Food in Denmark

written by bryan on January 30th, 2007 @ 10:41 AM

“I like food”. Anybody who knows me well has heard this statement. It’s my standard response when somebody asks me what I would like for dinner. Europe is a good place for people who like food!

We spent pretty much the first half of our trip in Denmark. Unfortunately, food is very expensive in Denmark. Because it is expensive, people do not often go out for food, and restaurants are uncommon. Therefore, we tended to eat at less expensive restaurants and shop at grocery stores. Our most common meal in Denmark probably consisted of bread, meat, cheese, fruit and a pastry, often eaten right in front of the grocery store.

Most of the cheap restaurants in Denmark were run by Turks. This is very similar to Ottawa where most seem to be run by Lebanese people. The food is superficially very similar, Shawarma/Donairs and pizza. The Donairs taste similar, but the pizza does not. I am not a fan of the pizza in Denmark. The crust is very thin, the toppings rarely include vegetables, and the whole pizza is often slightly undercooked. But you’ve heard the expression, “Pizza is like sex. When it’s good, it’s really good. And when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good.”

Unfortunately, in Mariager, I ate some pizza that wasn’t. I ordered a fairly loaded pizza; it had all the ingredients I wanted, plus a few I didn’t recognize. I wasn’t worried about the unknown ingredients; there’s nothing people put on pizza that I don’t like, and it’s a good way to learn Danish words for food that I don’t know. And it wasn’t the ingredients that made that pizza horrible, although they were two different types and styles of meat; Bethany’s pizza, which was a much simpler pizza was almost cooked properly, but mine, which had 4 times as many ingredients, was raw and cold in the middle. It was also very runny; probably the water from the cans that the ingredients came in. On the other hand, Bethany’s pizza was very good, and she claims it was one of her favorite meals on the trip. I think she was just super hungry: it wasn’t that good!

My Dad’s cousins, Birgit and Ove Larsen provided one of the best meals on our trip. Bethany was talking with Birgit about traditional Danish foods and some of her favorite foods from favorite trips and home. Birgit then cooked up a meal from that discussion. We had frikadeller (Danish meatballs), potatoes, rødkal (sweet and sour red cabbage) and gravy. Delicious; Bethany says that these are the best frikadeller she’s had, although the Swedish meatballs you can get at Ikea are also pretty tasty.

Bethany’s cousins Paul and Annette also provided a very traditional Danish meal, the kolde bord. You’re probably more familiar with the Swedish word: smorgasbord. Kolde bord consists entirely of cold items laid out to pick and choose from. Paul & Annette’s meal consisted of two types of bread and a couple of different buns; several cold cuts including the yummy rollepulse (rolled ham), Danish white, blue and havarti cheses, pickled herring, fishcakes, pickled beets, rødkal, cucumbers, tomatoes, radish, fried onions, remoulade and mayonnaise.

With such a delicious assortment of foods, many different types of smørrebrød can be assembled. Smørrebrød, also known as “Danish open-faced sandwiches”, translates as “buttered bread”. North Americans are used to eating large quantities of sandwiches, but would be very pleasantly surprised at just how tasty proper smørrebrød is. There are several secrets to tasty smørrebrød:

  • Excellent bread. Rye bread is more common in Denmark that wheat bread, but all their breads are generally very tasty, heavy breads, similar to German breads.
  • Excellent cheese. There are three types of cheese commonly eaten in Denmark: white, blue and havarti. Danish Blue and Havarti cheeses are commonly exported and quite well known. However white cheese is the most common in Denmark. It’s the mozzarella of Denmark: unassuming and widespread, but the good ones are very tasty.
  • Thick spreads of butter. It adds a lot of fat to the sandwich, and a lot of taste!
  • Tasty sauces like remoulade. Remoulade is a traditional French sauce consisting primarily of mustard and mayonnaise. It doesn’t appear to be eaten often in France anymore, but it is quite common in Denmark and New Orleans. The New Orleans version is very different from the Danish version; the Danish version doesn’t contain chili and paprika!
  • Contrasting garnishes. This is probably the biggest surprise to North Americans. Popular garnishes include pickled beets, orange peel, fried onions, cucumber, grapes and caviar.

For more information on smørrebrød, including a delicious remoulade recipe, see this web site.

The breakfast you get at a Danish hostel or hotel is delicious. A wide spread of breads, meats, fruits and pastry is provided along with cold cereal and yogurt.

Of course, the first thing a North American will think when hearing “Danish breakfast” is “Danishes!” Danishes are called wienerbrød, pronounced “Vienna brood”, literally “Vienna bread”. I wonder what they’re known as in Vienna? Not surprisingly they are a lot more delicious in Denmark than they are here in Canada. There are a wide variety of types, and they’re all good.

Tomorrow: the food of Germany and the Netherlands.

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