Food & Drink

The cuisine of Denmark, like that in the other Scandinavian countries (Sweden and Norway), as well as that of northern Germany, its neighbor to the south, is traditionally heavy and rich in fat, consisting mainly of carbohydrates, meat and fish.

Seafood plays a large part in the Danish diet and a variety of international dishes are also widely available. Smorrebrod - slices of bread topped, often smothered, with a variety of fish, cheese, meat and garnishes - is the most popular dish.

Breakfast (Morgenmad)

A traditional breakfast is buttered bread, Danish skaereost (slicing cheese), a buttery creamy white cheese (often Danish havarti, Danbo or Danish tilsit), strawberry jam and a lot of coffee. Another traditional breakfast, is oatmeal porridge and bread-and-beer-soup (ollebrod).

Breads

Bread takes many forms: at breakfast it is most often a white bread known as franskbrod (French bread), rolls (boller, birkes, rundstykker) or croissants. The "Danish pastry", which is also eaten at breakfast (although mainly in the weekends and at corporate breakfasts on Fridays), is called wienerbrod (Viennese bread) and it comes in many varieties.

Palaeg and Smorrebrod (Open Sandwiches)

Literally translated, smorrebrod means "spread [on] bread", and the "spread" is generally laid on to a piece of buttered rye bread (rugbrod), a dense, black bread with many seeds. Palaeg (meaning put-on), the topping, then among others can refer to commercial or homemade cold cuts, pieces of meat or fish, cheese or spreads.

This is essentially the base on which the art of the famous Danish open sandwich, smorrebrod is created: A slice or two of palaeg is placed on the buttered bread, and then pyntet (decorated) with the right accompaniments, to create a tasty and visually appealing food item.

Some traditional examples include:

  • Dyrlaegens natmad (translated, Veterinarian's midnight snack): A layer of liver paté (leverpostej) on a piece of dark rye bread, topped with a slice of corned beef (salt kod) and a slice of meat aspic (sky) and decorated with raw onion rings and cress.
  • Eel: Smoked eel on dark rye bread, topped with scrambled eggs and sliced radishes.
  • Leverpostej: Warm rough-chopped liverpaste served on dark rye bread, topped with bacon and sautéed mushrooms.
  • Roast beef, thin sliced and served on dark rye bread, topped with a portion of remoulade, and decorated with a sprinkling of shredded horseradish and toasted (ristet) onion.
  • Roast pork (Ribbensteg), thin sliced and served on dark rye bread, topped with red sweet and sour cabbage, and decorated with a slice of orange.
  • Tartarmad: Raw beef mince with salt and pepper, served on dark rye bread, topped with raw onion rings, grated horseradish and a raw egg yolk.
  • Smoked salmon (laks): Slices of cold smoked or cured salmon (gravad laks) on white bread, topped with shrimp and decorated with a slice of lemon and fresh dill.
  • Stjerneskud (translated, Shooting Star): Two pieces of fish (a piece of steamed white fish on one half, a piece of fried, battered plaice or rodspaette on the other half) on a base of buttered white bread, with a mound of shrimp piled on top, then decorated with a dollop of mayonnaise, red caviar, and a lemon slice.

Det Kolde Bord (Cold Table)

The Danish kolde bord (translated, the cold table) corresponds to its Swedish counterpart, the smorgasbord. It is usually served at lunch time. The cold table may be a buffet arrangement prepared away from the dining table, or more likely it will consist of the many and varied items being brought to the dining table and passed around family-style.

The first course (or first visit to the buffet table) will usually include pickled herring (marinerede sild), or another herring dish. The most common herring is marinated either in a clear sweet, peppery vinegar sauce (white herring), or in a red seasoned vinegar (red herring). It may also come in a variety of sour cream-based sauces, including a curry sauce which is very popular. The white herring is typically served on buttered, black rye bread, topped with white onion rings and curry salad (a sour-cream based sauce, flavoured with curry and chopped pickles), and served with hard boiled eggs and tomato slices. Herring can also be found which is first fried, and then marinated this is called "stegte sild i eddike" (lit. Fried herring in vinegar). On extra festive occasions a prepared silderet (herring dish) might be served in which the herring pieces are placed in a serving dish along with other ingredients. Examples might be herring, sliced potato, onions and capers topped with a dill sour cream/mayonnaise sauce, or herring, apple pieces, and horseradish topped with a curry sour-cream/mayonnaise sauce.

The herring is usually served with ice cold snaps, which according to Danish tradition, helps the fish swim down to the stomach. The high alcohol content of snaps also helps to dissolve the fat left in the mouth after eating the fish, allowing the eater to taste the different dishes more easily.

The second course will usually include warm foods (lune retter) served on rye bread with accompaniments. Some typical warm foods would be:

  • Frikadeller - Danish meatballs, the 'national' dish
  • Chopped steak patty (Hakkebof)
  • Danish sausage (Medisterpolse)
  • Parisian steak (Pariserbof)
  • Veal medallion (Kalvemedaljon)
  • Liver with sautéed mushrooms and onions
  • Pork tenderloin (morbradbof) with sauteed onions and pickle slices (surt)

Next comes a selection of cold cuts (palaeg) and salads, as might be found on prepared smorrebrod.

Finally one is served a variety of cheeses and fruit, along with crackers or white bread.

Hovedretter (Main Dishes)

Fish, seafood and meat are prominent parts of any traditional Danish dish. The most commonly eaten fish and seafood are:

  • Cod (torsk), a common white fish in general food preparation (baked, steamed, fried). It is also dried (klipfisk).
  • Norway lobster (jomfruhummer).
  • Eel (al), smoked or fried.
  • Herring (sild); most involve the herring served cold after being pickled.
  • Plaice (rodspaette), in the form of fried, battered fish filets or as a common white fish in general food preparation (baked, steamed, fried).
  • Salmon (laks), smoked or gravad lox style. Cooked salmon has become much more common in recent times, and is now fairly widespread.
  • Shrimp (rejer) - small shrimp from the north Atlantic are most common. Fjord shrimp are a rare delicacy: very small and flavourful.
  • Roe (rogn) - fish eggs from cod, lumpfish (stenbider) and salmon.

The Danes primarily eat pork, rather than beef: salted and smoked pork, hams, pork roasts, pork tenderloin, pork cutlets and chops are all popular. Ground pork meat is used in many traditional recipes requiring ground meat. Danish Bacon is generally of good quality (in Denmark; exported Danish bacon is of exceptional quality), and available in both the striped and back varieties. The most eaten pork is the ham, which is used mainly as palaeg after being boiled.

Traditional main course dishes include:

  • Beef hash (Biksemad) served with a fried egg and ketchup.
  • Black pudding, made from blood (Blodpolse).
  • Duck - roast duck is traditionally served and stuffed with baked apples and prunes.
  • Finker - similar to haggis.
  • Pork slices (Aebleflaesk) served with an apple-onion and bacon compote.
  • Roast pork (Flaeskesteg) with crackling (svaer).
  • Vandgrod (water porridge), usually barley porridge.
  • Aeggekage (egg cake) - similar to an omelette, but made with flour so that it rises slightly.
  • Ollebrod (beer bread), a pudding made of rye bread, sugar and beer.
  • Millionbof, (translated: million steak), gravy filled with tiny pieces of beef (a million tiny steaks) poured over mashed potatoes.

Vegetables

Potato recipes are almost ubiquitous in Danish cooking. Some favourite dishes include:

  • Au gratin potatoes
  • Baked potatoes with crème fraiche
  • Boiled new potatoes
  • Boiled potatoes smothered in butter with fresh dill or chives
  • Caramelised browned potatoes (brune kartofler)
  • Cold sliced potatoes arranged on buttered rye bread and decorated with mayonnaise and chives
  • Mashed potatoes covered with a meat stew
  • Pomfritter (french fries)
  • Potato salad (kartoffelsalat)
  • Potato wedges baked with thyme

Although the potato is the central vegetable in traditional Danish cooking, it is by no means the only vegetable associated with Danish cuisine. Those other vegetables that play an important role often had to be preserved for long periods of time in cold rooms, or were pickled or marinated for storage. Cauliflower, carrots and a variety of cabbages were often a part of the daily meal, especially when in season, in the days prior to widespread refrigeration. Pickles, a mixture of pickled vegetables in a yellow gelatinous sauce, are often served with corned beef.

Sauces and Condiments

Sauces and condiments are an important part of the Danish meal:

  • Béarnaise sauce, served with steaks.
  • Gravy (Danish: brun sovs), served with just about anything and everything. Variations include mushroom sauce, onion sauce and herbed brown sauce.
  • Horseradish sauce (peberrodsovs), a cream sauce served with roast beef or prime rib.
  • Ketchup, a must with red sausages, along with mustard.
  • Mayonnaise, used in food preparation, and as a condiment with pomfritter or pommes frites (french fries). A generous dollop of mayonnaise is generally placed on top of shrimp.
  • Mustard (sennep). A wide variety of mustards are available. Traditional mustard is a sharp flavoured, dark golden brown, but many other types are widely available and used, including dijon, honey-mustard and other specialty flavoured variants. Prepared salad mustard (yellow mustard) is generally eaten with red sausage or hot dogs. A special sweet, dilled mustard is eaten with smoked salmon (lox).
  • Parsley sauce (persillesovs), a white sauce which is generously flavoured with parsley.
  • Pepper sauce, served with steaks.
  • Remoulade, a very commonly used condiment. A popular dipping sauce for pomme friter (french fries).
  • Whiskey sauce, served with steaks.
  • White sauce, often used with vegetables as a binding sauce (peas, peas and carrots, spinach, shredded cabbage).

Cheese

While the traditional, commonly-eaten cheese (skaereost) in Denmark is mild, there are also stronger cheeses associated with Danish cuisine. Some of these are very pungent. Blue cheese can be quite strong, and Danish cheese manufacturers produce moulded cheeses that span the range from the mildest and creamiest to the intense blue-veined cheese internationally associated with Denmark.

Another strong cheese is Gammel Ole, a pungent aged cheese that has matured for a longer period of time. It can be bitingly strong. It is often served in combination with sliced onion and aspic (sky) on Danish ryebread slathered with fat.

Drinks

Fantastic coffee and many famous beers are made in Denmark, the national drink though is akvavit, or more as its more commonly known snaps - ice cold and served with cold food and a beer chaser. This a clear, high proof spirit is made from potatoes but, unlike vodka, is always herbed (dilled, etc.).

Other popular drinks include:

  • Beer: Carlsberg and Tuborg are local. The pilsner type is the dominant beer type in Denmark.
  • Bitters: The most popular bitters is "Gammel Dansk" (translated, Old Danish).
  • Coffee: Black filter coffee, often taken throughout the day and evening, and always in the morning.
  • Elderflower juice (hyldeblomstsaft) - disappearing delicacy, although it is slowly increasing in popularity.
  • Fruit wines: Cherry wine, black currant wine, elderberry wine.
  • Glogg: Hot punch made with red wine, brandy and sherry with raisins and almonds. Obligatory around Christmas. Similar to Mulled wine.
  • Hot chocolate (Varm kakao).
  • Mead (Mjod).
  • Mineral water (Danskvand), often with citrus.