Why you should care
Because this undersung gruel can be great.
When it comes to food in Denmark, so-called New Nordic cuisine has dominated the conversation in the past decade, led by the high-end Copenhagen restaurant that made it world-famous, Noma. But there’s a much humbler food that’s taken the capital city by storm in recent years: porridge. Yep, Goldilocks’ favorite breakfast.
On the hottest street in the hipsterfied neighborhood of Nørrebro, a cozy place called Grød specializes in porridge, that belly-filling, economic peasant meal turned breakfast staple. But it’s not just any porridge found on its chalkboard-scrawled menu and sidewalk picnic tables. Everything at Grød is homemade using mostly seasonal and local ingredients. There’s oat porridge, spelt porridge, gluten-free quinoa and açaí-chia porridges — all with various add-your-own toppings and milk choices — and, come lunchtime, savory variations on the theme, like risotto, daal and congee.
This porridge is delicious, and beautiful to look at.
Grød opened in 2011 with the mission “to redefine porridge and to show the world that porridge can be delicious, delicate and versatile” — and it seems to be well on its way: Founder Lasse Andersen has since opened four more locations, written a porridge cookbook and partnered with 7-Eleven and other chains to sell instant porridge in stores. “Porridge has for decades been a ‘poor man’s food,’ and I wanted to redefine the one-dimensional, negative picture,” Andersen, a Copenhagen native, tells OZY over email. “It’s something you find in almost every culture, but in different shapes.”
Denmark in particular has a long tradition of grød, or porridge, in its culture, and it takes on many forms here, depending on the season — at Christmas it’s rice porridge with butter and cinnamon sugar (risengrød); in the fall a soupy concoction made of rye bread and dark beer (ollebrød); in summer a cold berry compote with whipped cream (rødgrød med fløde). The country’s “larger definition of the word and concept of porridge” coupled with the exploding food scene of its capital city, Andersen says, prompted him to open the world’s first porridge bar here in Copenhagen.
But it still begs the question: porridge? Andersen, now 27, points back to his teen years, when he began eating porridge daily in an attempt to lose weight. “To start out with, it wasn’t delicious, but by combining different high-quality grains with an arsenal of toppings, it became an obsession,” he explains. Since then it’s been his go-to food two or three times a day, and he’s been trying to convince friends how delicious it can be.
He has a point: This porridge is delicious, and beautiful to look at. During my visit to the main location I tried the oat version, topped with homemade caramel syrup, fresh apple and roasted almonds — pretty much a caramel apple in hot cereal form — as well as the spelt porridge, served at the time with the perfect textural contrast of bananas, hazelnuts and freeze-dried berries. Like many things of quality in the Danish capital, it’s not cheap, about $7 for a small bowl, but it is filling. (Andersen cites the higher price of Grød’s organic, seasonal ingredients for the price point.)
“I like the concept a lot, because it takes a food that has a bad rap as being boring and makes it interesting and creative, showing that health and delicious food can coexist in a fun way,” says Yasmin Fahr, a New York–based writer who visited Grød multiple times last summer. Peasant food has never tasted so rich.