The highlights of traditional Danish cuisine and where to get them
Despite the New Nordic hype in Copenhagen, one of the most common questions we get on our tours is where to go for proper Danish comfort food like our own grandma makes it in Copenhagen. It makes total sense: when you are in Copenhagen, you want to get an authentic peak inside what it is like to eat like a local. With Copenhagen being a foodie capital, you will have loads of options but be aware not all of them are great! Instead, let us guide you to our favorite places that have been compiled by our local guides, where you will be able to enjoy an authentic Danish food experience.
What to expect
As you may know, Denmark is located in the northern hemisphere that brings all kinds of cold weather and all sorts of seasons to our lovely country. Traditionally, our cuisine consisted of mainly oat-based and pot-like dishes, but that all changed with the stove, the meat cruncher and potato’s introduction in the 1800s. Suddenly, we were able to create multiple dishes that could compliment each other, it is in this era many of our traditional Danish dishes was created. As a result, the traditional Danish dinner dish is typically hearty and consists mostly of meats and carbs, which is highly satisfying nonetheless. The body of Danish meals typically only include one dish, since they are massive stomach fillers. It most often consists of pork – actually Denmark may be the only country in the world where we have more pigs living here than actual Danes, beef or fish, a thick creamy gravy and a few vegetables on the side. A visit to Denmark is of course not complete either without trying our world-famous open-faced sandwich (i.e. smørrebrød) and our unforgettable Danish pastry, as these options definitely will send your head spinning!
Sweet pastries & “Danishes”
Going to a bakery or a brunch here can actually be quite difficult, tasty yes, but difficult since you are faced with so many filling options. We take our breakfasts pretty seriously here and there are even articles about how to avoid pastries at work, as many Copenhageners, and Danes, take it with them for their colleagues. In our opinion, you should try these delicious pastries while you are here:
- Tebirkes – puff pastry with remonce of butter, sugar and marcipan topped with poppy seeds.
- Kanelsnegl – cinnamon roll with remonce of butter, brown sugar and cinnamon.
- Romkugle – delicious balls created from yesterdays left-over pastries and cakes that have been mixed together with rum essence.
- Spandauer – puff pastry with a stuffed hole in the middle with either cream of marcipan, butter and sugar or a jam.
Where to get it: You will find several places in Copenhagen that offer different versions of these pastries and you will even find them at your breakfast at your hotel, but the best versions of them are found at the small independent bakeries such as Andersen Bakery, Det Rene Brød, Andersen & Maillard or Juno The Bakery. If you don’t want to go on your own, we take you to one of the places as part of our Hygge & Happiness tour and our Total Day Tour: Highlights & Hygge.
The traditional open faced sandwich – or as we call it Smørrebrød
We locals always laugh a little bit when people praise our open-faced sandwiches – or smørrebrød as we call it here. Especially, when it wins an award as the 6thbest food experience in the world by Lonely Planet, since the smørrebrød that visitors to our lovely country experience is a luxury version of the one we usually eat at home and have with us in schools and at our work places. With that said, the luxury version of the smørrebrød, not to be confused with the Swedish smorgasbord, is delicious and according to many Copenhageners, and Danes, a unique experience.
Unfortunately, there are many open-faced sandwich restaurants around Copenhagen that we would characterize as tourist traps with high prices and a low quality. Head to one of these places for a great lunch experience: Restaurant Schönemanns, Restaurant Kronborg, Restaurant Palægade or Restaurant Koefoed. Remember to get the open-faced sandwich with a shot of Danish aquavit (snaps) or a beer like the locals.
Main dinner courses that won’t leave your hungry
Crispy pork with parsley sauce and boiled potatoes (stegt flæsk med persillesovs)
Stegt flæsk med persillesovs is without a doubt the most traditional dish you can come across while you’re in Copenhagen, or Denmark. In 2014, our government set out to find the most Danish dish – and this hearty dish came out on top with more than 60.000 votes. It consists of crispy pork belly with boiled potatoes and a white creamy parsley sauce with chopped parsley on top.
Where to get it: Many traditional restaurants within Copenhagen offer this dish, but when they do it’s often on different days and as an all-you-can-eat option so come hungry. A restaurant that always have this on the menu is Restaurant Klubben though.
Meatballs with cold potato salad, radishes and chives (frikadeller med kartoffelsalat, radiser og purløg)
Meatballs can be found in many European kitchens and indeed in kitchens all over the world. Our experience though is that our meatballs are unique and most Copenhageners, and Danes, believe that their grandmas meatballs are the best! The meatballs consist of fried balls of minced pork and minced veal, which either is complimented with a cold potato salad, radishes and chives. Sometimes they can also be complimented with white potatoes, a brown thick gravy and pickled cucumber.
Where to get it: Many traditional restaurants within Copenhagen offer a version of this dish, but if you want the one with potato salad head to Restaurant Puk.
Pork roast with white potatoes, red cabbage and a creamy light gravy (flæskesteg med hvide kartofler, rødkål og skysovs)
Flæskesteg med hvide kartofler, rødkål og skysovs is a hearty dish that Copenhageners, and Danes, tend to eat during the colder months. After a cold walk or bicycle ride home from school, there was nothing better than walking in to the familiar smell of this delicious meal. When we began eating, we always fought about the pork crackling that just have so much taste, so please do not cut this off without eating it. We can even buy this pork crackling at our supermarkets just to snack on without the pork roast, that just goes to show how popular this part of the pork roast is.
Where to get it: Not that many traditional Danish restaurants serve this dish as it takes some time to prepare, but if your heart is set on this one head to Restaurant Puk.
Wienerschnitzel of veal with a herring with horseradish on top, peas, buttery sauce and sautéed potatoes (wienerschnitzel af kalveinderlår med dreng af sild med peberrod, ærter, smørsovs og brasede kartofler)
With Copenhagen, and Denmark, being so close to Europe we have of course been inspired by each other. Where we set ourselves apart from our neighbors is that our wienerschnitzel traditionally always comes with what we call a boy – it’s a herring topped with horseradish on top of the schnitzel, which tastes delicious. On the side, you can expect loads of peas, a buttery sauce and sautéed potatoes.
Where to get it: Many traditional Danish restaurants will offer this dish. The one we love the most, you can get at Guldkroen where you always can buy an extra side of the sautéed potatoes.
Pot of gold with veal tenderloin, cocktail sausages, bacon, fried mushrooms, pearl onions and paprika sauce with mashed potatoes or rice (Gryde med kalvemørbrad, cocktail pølser, bacon, ristede champignon, perleløg og paprikasovs med kartoffelmos eller ris)
Before we got the stove in Denmark, we typically only had a fire that could heat one pot of food to feed the family. As a result, we still have pots today with all sorts of goodies in them and it’s only the imagination of the chef that sets the limit! This pot is one of our favorites in Copenhagen and we tend to pour it over the mashed potatoes for an explosion of taste in our mouths. It’s comfort food at its best.
Where to get it:Many traditional Danish restaurants will have a version of this dish. The one we love the most is the one above and you can get it at Frk. Barners Kælder.
Sweet scrumptious desserts
Even though, Danish traditional dishes offer no shortage of food, you should not miss our sweet desserts that just tastes divine. Many children, including the author of this post, are guilty of not eating all of their main dish simply because we wanted to save space for the dessert. If you can find these, don’t hesitate and dig in:
- Rødgrød med fløde – red porridge made from rhubarb and a variety of different berries with cream.
- Citronfromage –lemon mousse is a light dessert that is served with cream.
- Æblekage – apple triffle with macaroons, breadcrumbs and cream.
- Jordbær med fløde – fresh strawberries topped with sugar and cream.
- Kransekage – marcipan ring cake that have been decorated with frosting.
Drinks to enjoy with all of this food
When you think of Copenhagen, and Denmark, I bet you think of Carlsberg. As you may know, we are avid beer drinkers here – including in this company, since we actually host a Vesterbro Beer Tour that use beer as a medium to explore this cool Copenhagen neighborhood! However, Copenhageners, and Danes, also enjoy other drinks of all kinds that can go to any of the dishes mentioned or just by themselves:
- Organic lemonades with all kinds of flavors, where the most typical Danish is rhubarb or elderflower. The best lemonade in our opinion is Ebeltoft Gårdbryggeri, which you can taste on our Hygge & Happiness tour or buy by yourself at Bertels Salon.
- Cocktails with Nordic spirits made to your specific liking at Strøm cocktail bar. They even have a guide that will tell you what cocktail that’s just perfect for you.
- Cryo-concentrated apple-wines made from the best crop of apples Denmark have to offer. Grab a bottle from Cold Hand Winery for yourself at Torvehallerne at Arla Unika with some Danish cheese.
- The Danish aquavit or snaps as we call it is mainly something the older generations prefer. It’s the perfect compliment to the rich dishes above, as the strength of Danish aquavit has been made to add to exactly these kind of dishes. Grab a bottle of some of the finest Danish aquavit from Copenhagen Distillery at Kikoskh.