I went to Copenhagen for the first time in September, and ever since, I’ve been in love with Danish food. It’s good for you; it’s fresh and unique, and it’s actually surprisingly easy to prepare at home.
Danish food is one of four Scandinavian or Nordic cuisines, along with Norwegian, Swedish, and Finnish. Given the geography of Scandinavia, it’s perhaps no surprise that all of these cuisines heavily feature fish, seafood, and game. Many traditional dishes also play up the tradition of jarring, pickling, or otherwise putting up foods, due to the long winters in the region.
The Nordic diet, which is rich in berries, fatty fish, whole grains, and root vegetables was also recently identified by a study published in the European Journal of Internal Medicine as being a great healthy alternative for people with metabolic syndrome.
Danish food has a few specific characteristics as well. It features quite a lot of brassicas, rye, fish, pork, and potatoes, and dairy cooperatives developed in the second half of the 19th century increased consumption of milk and cheese, bringing cheeses like Danish blue and fermented milk products like ymer to this culinary landscape.
Breakfasts in Denmark tend to be simple, comprised of bread, butter, and cheese, or ymer topped either with muesli or ymerdrys, a mixture of grated rye bread and brown sugar. Special occasion or weekend breakfasts may also feature rye bread porridge or wienerbrød (Vienna bread), also known as Danishes.
Lunches and dinners feature a good deal of local produce, and they also tend to effortlessly blend sweet and savory, with a good deal of pickles and slightly sweet sauces paired with savory meats and fish.
The popularity Danish grainy rye bread, as well as sausage and other cured meats, contributed to the development of smørrebrød, the traditional Danish open-faced sandwich that remains a staple of Danish meals to this day. While the term comes from the Danish smør og brød, meaning “butter and bread,” smørrebrød often consists of several ingredients, including cold cuts, liver paste, smoked or pickled fish, or cheese, all of which are piled on top of a slice of buttered rye bread.
Today, restaurants serve pre-assembled smørrebrød, which are often beautiful works of art. At home, however, the tradition is to put out a “cold buffet” (the Danish counterpart of the Swedish smorgasbord), allowing each individual to assemble his or her own sandwich.
Today, Danish food is also at the forefront of culinary modernity, with chefs like René Redzepi of Noma renewing and revisiting classic dishes and produce and inspiring cuisine worldwide. Restaurants in Copenhagen, especially, feature innovative dishes that approach traditional Danish cuisine in exciting new ways.
To discover this delicious cuisine and make it your own, here are a few Danish recipes to try at home.
1. Danish Rye Bread
Danish rye is a grainy bread that is the staple of many Danish dishes – it’s probably the best place to start if you’re going to be making Danish food at home. Thin slices of the bread are used as the base of smørrebrød, and leftover pieces or stale crumbs are often made into porridge or toasted and sprinkled on top of both savory and sweet dishes.
2. Egg Salad with Salmon
Salads with mayonnaise-based dressings are quite common in Denmark, like this boiled egg salad, made with smoked salmon, capers, red onion, and dill. Eat it plain or pile it on top of a slice of Danish rye for a simple, delicious smørrebrød.
3. “Italian” Salad
Perhaps the most common mayonnaise-based salad in Denmark is known as “Italian” salad. This salad – which is unlike any salad you’d likely find in Italy – is made with carrots, asparagus, peas, and a touch of mustard. In fact, some say that its name comes from its use of the colors of the Italian flag. It’s commonly served on smørrebrød with ham or beef tongue.
4. Cured Salmon Salad
Cured salmon is common throughout Scandinavia; this salad combines gravadlax, cured with dill and juniper berries, with beetroot, a local favorite that’s easy to come by in Denmark and adds a touch of sweetness to the dish.
5. Fish Cakes
Fish cakes or frikadeller are an easy-to-make dinner. In Denmark, they’re commonly served with Danish remoulade, made with homemade mayonnaise, capers, pickles, tarragon, and a touch of curry powder.
6. Beetroot Salad
This dish is commonly found on Christmas tables, but it’s easy enough – and delicious enough – to enjoy year-round. Pickled beetroot is combined with apple, mayonnaise, and crème fraiche for a sweet and creamy salad.
7. Pork Roast
Pork roast may not seem uniquely Danish, but the Danes really know how to make it right. In Denmark, the rind is always left on the pork, so that as it cooks, it turns crispy (and keeps the meat moist). To prepare this dish, be sure to ask your butcher to leave the rind on the roast, and then follow the instructions for scoring the fat and ending up with lovely slices that are easy to serve.
8. Danish Cinnamon Twist
The breakfast item that we know as a Danish actually has several iterations in Denmark. The kanelstang is one popular version: this pastry translates to “cinnamon rod” and is made by layering a yeast dough with a cinnamon and brown sugar filling. The rod is topped with a sweet icing and chopped hazelnuts.
10. Summer Soup
This sweet soup is made with your choice of cultured dairy, like buttermilk, kefir, or yogurt, which is sweetened with dates. The soup is served with seasonal fruit, rye breadcrumbs, or cookies, depending on your preference. It’s also easy to make with oat milk and vegan yogurt.