by Nina York
One would have thought that St. Croix, under almost two hundred years of Danish ownership from 1733 to 1917, would have been greatly influenced by the cuisine of Denmark. But for many reasons that is not the case. Among them is the fact that the tropical climate is totally different from Denmark’s, and the availability of the typical ingredients for preparing Danish dishes was severely limited. In the days before electric power and refrigeration, so many food ingredients had to be salted or cured in brine if they were to be kept beyond the brief period of freshness in a tropical environment. The long journey for ships coming from Denmark caused many foodstuffs transported to the islands to have spoiled. Furthermore, the diets of former days were tailored to a much more arduous lifestyle and many dishes would be seen as too heavy, especially in our tropical environment.
But among those dishes, that even today are part of the traditional cuisine in both areas, we find the salted fish which was very much a daily staple in the diet of the Danish military stationed here and is still served in Denmark, albeit in a somewhat different recipe from our saltfish, as klipfisk. Fish cakes, another local staple, are Danish fiskefrikadeller. The gundy we serve here is close to Danish sildesalat, and what Crucians know as asha, a pickled cucumber and lime condiment, has its origins in Danish asier.
Perhaps the most popular island remnant of Danish food traditions is the fruit dessert amusingly known here as red grout, which is the local adaptation of Danish rødgrød, a compote in Denmark made from red currants and/or strawberries thickened with potato starch; here we can use guava and other delicious local fruit ingredients with tapioca instead of starch.
A few years ago, our local Friends of Denmark Society celebrated our Danish culinary traditions, offering an evening of Danish-inspired foods prepared with a local accent. For many years until the early 2000’s in Christiansted, the Top Hat Restaurant owners Bent and Hanne Rasmussen served gourmet cuisine that included traditional Danish comfort food like frikadeller, medisterpølse, flæskesteg, and leverpostej. Their establishment now features fine art instead. The menu of one of our Christiansted restaurants, 40 Strand, features smørrebrød, a local adaptation of the famous Danish open-faced sandwiches.
With the large number of Danish visitors to our island, maybe we will be seeing a few more imaginative food innovations with a Danish flair. Some might even be presented in April at St. Croix ‘s great Food & Wine Experience that always brings an amazing variety of culinary delights. Bon appetit! or, as the Danes say it: Velbekomme!
by Nina York