A fun part of my pre-pandemic life was thinking about all the restaurants I would never have the pleasure of eating at, and then feeling terrible about myself. Maybe they were too expensive, or too hard to get a reservation at, or just too far away. Then there was Noma, the award-winning Copenhagen restaurant of chef René Redzepi. It was a trifecta: Distant, truly expensive, and impossible to get into. But now, for those of us not lucky enough to fly to Denmark for a 20-course meal even without a global pandemic holding us back, the Noma Projects arm of the restaurant is poised to release a line of garum condiments.
Garum, reaching back to the Roman Empire, is traditionally a fermented sauce of fish, salt, and sometimes herbs. In Noma’s case, according to the Wall Street Journal, these garums will actually be vegetarian and vegan, respectively.
The egg white and smoked mushroom garums are, in some ways, a product of pandemic circumstance. The restaurant was developing fermented sauces as far back as 2014, when Eater took a look into Noma’s now-closed Science Bunker, but Redzepi and his team never had time to fine-tune their product. “It’s something we’ve been thinking about for many years,” he told the WSJ, “But we were always too busy.” Now, the restaurant’s Fermentation Lab is ready to introduce their first two shippable products to home cooks.
Because it took so long for these condiments to reach the market — they won’t actually be released until fall or winter, according to the Noma Projects website — the restaurant is, for once, not leading the charge or setting the trend. In the past year, with so many people stuck at home and cooking for themselves, tons of restaurants have come out with condiments and other use-at-home goods designed to improve the lives of home cooks who miss restaurants. You can buy chili crisp, barbecue sauce, or spice blends and hot sauces from any number of beloved institutions. Selling condiments that travel well was a way for restaurants to connect with diners during a time of intense isolation. But it seems the trend might stick around for good. And for Noma, a restaurant that a majority of diners will never get close to, condiments and other packaged foods that travel well could be the perfect way to offer just a taste of a very elusive experience.
Of course, like anything Noma does, these two condiments are the result of a very, very exhaustive creative process. They were, according to the WSJ, chosen from hundreds of vinegars, misos, kombuchas and garums developed by the restaurant’s test lab. Jason Ignacio White, the Fermentation Lab’s director, said that these garums work their way into all sorts of soups, sauces, and vinaigrettes at the restaurant: “The same way you might put a tiny bit of zest on a dish.” To make these non-fish garums, the ingredients — mushrooms and egg whites, in this case — are brewed in a warm solution of koji rice, the grains inoculated with an edible mold. According to the WSJ, Noma Projects will release more garums once the first two are out in the world, including one flavored intensely with roasted chicken wings. Redzepi told the Journal that he hopes the vegetarian garums will help home cooks transition to more plant-based diets. Internally, he’s hoping this product line will make the restaurant some money. Since Noma opened 18 years ago, according to Redzepi, the average profit margin has been only three percent. Ideally, these funky condiments will help pad the restaurant’s pockets a bit.
Admittedly, I did not spend a ton of time the past year wondering what Noma was up to, slightly more concerned with, you know, making it through a pandemic. But my friends are traveling again, posting about it on Instagram, and the good ol’ FOMO has come creeping back in. I feel perfectly content these days poking my head out of the house to have drinks, or even eat in a restaurant’s crowded dining room. World travel, alternately, still doesn’t feel that appealing, especially when even my local coffee shop still feels like an adventure. But topping my eggs or rice with a funky sauce made by some of the world’s foremost fermentation experts? Still pretty exciting.