Street food, pride, and Danish-specific coziness.
There is a certain quality to the silence here, one which I only experience in Western Europe. Everything is muted — on the train, friends talk in hushed voices, cyclists carry on their bicycles and slide them into the designated compartments without barely a sound, and there is no audio announcement about where we are. The air is crisp and cool in the Scandinavian August afternoon; a slender woman drapes a wool coat over her shoulders as she steps out onto the platform.
Downtown is a different story altogether. “There’s a cool street food market I’ve always wanted to go to,” says my friend, who’s lived in Copenhagen for a few months. The bus from the Central Station to the market is packed with boisterous activity — drunk, carefree youth socializing in English, their rainbow eyeshadow smudged after a long day of parading for Pride. Inside the bus is hot and stuffy as it rumbles along the traffic-heavy street. By the time I get off, my stomach is nauseous from claustrophobia and the pungent smell of alcohol, but my head is dizzy with exuberance.
The night market we explore is called Reffen, in an upbeat student neighborhood (Refshaleøen) by the shore. They describe themselves as an “urban playground” and “the largest street food venue in the Nordics.” Everything from the decor, layout, and food options here are creative and anarchic. You can find mostly any cuisine you desire, but the dishes you’ll encounter are tweaked just slightly to incorporate a little bit of fun. The seats are laid out in an outdoor food court-like style, with big, shared tables lit up by overhanging colorful bulbs.
We are intrigued by the menu on the African booth: Baobab. We ask what the Domodar — Gambian peanut butter stew — tastes like, and the vendor eagerly offers us a sample whose size could easily count as a small meal. A single spoonful warms us from the inside, the cooked veggies and the peanuts making it an extra hearty dish. We immediately decide on this dish and share a plate by the cocktail shack. Here, we find out they offer cocktails by the liter, and that they come in buckets – quite literally. I spot two girls who each dip a straw into a bucket, catch it between their teeth, and smile for a selfie. A liter doesn’t sound as daunting once you’ve split it up with a friend.
The clubs surrounding Reffen grow louder as the rest of the neighborhood goes quieter. We head back to the main station which, representing a top gay-friendly city, celebrates the month with an impressive line of pride flags. Denmark had in fact been the first country in the world to recognize same-sex partnerships, back in 1989.
There is a term in Danish called hygge (pronounced “hoo-gah.”) Loosely translating to “coziness,” hygge is used to describe any social situation which makes one feel warm and content. Usually, these situations are experienced with people you are closest to: family, friends, lover. If happiness had two types – a fizzy, bouncing excitement and a more stable, long-lasting, but low-key kind – hygge is definitely the latter. Coming to the Danish capital, I experienced hygge myself, catching up with my friend whom I haven’t seen in months, sharing a hearty portion of stew, feeling my jetlagged body slowly loosening up from the inside. Around us were a hundred similarly hygge-entranced Danes.