The vegetarian restaurant in Freetown Christiania, Copenhagen’s peculiar hippie commune
Noma can keep its rich clientele, argues CARIEN DU PLESSIS, who preferred the eatery at the strange hippie commune nearby. (Also, Noma was closed).
On the edge of a strange hippie commune in wonderful Copenhagen is the second-best restaurant in the world, Noma. The two-Michelin-star establishment used to be the best, four years in a row, if you rate the UK magazine’s Restaurant listings, but it was overtaken by French restaurant Miramur in 2019.
Dinner or lunch at Noma – artfully prepared with the highly original ingredients grown on the lush urban farm surrounding the establishment – will set you back roughly R3,000 – per guest – wine pairing included. There was no agonising for me over whether to fork out this money or not – Noma was closed for a break when I was in Copenhagen in October.
In the heart of the hippie commune, Freetown Christiania, a very special place, is open every day, except for Mondays, when the restaurant collective meets to strategise. We don’t need the Michelen-star crowd to tell us Morgenstedet is the best vegetarian restaurant in the country – the tiny Freetown Christiania has declared its independence from Denmark, and from the European Union, for that matter. This former military area was transformed into a kind of squatter camp in 1971 by a crowd of people rebelling against the establishment. Nowadays the population is between 850 and 1,000, living in small, unique structures, many of which were built by the inhabitants themselves. There’s no space for cars.
The restaurant is in a free-standing cottage with a garden area and outside toilets, and is almost as old as the commune itself. It’s the first vegetarian restaurant in Denmark, according to a member of the collective that runs it – and stands apart from the more commercial-looking outdoor drinking holes in the area – and from Pusher Street, where cannabis sellers openly sell their wares at stalls. The Danish police don’t always respect Christiania’s self-declared independence, so they sometimes clamp down. It’s a strange cat-and-mouse game.
It did strike me that Morgenstedet’s would be a perfect cure for the munchies – marijuana-induced appetite – but many locals aren’t too enamoured by the good reputation the place has among the druggies. “A lot of people who have lived here for many years, they’re not too happy with that,” said one. “It started more as a hippie thing but was taken over by not so nice people, a mafia-type situation took over.”
On this particularly cold autumn day, the cosy eatery with its wooden tables and the buzzing, clanging kitchen behind the serving counter, was particularly welcoming. Some hardy locals were eating in the garden as if it’s summer.
The daily menu is simple. There’s a salad plate (a three-salad selection is 60 Danish krone [R130], and five is 110 DKK), a soup of the day (a hearty, herb-filled broth with a slice of bread is 60 DKK), a rice dish (on this day it was with hokkaido pumpkin cream sauce and flash steamed veggies, for 95 DKK), and a baked dish, burritos on this day, with cheese (110 DKK with three salads), the only non-vegan dish. There’s a variety of juices and teas, but most people just help themselves to the jugs of tap water on the tables.
The rice dish was a wholesome riot of colourful veggies of various textures, including red cabbage and cauliflower, topped with fresh herbs and the pumpkin sauce – my choice. I garnished it liberally with the delicious fresh chilli sauce (it bit back deliciously) and seeds that diners can help themselves to, next to the cutlery.
When you finish eating, it’s a bit like home: you have to clear your own table and return the dishes to a spot near the door (fortunately you don’t have to wash it yourself). It saves on staff and keeps costs down.
After lunch I enthusiastically snapped away, but a member of the restaurant collective, who was on a break, asked that the privacy of those in the restaurant be respected. Christiania people are old-school like that. He also didn’t want his name mentioned, but happily chatted about the principles behind the place, which are as wholesome as the food.
“We try to keep the overheads low to make it affordable for people to actually eat here. Copenhagen is very expensive, so that’s why. The wages [in Copenhagen] are a bit higher than average, but people are still struggling.”
The restaurant is run by an association of paid professionals and volunteers supporters. “The professionals who have been doing this for a long time can inspire those who don’t have so much experience so they can learn how to cook and how to run a restaurant, so it’s really a thriving, very interesting way how we are doing it,” he said.
Morgenstedet hasn’t quite had enough money or land (space is an issue near the city) to emulate Noma, but they’re hoping to support a local farm soon. “There are some far-fetched visions of one day having our own farm, but not yet,” he said. But the greengrocer who sources the veggies is 100% organic.
A renewed interest in climate warming means veganism is currently all the rage. It’s going really well, he said. “More and more people seem to appreciate a healthy lifestyle and a healthy planet.”
And an affordable meal, he could have added. Noma can keep its rich people. DM