For all my experiments in “adulting” over the past two years since I started college, I never really got the hang of cooking. Despite my complaints about dorm food, it protected me because I couldn’t chop an onion to save my life. That is until now. Over the past month in Copenhagen, I’ve cooked more than I ever have before, trying my hand at everything from Indian to Mexican to Japanese food. For quite a few reasons, I believe that a study abroad semester can be the perfect springboard into becoming a home chef.
To make a simple case for cooking in Copenhagen – eating out here is expensive. The culture around restaurants in Europe is much more formal and sit-down than it is in the States, and there is a lack of cheap take-out places which I practically rely upon back home. However, groceries are surprisingly affordable, especially at places like Netto. I regularly find vegetable mixes, bags of rice, and cans of beans that cost less than DKK 15 (US $2) – I’d be hard-pressed to find anything at that price in a Southern California grocery.
A big part of why I started cooking so much in Denmark is to ease my transition into living in a new country with a different culture. With so much changing around me, food is a way to stay connected to my roots, which is why I’ve mostly been cooking the Indian food I grew up with. I never made Indian food previously because the range of spices seemed too confusing for me, but I am grateful to my mom for buying and packing the essential spices with me and sending me simple recipes to get me started! I was also happy to see that the long-established Danish Pakistani community owns stores that sell many basic food items found across the Indian subcontinent. While I can’t say that my food lives up to my mom’s cooking, every bite I take still reminds me of home. Although I’m sure my roommates are a little annoyed at me for making the whole apartment smell like Indian food, I’m glad I got them to try some of my cooking – nothing filled me with joy more than when Fabian, my Swedish roommate, appreciated my dal-chaval (rice with lentils).
A fun experience that helped me share my cooking with a wider audience was the Nimbus Kollegium small dinner event held a few weeks ago. A landmark tradition of our kollegium (student apartment), these events pair a group of 4-5 students from different apartments to cook a themed dinner together. Our theme was “festive,” and Helene, the only Dane in our group, planned to make a Danish Christmas special – tarteller, or savory tarts stuffed with a chicken and asparagus stew. I was in charge of making a meatless alternative for the vegetarians and vegans in the group, and I cooked one of the first recipes I learned while living on my own – burritos stuffed with guacamole, fajita veggies, Mexican beans, and salsa. It ended up being a hit among the vegetarians and meat-eaters alike, but I think it was mostly because I stumbled upon some perfectly ripe avocados. This was a great opportunity to meet new people and learn different recipes, although we did exchange light jabs at each other’s method of chopping vegetables!
I recently discovered that there was a whole community of DIS students across Copenhagen who cook dinner together once a week, and I joined in for the first time this past weekend. We decided to make ramen with mushrooms and wood sorrel that Mads, one of the other students in the group, foraged during his study tour. He had a guide with him, so we were assured that they weren’t poisonous! The evening felt like a little potluck as we split into smaller groups to work on individual components of the potluck and let people mix and match ingredients according to their tastes and preferences. I helped with the broth and noodles, although my work was overshadowed since there were some cooks that were much more experienced than me! The nourishing hot ramen was the perfect way to end our busy core course week.
It’s fair to say that since arriving in Copenhagen, my perspective on cooking has completely changed. What I once viewed as a menial chore performed merely for sustenance, I now see as a creative outlet to share cultural experiences. I anticipate that cooking is something I will write more about in the coming weeks, and I might even drop one or two of my mom’s “top-secret” recipes!