Danish Cuisine in Pictures

This last week I spent in Denmark, mainly visiting Aarhus University, but I also spent a few days in Copenhagen beforehand to explore a little. There were plenty of foodie things to do- the excellent Torvehallerne KBH food market in Copenhagen was a morning well spent: a large market of boutique food and drink shops, bakeries and eateries, and local farmers and traders coming in to sell their wares. In Copenhagen I also found ‘Fiskens Dag’ (fish day), a mini festival where many local fishmongers and retailers were there with samples to try and get local people to learn about and eat more fish. In Aarhus there was plenty to do, with great restaurants, local cuisine, and I always enjoy looking around foreign supermarkets- an underrated way to learn about a country’s eating habits and gastronomy.

Denmark, and Nordic countries in general, seem to have a healthy attitude towards food and cooking. In my experience, Danes cooked with the seasons, ate what was locally produced (organic if possible), and supported small traders and bakers. I didn’t see a lot of fast food eateries at all. But what I found particularly surprising was that Danish people ate Danish food- students were sitting in the common room putting pickled fish onto rye bread and eating it- I certainly don’t eat steak and kidney pudding, roast beef, or spotted dick very often. There’s too much in Nordic gastronomy to discuss in detail here, but if you’re interested, an excellent book I have is The Scandinavian Kitchen, by Camilla Plum, who seems to be the Nordic version of Delia Smith. But to get an idea of Danish cuisine, here’s a taste of my trip, in 10 pictures.

Smørrebrød at the Torvehallerne KBH food market in Copenhagen.

1. Smørrebrød- The Open Sandwich
Seen everywhere in Denmark, the open sandwich is a slice of (usually rye) bread, topped with egg, prawn, ham, steak, etc.- whatever leftovers you have from last night’s dinner. Often they have a condiment with them, like mayonnaise or remoulade, to help counter the dryness of the rye bread. Nicely presented, but not posh food, I saw a good few Danes eating these for lunch. I enjoyed the ones I had.

An ‘Overskåren’ from the Torvehallerne KBH food market in Copenhagen. A combination of chocolate, icing, and custard.

2. Danish Pastry and Bread
The thing I was most surprised about was the quality of the pastry and the bread- it was really, really good. Denmark has many signature pastries, like the cinnamon danish and cheese danish, so I was expecting good things, but the croissants, for example, were as good as I’ve had in Paris. The breads too- It would be tough to beat the grainy breads, like spelt and rye, found in Denmark, even those in a Danish supermarket. People just ate rolls by themselves, which was fine by me.

Loganberries from one of the local traders at Torvehallerne KBH food market in Copenhagen.

3. Berries
Denmark, and certainly other Scandinavian countries are famed for their berries, not surprising, given the climate. I found drinks, liquers, and jams based on loganberries, blueberries, hawthorn, elderflower, and rosehip, as well as the usual strawberries and raspberries. There seems to be a strong tradition of family trips to gather berries, then using the finds in meals at home. Commonly made into tarts seen in bakeries, they have a real depth of flavour which is not to be missed.

A Carl’s Special I had in central Copenhagen.

4. Danish Beer
Carlsberg is the most famous of the Danish beers, and rightly so, considering the key role they played in patenting and standarising strains of yeast. Not many people there drink the regular stuff, though. Popular was the beer on the right, a Carl’s special, a lovely red ale, full of hoppy flavours. But it was the stouts that I loved. Denmark produces very good darker beers, few of which are exported, sadly. One I liked in particular was made from muddy river water, for those extra flavours. It’s not uncommon to see ABV shoot up as well, with one boutique beer I had at 10.5%, a Hornbeer ‘Black Magic Woman’. So good is the beer, there is a dessert made of rye bread soaked in beer, that is meant to be a favourite of children.

Frikadeller in the Torvehallerne KBH food market in Copenhagen.

5. Frikadeller- Danish Pork Meatballs
How can you object to snack which is basically just a mound of meat? My first experience with Frikadeller was from Ikea, but the real ones stand up much better. For breakfast, in Denmark these meatballs are served with spiced red cabbage and a liver pâté, but you’ll find them for lunch and dinner too, in salad bars, or just as a side dish if you fancy more meat. Which I usually did.

Large jars of pickled fish with dill in a Danish supermarket.

6. Pickled Fish
Given Denmark’s huge coastal regions, it’s not surprising they have a culture of eating fish, and if you want to preserve fish, pickling is a good way to go. I stumbled on a “fiskens dag”, a fish day, aimed to promote people eating fish, and tried some pickled herring. If you are into pickled fish, I imagine it would be quite nice, but otherwise… not so much. The fresh and smoked fish I had was delicious though, particularly the smoked salmon

Danish cheeses in the Torvehallerne KBH food market in Copenhagen.

7. Cheese
Denmark produces a good number of cheeses, but apart from the Danish blue, many don’t make it out of the country. At a restaurant I had a platter of Danish cheese, which were very nice, some reminding me of Gruyere or Comté, a smoked cheese, and some softer ones, almost like sheeps’ milk cheese in flavour. Often, it seems, it’s just a slice of cheese with a roll. Worth trying some if you get the chance, though.

A hot-dog cart in central Copenhagen. I suppose every country is allowed a culinary vice.

8. Hot dog carts
Much more common than I would have expected are the Danish hot dog carts, which I saw frequently around Copenhagen and Aarhus. Serving a German style frankfurter in a roll with various condiments, they didn’t seem much better than their American counterparts. But when discussing with Danes, they recommended trying one as part of the cuisine, and I did see Danes eating there. Also common were Shawarma huts, basically kebab houses, but I didn’t make it to one of those.

A beer fridge at the Computer Science Fredagscaféen in Aarhus.

9. Fredagscaféen- Friday bar
A university-specific..er.. ‘gastronomical tradition’ is the Friday bar. At around 3pm on Fridays, departments will host a student-run bar in a classroom, much like a student-run bar in the UK, I suppose. You can do a “department crawl”, checking out different bars, as each one has a strong culture. We spent most of our Friday at the Computer Science bar (more fun than it sounds, I promise).

“Danish-bacon, Danish-bacon, yummy yummy yummy yummy yummy yummy yum.”

10. Danish Bacon
Last but not least, Danish bacon. Perhaps the one food here not eaten so much in Denmark, but bacon and other ham products provide one of Denmark’s key food exports (as well as a memorable marketing campaign). Large co-operatives have been formed for exporting bacon, to help keep costs down, and they even breed a ‘UK pig’, according to UK legislation, particularly for the British market. The UK has imported Danish bacon since the industrial revolution, when Britain became no longer self-sufficient in food, and pork products were a large part of a worker’s diet. However the pork products are in the UK, the ham and bacon I tried in Denmark was very good quality, I can see why the British wanted it.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Gravadlax and Rye Bread « oxfood
  2. Trackback: Wild Mushroom Picking in Denmark and Oxford « oxfood

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