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The Latin food take-over

 
The last couple of years have seen a new food trend arise in Copenhagen. Fresh and vibrant Mexican food is now one of the hottest things to eat, and it doesn't look like it will cool off any time soon

Nik & Jay’s 2004 mega-hit “En dag tilbage” (One day left, ed.), included a meal from the restaurant Taco Shop on their to-do list. It’s now a decade since they melted every teenager’s heart and had them dreaming of burritos with beans and cheese: your typical cheap Mexican fix in a country where most Mexican restaurants are touristy and drab.

Their dream can now be fulfilled in a much more interesting way. Following an international food trend, Mexican food has now taken over Copenhagen, where residents can now feast on tacos filled with new flavours as the hot sauces drip from their hipster beards.

Barburrito kicked it off first with their restaurant in Central Copenhagen. Shortly after, in-spot Fortunen changed its name to Condesa in an attempt to get a share of this rising new market. Then-head chef Mads Hjortkær ensured the menu was grounded in Mexican cuisine, but mixed freely with other inspirations.

“I really just started by going through the entire Mexican cookbook. They have a big classic one, like every big food region does. From there, we started importing some ingredients ourselves, spices and cacti, for example. It was absolutely inspiring and amazing to work with the sauces and make what were for us new combinations and variations,” says Hjortkær, who ordered his bosses to invest in a taco-machine.

“It was important for me that it was an investment, that we went all the way and were committed. Otherwise it doesn’t really matter. I had pretty free rein and could create my own interpretations. I went absolutely crazy – some of it was too much – but it was so rewarding to work in an entirely new way with something totally new,” Hjortkær says.

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Think about food
He’s never been to Mexico, but says it’s all about using your brain, thinking about what ingredients you’re using. He wasn’t searching for something authentic as such, but wanted to create something new. 

“What René Redzepi did at Noma was to get people to think about how and what you can eat and why. What he said was: think. About food. That means, you have to experiment and mix things up. I don’t think it’ll be long until we eat grasshoppers,” he laughs –although he’s perfectly serious.

Condesa’s popularity was soon challenged by Llama, a newly opened Pan-Latin hit, part of the Cofoco-chain. But if you really want to get a taste of what Mexicans eat on a daily basis, there’s only one thing to do: street food.

Sadly, that’s not so easy in Denmark, with laws and regulations making it difficult for people to sell food on the streets (although with the growing popularity of food halls, changes might be on the way). But one guy has just ensured the reputation of street food in Copenhagen: with Yuca Taco, Jon Due Roe serves authentic tacos in their native environment—the bustling streets.

Street Tacos

“I didn’t think about the timing of this trend. I was in Mexico, in Yucatán, and realised how wonderful and light and fresh street food can be – and we needed something like that in Copenhagen. For me it’s tradition, not trend. It’s everyday-food, basically the Mexican version of an open sandwich – and it’s my favourite food,” Roe notes. 

He came back from Yucatán in the spring and talked to people to make sure that his project would suit his surroundings. It’s important, he says, to make sure it’s the kind of food that can “travel” to other countries, as he calls it.

“But of course it can – a lot of things have, just look at pizza. There’s no bullshit: a good tortilla, some meat, and a simple garnish. That’s it. And sure, you can develop it and experiment and add things on, but that’s not what I’m here to do,” he says of his Yuca Taco wagon. You can find his whereabouts on Facebook, as it’s in a different neighbourhood most days of the week.

Of course street food has been served in Copenhagen for decades – pølsevogne (the white hotdog wagons) have existed in Denmark since 1920 – but they still remain one of the only exponents of street food on Danish soil. Let’s hope the arrival of Yuca Taco announces a shift in that landscape. After all, eating the same food all the time can get a little boring.

Culture

By Moussa Mchangama

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