Once a week or so, my daughter’s preschool learns a bit about a different country and samples some of its food. Since Charlotte is from the U.S.A., it made sense to ask her to bring American food.
Some “American” foods that I considered bringing:
- hamburgers (the obvious one)
- chicken pot pie
- meat loaf
- fried chicken
- corn bread
- biscuits and gravy
- barbecue (the food, not the event 😉 )
- peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
- rice crispy treats
- chocolate chip cookies
- any desserts with pumpkin (pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, pumpkin bread, pumpkin bars, etc–’tis the season as we say)
After consulting with my 4-year-old, the “meal” we ended up bringing was baked macaroni and cheese, deviled eggs, and chocolate chip banana bread. Deviled eggs are a particular favorite of Charlotte’s and I wanted to bring something that I thought young children would like. Also, I had lots of bananas.
Macaroni and cheese a.k.a. “mac and cheese” is considered a beloved children’s favorite across the United States so much so that it can be found on almost every restaurant’s “children’s menu.”
As usual, Duck Comics are right on point:
Now at home, and especially for a quick kids’ lunch, a common way for us to enjoy mac and cheese is from a box. There are many brands available, but Kraft is kind of the gold standard, as far as dried-out noodles and processed, pulverized cheese product go. It’s delicious–I promise!
Homemade baked macaroni and cheese, made with real cheese, is several steps up from the childhood favorite that comes in the blue box. It is certainly what I would consider to be “American Comfort Food”. And I must be seeking American comfort, because this is the third time I’ve made it since moving to Denmark ;).
So coming with the assumption that mac and cheese is kind of “the” kid food of America, I was excited to see how the Danish children would react to it as it would probably be new to them. And yet, it was still somehow hard for me to comprehend that these Danish kids had never, ever tried it, or even seen it. Of course in theory, anyone with half a brain would realize that children in different countries consume and thus prefer different foods. I remember volunteering at a daycare in Mexico and asking the little kids what their favorite food was. Over half of them said, “sopa”. What, soup? Are you sure about that, kid? What kind of kid-favorite-food is soup! We Americans know that kid-favorite-foods are chicken nuggets, mac and cheese, pizza, maybe spaghetti if they’re precocious.
So in theory, yes, I know most of the world does not eat as Americans do, but still, to see it with my own eyes–a group of twenty 3 to 5 year-olds trying macaroni and cheese for the first time–it really drove the idea home for me in a concrete, visual way. In fact I must say the entire experience somehow transcended the orange, elbow-shaped noodles and confirmed to me: The world is a big place. Just because the U.S. is a large and influential nation, does not mean that everyone follows, or even knows of our customs. There are different and no less valid ways to live (and eat) out there.
So what was the verdict?
Well, some of the kids had a really freaked-out expression on their faces upon seeing the deviled eggs:
*Photos at Højmark Børnehus courtesy of Højmark Børneverden
A few (including Charlotte) wolfed down their eggs, but many went untouched.
The mac and cheese fared better. Although the kiddos kept calling it spaghetti, almost all seemed to enjoy it, and some even asked for seconds! (Didn’t get any pictures, unfortunately–probably because I was also busy eating it).
And the chocolate chip banana bread? A hit with everyone!
Kids like sugar, what can I say? 🙂
So, one might think as one scratches one’s head, if these kids aren’t eating mac and cheese on the regular, what are they eating?
Well the traditional danish lunch is centered around a smørrebrød, or “open-faced” sandwich.
Why open-faced? Well, the “open-faced” part is important–ask any Dane and they will tell you, “Two pieces of bread is just way too much bread.” Throw’s off the entire balance!
The name smørrebrød comes literally from the danish words for “butter and bread”– “smør og brød” thus the traditional Danish smørrebrød begins with rye bread spread with butter. After this any manner of interesting things can be piled on top!
First let’s talk Danish rye bread. The first time I picked up a package of it in the grocery store, I was like, “Whoa!”as my arm was yanked down toward the floor. “Whoa!” because that stuff is dense, as in heavy, like a brick. This dark brown rye bread, known as “rugbrød” has been a traditional food in Denmark for over 1000 years. The rye grows well here, and it is considered to be very healthy–high in fiber and low in sugar.
Now, there is truly no end to the possibilities for a Danish smørrebrød–the sky’s the limit! (Just so long as it’s not another piece of bread, of course). Atop the requisite rye bread and butter, the smørrebrød can be piled with all kinds of things from pickled herring to boiled egg to smoked salmon to mayonnaise mixed with peas.
But the most common topping? Pork liver paste. Yes, pork liver paste, or liver pâté, if you will.
Here’s a bit more on the liver pâté, or “leverpostej”, for those of you as fascinated (or disturbed) by the concept as I am:
Liver pate – “Leverpostej” is more Danish than the Evangelical Lutheran Church – and the Danish monarchy. In brief there are more Danes that eat leverpostej than there are members of the Danish Church or supporters of the royal family – which is a much admired institution in Denmark. 95 percent of all Danes eat leverpostej. 40 percent eat leverpostej daily. 92 percent of all Danes over 10 years make one or more leverpostejmad – an open faced Liver Paste sandwich every single day – with all sorts of toppings
It comes in a convenient tin, like this:
And it can even be fun!
And what do my daughter’s preschool classmates bring to school in their lunch boxes (“foodpacks”)?
Well they’re Danish aren’t they?
They bring smørrebrød on rye bread. Often topped with liver paste, or possibly sliced ham, salami or Danish cheese. Aside from this, fresh vegetables such as sliced carrots, cucumbers, and bell peppers are almost always included, as well as a small-sized yogurt or individually-wrapped salami–as a treat of course.
And so it was that, after viewing with trepidation the strange dish of noodles and orange cheese, the Danish children turned to their meal packs, popped them open, and withdrew their open-faced sandwiches–sinking their teeth into the comfortable flavors of rye bread and pork liver paste.