If there’s one thing you could call the quintessential Danish dish, it’d be the smørrebrød: the Danish open sandwich. This can be eaten as a snack or for any of the three meals of the day. The base is normally a slice of dark rye bread (rugbrød) spread with salty butter, and then the loading of the toppings can commence. The world is your oyster with smørrebrød toppings – anything goes. But if you want to go classic Danish, your standard smørrebrød toppings are prawns, pickled herring, cured meats, hard-boiled eggs, or vegetables. Leverpostej is also a firm fave – this is a pork liver pâté, which works well with sliced cucumber and pickles on your smørrebrød.
Look, if you’re going to be visiting Denmark at any point, chances are you’re going to stumble across a million pastry-selling cafes and Danish bakeries. So you should definitely make the most of it and eat the Danishes in their natural habitat, where they’re going to be at their best – buttery, flaky, sugary delights.
Of course, nobody calls them ‘Danishes’ in Denmark – they’re referred to as Wienerbrød which translates as ‘Viennese bread’ after the Austrian bakers who first introduced them to the country in the 1800s. There are loads of different kinds of Wienerbrød, but classics include the kanelsnegl (the ‘cinnamon snail’ which is a spiral of cinnamon, butter and sugar) and the spandauer (a sweet pastry parcel with a custard filling and white icing on top).
Pork is the main meat in Denmark and features heavily in Danish cuisine, as do potatoes – kartoffler. So it makes sense that Denmark’s national dish marries the two together. Meet stegt flæsk: crispy fried pork, served with parsley sauce and potatoes (full name, stegt flæsk med persillesovs og kartoffler).
The cut used is pork belly, which is cut into thin slices and traditionally fried until crisp (though apparently most Danes just whack it in the oven now). A white parsley sauce and boiled potatoes finish off the dish. Simple but delicious.
The Danes are a wholesome bunch and this is evident in their love of a good porridge for breakfast. So if you’re going to embrace the Danish lifestyle, make sure you start the day with a hearty bowl of porridge.
Danish porridge comes in all sorts of variations, from havregrød (an oat porridge), to risengrød (a rice porridge topped with a knob of butter and cinnamon sugar) to Øllebrød (a traditional porridge made from Danish white beer hvidtøl and rye bread served with whipped cream). Hipster porridge bar Grød has even opened up in Copenhagen serving a variety of exciting porridge dishes throughout the day.
Hot dogs are the ultimate Danish street food. You can get a hot dog just about anywhere in Denmark – you’ll always be able to find a pølsevogn (hot dog stand/cart) in town, and if you’re on the motorway, you’re guaranteed to get a hotdog at any service station you pass. The hot dog may be a dish that we most obviously associate with America, but the Scandi nations have really taken to hotdogs too.
There’s a variety of different sausages available for your pølse, including rød-pølse (a boiled red sausage), spicy sausage or even sausage wrapped in bacon. These are normally served in the standard white bun or as the popular fransk hotdog, where the sausage is popped into a hollowed-out baguette. Denmark has their own take on hot dog toppings too – traditionally serving them with mustard, crispy onions, pickled cucumbers and Danish remoulade (sort of like a tartare sauce). And the traditional Danish drink to compliment your pølse perfectly? A nice glass of cold chocolate milk of course!
Like their Swedish neighbours across the water, meatballs – frikadellar – feature heavily in the Danish diet. Frikadellar are made from pork (or sometimes a mix of pork and beef). Unlike the Swedish style of serving their köttbullar (with mashed potatoes, gravy and lingonberry jam), Danish frikadellar are served with boiled potatoes, red cabbage, and pickled beetroot. This is finished off with gravy or a white parsley sauce.
If you’re a fan of frikadellar, you’ll probably also love krebinetter – frikadellar’s chunkier older brother. These are larger oval-shaped patties which are coated in breadcrumbs and then fried, giving them a nice crispy finish. They’re served in a similar fashion to normal meatballs, with boiled potatoes and veg.
Rødgrød med fløde
Impossible to say, delicious to eat. Rødgrød med fløde is a national dessert that the Danes are very proud of (both for its flavour and tongue-twisting abilities). The name literally translates as ‘red porridge and cream,’ though it’s really more of a red soup. Rødgrød med fløde is made by cooking red summer berries, like red currants, strawberries and raspberries with sugar, water and cornstarch to create a thick, silky texture. Controversially, non-red berries like blackberries are also sometimes added, or even a non-berry like rhubarb (heretics). This can be served hot or cold and is finished off with a dollop of cream (or sometimes a drizzle of milk or yoghurt). Good luck trying to order it in a restaurant.
The best way to describe Æbleskiver would be a sort of cross between ‘pancake balls’ and doughnuts. These tiny delicious balls of happiness are a Danish Christmas tradition, and are usually eaten during the festive period with an accompanying glass of gløgg (Nordic mulled wine flavoured with spices, orange peel, raisins and almonds).
Æbleskiver translates as ‘apple slices’ after the pudding’s original fillings, although apple is no longer used as much these days. Instead, modern-day Danes tend to go for berry fillings like strawberry of blackberry jam, chocolate, or plain sprinkled with icing sugar. Eaten fresh and hot with a gløgg in your other hand sounds like a pretty perfect winter treat to me.
It’s impossible to write a list of Danish dishes without including pickled herring; like all Nordic countries, pickled herring is a big part of food culture in Denmark. Herring can come fried, breaded, smoked, or even curried, but it is most frequently pickled. This works well as a smørrebrød topping combined with sliced onions, capers (and even a bit of apple or beetroot to balance out the acidity of the fish and tang of the dark rye).
Another classic Danish herring dish is the ’Sun over Gudhjem,’ named after Gudhjem, a small fishing port on the island of Bornholm known for its smokehouses. This famous dish comprises of smoked herring on rugbrød, with chives, red onions and a raw egg yolk (the ‘sun’ part).
A popular treat in Denmark. The best way to describe flødeboller is probably ‘chocolate-coated marshmallow bites’, although using the word ‘marshmallow’ feels like it doesn’t do justice to the soft, sweet, fluffy yet gooey meringue in the centre. Multiple countries lay claim to inventing them, and Denmark is a strong contender.
Flødeboller used to be made with a cream centre (the name literally translates as ‘cream bun’, but this was soon replaced by marshmallow to improve shelf life and make Danish children everywhere as high as a kite with the extra sugar.