Brunch Means Pickled Fish and Fermented Cabbage at This Danish Restaurant
At restaurant Admiralgade 26 in Copenhagen, they serve Japanese breakfast as an alternative to the orgy of sugar, wheat, and pork found on the traditional Danish brunch platter.
Ah, brunch—a meal that blurs the lines between breakfast, lunch and dessert and triggers pilgrimages to cafés and diners every weekend.
Despite its popularity in Denmark, the majority of restaurants that offer this gluttonous start to the day serve up pretty much the same spread: assorted cuts of pork, an egg or two, cereal, pastry, and a pot of coffee.
Ginzo Miyata—head chef at restaurant Admiralgade 26 in Copenhagen—also preferred a croissant and sausage when he was younger. Like most Japanese expats, he quickly adopted the Western penchant for wheat and sugar, but as he grew older he learned to appreciate the breakfast traditions of his home country.
It is just past 9 AMon a Wednesday at Admiralgade 26, which is located in a building across from the Danish parliament. The French waiter takes the first breakfast orders—an omelette, avocado salad, and In the kitchen, Ginzo starts beating eggs, opening plastic containers with miso butter, and cutting thin slices of lightly pickled pike-perch.
35-year-old Ginzo still remembers the sound of his mother's rice cooker and her feet tiptoeing to avoid waking up the rest of the house back in his Hokkaido home in the 1980s.
"All I have to do is follow in my mother's footsteps," Ginzo says. "It is quite simple for me. It brings back lots of memories, and I like that."
Chōshoku is Japanese for "breakfast." At Admiralgade 26 it is served in multiple ceramic bowls arranged neatly on a tray. Each bowl contains ingredients most Danes would never dream of eating in the morning: rice with dried fish and seaweed, miso soup, pickled pike-perch, egg custard, kimchi, and zucchini with miso butter.
"Japanese and Western cooking traditions are very different," says Ginzo. "We don't use oil and never fry anything. Also, most Japanese people have a hard time digesting lactose. We use miso, soy, and other fermented ingredients. That is a good way to start the day."
Ginzo has lived in Copenhagen for about two years. Last summer he was contacted by Christian Nedergaard and Sebastian Nellemann, owners of the popular wine shop and bar Ved Stranden 10, because the restaurateurs wanted to open a new place. The year before they had gone to Tokyo to eat at Noma when the world-beating restaurant temporarily relocated to the Japanese capital. During this trip, Nedergaard and Nellemann also went to Kyoto, where they dined at the famous ryokan Tawaraya.
"I fell in love with the ritual, the slow process and the concept of eating fish and soup in the morning—I felt blessed to experience that," Nedergaard explains.
"In the Western world we have a tendency to look at breakfast as fuel—something to kick-start the day—instead of it being a legitimate meal, where you take the time to eat properly."
Selling breakfast consisting of miso soup, fish, and fermented cabbage to the Danes—a people who have a greasy pastry named after themselves—sound like a challenge.
Ginzo estimates that around a third of his guests order chōshoku, while the rest swear by more classical breakfast options that the restaurant also has on the menu, such as an omelette and rye bread with cheese.
In the kitchen, Ginzo is preparing small pieces of the pike-perch dipped in beet miso, which he carefully places on the tray.
"It looks good, right?" Ginzo says. "But I don't know about the average Westerner... I don't think it will ever be a huge thing, because these tastes aren't that popular here."
Nedergaard acknowledges that he will probably never get rich from selling soup and fish in the morning. But that was never the point, he says.
"Considerations about what a restaurant should like in the current market is very alien to us. It is a paradox that we are even talking to you, because we are actually quite introverted. Doing interviews and presentations always makes me a bit uncomfortable."
Although many of the recipes are the same that Ginzo's ancestors have used for generations, he calls his version a Danish/Japanese crossover. The ingredients are Danish, and certain elements have been adapted to suit Western palates. For instance, the Japanese egg custard topped with roe is originally served warm, but here they serve it cold because the consistency "felt weird to most Danes," Ginzo explains.
The warm miso soup, on the other hand, feels like a soothing hug that pauses the production of gastric acid, and a bowl of perfectly prepared rice will make you envy those with a rice cooker (and a Japanese mother). When you eat it this in Admiralgade 26's quiet, minimalist surroundings, far away from the caffeine psychosis of the other breakfast cafés, you want your breakfast ritual to last until sundown.
The restaurant's website supplies you with a detailed description that maps out their sources of inspiration. Here you can read that the concept of Admiralgade 26 derives from "a desire to be present with no other purpose than just that, a place to endure the rotation of the Earth."
"Everything we do is a conversation," Nedergaard says. "It is reflection of a dialogue with the surrounding world and with ourselves."
But he still appreciates that most guests at eight o'clock in the morning would prefer to just have a cheese sandwich. Most mornings he will just eat a bowl of yoghurt because he has to get his two kids dressed and out the door. At the same time, he hopes some of the guests who keep coming back to his restaurant will eventually get curious and swap wheat and dairy for raw fish and fermented vegetables.
"I consider our restaurant a place where you can go on an adventure, but at the same time we're also a safe haven where you can come in and have 'the usual.' But we want to break habits. We want to impact our guests and ourselves in an oblique way, without making anyone uncomfortable. We want to make them reflect.
"We want to make them experience everything anew."