for the “Western Union Money Transfer” signs outside. This store makes me laugh a little bit every time I go in, simply because there is SO MUCH FOOD. I inevitably see something on the shelves that I didn’t even know existed, let alone that I could buy it. I usually go to Elixer for Mexican ingredients. The section is small, but they have Valentina hot sauce, different mole sauces, chipotle chili in adobo sauce, and a bunch more. They also have a really impressive spice wall, many different Indian curry pastes, as well as lots of southeast Asian products that I admit to not being so familiar with.
The Farmer’s Market:- There is a small farmers market at Grønttorvet in the parking lot of Ågade and Danmarksgade every Saturday and Wednesday from 7.30-14.00. There are some really nice stands with GREAT prices on lots of staples. There are vegetables, a butcher, a baker, cheesemonger, fishmonger, the egg guy, and often other stands as well. It’s worth going a bit earlier if you want the good stuff. Note that most vendors only take cash! But this is by far the cheapest place to buy the highest quality fresh vegetables. I have also found it to be a great place to practice my Danish. Even if I don’t know what something’s called, I can just point! (However, note that Trevor – pictured to the left – is actually from the UK and speaks English.) Also, if you’re not sure what’s in season or what’s good this week, just ask! They’re very friendly and helpful. More info on the market here (in Danish).
Frederikstorv Marked – Located a block from Danmarksgade on the corner of Kayerødsgade and Niels Ebbesens Gade. There are lots of middle-eastern grocery stores in Aalborg, many of which carry mostly the same brands of dried beans, rice, etc. So far, this one is my favorite. They have a very nice selection of fresh fruits and vegetables at good prices. They also sell lots of Polish products, and among them, the best pickles I’ve found. I’m in the “pickles should not be sweet” camp, but apparently Denmark is NOT with me on that. They have a brand of pickles called “Smak” that fit my personal definition of pickle MUCH better than the Danish kind. And if it’s the holiday season and you’re baking a million cookies (or you just like a really good deal and eat a lot of eggs), they sell a palette of 30 eggs for 15 kroner.
Mekong Asian Market – Located at Nørregade 26 in the Centrum, Mekong is a small store that packs a lot of punch. My husband and I have been learning to cook various dishes from China and Vietnam, so this store has been invaluable. Their noodle selection is simply fantastic, and they have lots of different kinds of tofu (firm, silken, pressed, etc), for the vegetarian types. They also almost always have fresh cilantro, which usually is available at Fotex, but sometimes not, so… yeah. If you’re going to learn to make sushi, they also sell sushi kits that have everything you’ll need.
Normal (Slotsgade 3) – This store carries mostly beauty and cleaning products, but it does have a food section. Occasionally I have found Nestle Chocolate Chips here, as well as different hot sauces, and even Skittles! Their selection rotates, so you can’t depend on product availability, but I like to pop my head in occasionally and see what they’ve got. [Blogger’s note: If you are fixated on getting one of those famous chocolate buns at Slotsgade Bakery, which is located kitty corner from Normal, but they are in the oven and you have to wait – not an uncommon occurrence – nipping into Normal is a great way to pass the time…]
Salling Supermarket – On the lower level of Salling department store in the center of Aalborg, Salling’s food section is pricey when you compare it to a Netto or Rema 1000. However, they often run some of the BEST sales. If you’re looking for anything that comes in a jar or can, such as olives, vinegars, oils, canned fish, this is a great place. They also have an impressive collection of spices. Their cheese selection is also really nice, and this is the only place I’ve found chevre goat cheese. It also has one of the more diverse beer selections in town.
Next week, I’ll give a more specific list of ingredients that are often difficult for North Americans to find here, offer some substitutions, and possibly even a recipe or two. If anyone has anything that they’re looking for, please list them in the comments! And if any of you have suggestions for small stores that carry ingredients that are special to you, or if there’s a place you recommend that I might have missed, this list certainly isn’t complete! I’d love to hear about them in the comments.
* CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. As a member, you pay at the beginning of the growing season to receive a box of fruits and vegetables every week. But what you get is at the farmer’s discretion, so you might end up getting an odd assortment of items based on what has been harvested that week. It’s a way for farmers to make money up front at the beginning of the season.
About the author: Lauren Robinson comes from the state of Pennsylvania in the US. She is a professional horn player and member of the Aalborg Symphony Orchestra. Lauren likes many things about living in Denmark, and has found creative ways to deal with the aspects of life here that are NOT so easy, as you can see above. In addition to music and cooking, Lauren enjoys knitting, yoga, and traveling. She has lived in Canada and FInland, in addition to Denmark, and while she finds the winters here in Aalborg dark, she is NOT complaining.