Apart from the ubiquitous kebab shops and pizza stands, dining in Denmark can be fairly expensive, but a worthwhile cost. As a family with kids, you can dine at nearly any restaurant in Denmark, as long as your kids are able to behave themselves. Many restaurants have a special child’s menu option (børnemenu in Danish) at a cheaper price.
In the new millennium, Copenhagen has emerged on the world scene as a very happening place for food enthusiasts and gastronomic travellers, the highlight being the world-renowned restaurant Noma serving and evolving the New Nordic Cuisine, but many restaurants with an international gourmet cuisine has also been celebrated and are attracting attention internationally. Copenhagen is not the only place with high end restaurants worth a visit and international gastronomic guides have broadened their discerning gaze to include several places outside the capital in the last few years. Three restaurants in Aarhus has received Michelin stars since 2015 and many places in the province are featured in food guides. If you are looking for gastronomic experiences out of the ordinary in Denmark, it could be a good idea to study The White Guide a bit. It is not a complete guide, but it claims to be the only authoritative restaurant guide for the Nordic region and started out in Sweden. There are both an international version in English and a Danish version; the Danish version has the most detailed information, although many high quality places haven’t been covered at all.
Restaurants and eateries serving traditional Danish meals have also been on the rise throughout the country and they are popular with both Danes and tourists alike.
In most major cities, restaurants offering an international cuisine are common, as are restaurants of other cultural flavours, especially Mediterranean and Asian. Speciality places such as Japanese, Indian, Caribian or Mexican restaurants can be found too. The food quality is generally high, with a strictly enforced nationwide quality control system. Every employee that prepares food needs a hygiene certificate and the competition is usually too sharp for most low-quality businesses to survive. If these facts doesn’t make you feel safe, popularity among locals is usually an indicator of quality as in most other countries.
Organic produce and environmental awareness is very high on the agenda in Denmark and everywhere you go, restaurants and eateries advertise with organic food. There is a nationwide system with bronze, silver and gold signs, signalling how large a percentage of the food is organic. Organic is called “Økologisk” in Danish and the letter “Ø” (often in red) marks organic produce in general.
Traditional Danish fare includes the ubiquitous smørrebrød and several hearty hot meals such as frikadeller (pan fried meat balls served in various ways), stegt flæsk (fried slices of pork belly with potatoes and parsley white sauce), flæskesteg (roast pork with cracklings served with red cabbage, potatoes and brown sauce), æggekage (large omelette with fried pork, mustard and rye bread), hakkebøf (chopped steak served with soft onions, potatoes, pickles and brown sauce), biksemad (hash with potatoes, meat, onions and fried egg), Tarteletter (small puff pastry shells filled with warm stew of either chicken or shrimps with asparagus, served as an appetiser), tenderloin with creamy mushrooms or wienerschnitzel with hash and green peas. The traditional Danish cuisine goes particularly well with beer. Shots of aquavit or snaps are also traditionally enjoyed, but mainly on special occasions or when guests are over. Historically, finer Danish cuisine has been influenced by French cuisine and includes various soups, roasts (duck, beef, veal and pork) and mousses (called fromage in Denmark). Roasts are typically served with potatoes, blanched vegetables, pickled berries and brown sauce or glace. Fine traditional Danish cuisine is to be enjoyed with wine. Drinking along with meals is encouraged as the foods are enhanced by the drinks, and vice versa.
The traditional bread in Denmark is Rugbrød, a special kind of dark and dense sourdough, wholemeal rye bread, and it is still a popular choice, especially for smørrebrød. Common white bread, locally known as franskbrød (French Bread), is equally popular and available everywhere. Rundstykker is a special kind of crusty white bread wheat buns usually served for breakfast, in particular on special occasions or Sunday mornings. There are several kinds, but all are light in texture and the most popular are håndværker with a generous sprinkle of poppy seeds. You can buy rundstykker at every bakery and most places serve them with a spread of butter if you ask. They are eaten just like that or with cheese, cold cuts or jams of your choice.
Special cakes are made around Christmas and Carnival. Special Christmas cakes includes julekage (a large Danish pastry with marzipan, Corinthian raisins, succade and nuts), pebernødder (small peppery cookies, traditionally used for a number of games) and klejner (deep fried rhombus shaped dough, flavoured with cardamom and lemon zest and only slightly sweet) and for Carnival in February it includes a variety of fastelavnsboller (Carnival-buns), which usually comprise pastry creme filled buns with icing and flaky pastry cakes filled with a whipped cream mix and redcurrant jelly.
The menus change around the feasts of Christmas and Easter, and on Mortensaften (St. Martins Day), roast duck is the food of choice. Without going into intricate details about Christmas and Easter menus here, æbleskiver, gløgg, ris á la mande and brændte mandler are common sweet treats to be had in December. Æbleskiver are fried balls of puffy dough (similar in texture to American pancakes), served with jam and powdered sugar. Gløgg is a mulled wine of various recipes that is enjoyed hot (by adults) on its own or accompanying æbleskiver or Christmas cookies. Ris-á-la-mande is a sweet rice pudding with whipped cream, vanilla and chopped almonds, served cold with cherry sauce and brændte mandler (burnt almonds) are caramelized almonds, typically roasted in large open cauldrons and sold in the streets.
The traditional Danish lunch is smørrebrød (open sandwiches usually on rye bread) with a large variety of toppings ranging from pickled herring, fried plaice, and shrimp to cold meat cuts, pâtés, various salads or cheeses. Shellfish is served on white bread, and many restaurants give you a choice of breads. Smørrebrød served on special occasions, in lunch restaurants, or bought in lunch takeaway stores, are piled higher and more luxurious than the daily fare. The Danish rye bread (rugbrød) is dark, slightly sourish and often wholegrain. It is a must for all visitors to try.
No visit to Denmark would be complete without patronizing a Pølsevogn (lit.: Sausage-wagon). These are street vendors selling a variety of sausages (pork) and hotdogs. Some larger places also have burgers and other fast food items for sale. If looking for a quick snack to grab on the go, try a Danish hot dog, served in a bun with a variety of fixings. The best way to try a Danish hot dog is to get a “ristet hotdog med det hele”; a hot dog with a grilled sausage and the works, comprising ketchup, strong mustard, Danish remoulade (a Danish take on the French remoulade sauce, consisting of mayonnaise with the addition of chopped pickles and turmeric for color), fried and raw onions, finished off with pickled cucumbers on top. It’s messy, it’s unhealthy, and it’s really good! If you are into it, you should buy a warmed Cocio chocolate milk on the side, the traditional accompanying beverage. Most places also sell red coloured boiled sausages, a Danish specialty. They are funny to look at, but some of the other sausages for sale are more flavourful.
Denmark produces some of the best dairy products in the world. The production is well-organized and the hygiene, educational and technical level is as good as it gets. For a country the size of Denmark, the variety is outstanding with both large scale industrial producers (primarily Arla) and small local dairies but also different cow breeds and conventional, organic and biodynamic production; all available across the country in most larger stores. As Danish specialties, ymer is a fermented dairy product, somewhat similar to yogurt, and koldskål is a sweetened dairy beverage (or dessert) of various flavours on sale in spring and summer. Perhaps most interesting to travellers, Denmark produces some marvellous cheeses. Several of them are local delicacies, such as rygeost, Danablue, pungent aged semi-soft cheeses (Gammel Ole and others) or Vesterhavsost, a semi-hard cheese matured in caves in western Jutland. You can buy them in shops, delicatessen or enjoy them at many restaurants. The Arla company has launched a series of top-notch dairy products, and most of all cheeses, under the brandname of Unika, available in Unika shops in Copenhagen and Aarhus. Some restaurants and a few supermarkets also sells the Unika dairy products.
The climate in Denmark is excellent for fruit and berry production and several companies produce great jams and fruit juices. Den Gamle Fabrik (The Old Factory) is by far the largest producer of jam and is a well-known exporter. Their jams has a high fruit content and are produced without boiling, preserving the taste, nutritional value and consistency better than other products. There is a very large variety available from this company alone, some without added sugar. Try the solbær (black currant), jordbær (strawberry), rabarber (rhubarb) or hyben (rosehip) for example. The taste is rich, complex and just outstanding. For juices, try to avoid the usual juice from concentrates and go for the more expensive cold-pressed unfiltered juices. Denmark has many varieties of apples, some older varieties have been almost forgotten for many years, but are now brought back to the attention of general consumers. Ingrid Marie, Gråsten, Filippa and Ærøæble are just a few fame-claiming apples of Danish origin out of more than 300. Dansk Landbrugsmuseum (Danish Agricultural Museum) at the manor of Gammel Estrup between Aarhus and Randers in Jutland, grows a total of 281 Danish apple varieties in their groves. Apples are collected here every year on the 4th of October and can be bought and tried on site or in Viborg and Høje-Taastrup outside Copenhagen. The open-air museum of Frilandsmuseet in Lyngby, a northern district of Copenhagen, also grows and preserves many old Danish varieties of apples, fruits and berries, almost all unknown to industrial production. Denmark has also been known as a cherry liquor exporter for more than a century (the Heering brand is perhaps the best known abroad), but in the course of the last couple of decades the Frederiksdal estate on Lolland has developed high-end luxury cherry wines to international appraisal and prize winning.
For a tiny country like Denmark, there are a large amount of regional and local delicacies to try out. Special lamb on the meadows of the Wadden sea area in the south-west, mussels at the Limfjord, fresh catches from the North Sea in north-west Jutland in particular, heathland honey in central and west Jutland, langoustine on the island of Læsø, smoked fish and various herring dishes on the island of Bornholm, and others. Apart from the locally tied produce, the regions of Denmark also present some individual culinary traditions.
The “Eat” section would not be complete without a few words on the “Danish” in Denmark. No, we are not talking about the people, but of course the delicious pastries known as Danish, so famous all over the world for their crispy sweet delight. In Denmark, Danish is actually known as Wienerbrød (Bread from Vienna) for historical reasons, but if you ask for “a piece of Danish” most people would understand what you crave anyway, so don’t be shy of asking. There are many types of Wienerbrød in Denmark; the well-known round pastry with icing is just one of many many kinds, and it is of a quality that is rare to find elsewhere. All bakers sell Danish pastries of some kind, but certain bakers have a very large variety. There are custard-filled Danish pastries, some with jam of prunes or raspberry, some are a metre long, covered in slivered nuts, raisins and filled with marzipan, while others are the size of large dinner plates, flavoured with cardamom or cinnamon, intended for sharing with good friends and a cup of coffee or tea.
The world of Danish baking does not end with Danish pastry and many cakes here are unique to the country, like the marzipan and chocolate filled strawberry tarts on sale in the summer months or the elaborate and sophisticated cream cakes served cold. Many larger bakeries have a café section of their own, where you can enjoy your cake, while dreaming of the next one, but there is a long tradition also for Konditorier, the Danish take on the French Patisserie. These are clearly for the advanced cake lover, and can be found in most larger cities. La Glace in Copenhagen is perhaps the most famous, serving exquisite cakes since 1870.
Sweets of a large variety are available everywhere in Denmark and all larger towns has one or several slikbutik (candy store). Denmark is known internationally for its high quality marzipan and chocolate and perhaps the largest and best known exporter is the Anton Berg company.
A few select stores has specialized in chocolate and marzipan only and offers a huge variety of homemade treats; some flavoured with orange peel, some filled with brandy and others are mixed with nuts or Danish nougat. Flødeboller are a chocolate covered meringue specialty invented in Denmark in the 1800s, and are widely available. They are now enjoyed all over the world, but some candy stores in Denmark offers high quality homemade flødeboller of various kinds and they can be recommended.
Bolsjer (drops) is a common traditional candy in Denmark, cooked and enjoyed for centuries, and there are now a very large variety available. A few historical drop-boilers (Danish: Bolsjekogeri) still exists and can be experienced all across the country as living museums where you can watch or participate in the art of cooking drops. Historical drop-boilers in Copenhagen include Sømods Bolcher in the inner city and Tivoli also has a drop-boiler. You can buy drops of various kinds in nearly any store.
Liquorice is another type of candy that has a long history in Danish culture and is very popular. Formerly also used as medicine, liquorice candy is now available in many varieties, both mild and very strong, but liquorice with salt or salmiakki seems to be particularly favoured by the locals. It is perhaps an acquired taste, and many visitors are often amazed how anyone can find it enjoyable. Try a Super Piratos or some Salt-lakrids if you dare and make up your own mind. Liquorice ice cream is also common at ice cream stands and as industrial produced popsicles. Production of high quality liquorice has resurfaced in Denmark, in particular on the island of Bornholm, and has even found ways in to new experimental cooking.
Candy and sweets of more modern origin can be found in packets at almost any store, but if you want to have a glimpse of the variety and creativity of Danish candies, pay a visit to a candy store slikbutik. Here you can pick and mix a bag of candy just how you like it and some larger stores has more than a hundred different kinds, ranging from gummies, liquorice, chocolate, marshmallows, bolsjer to nougat, chewing gums, caramels and various confectionary treats.
Many Danes are often perceived as being closed and tight lipped, bordering the outright rude. So while it is by no means impossible, you can be hard pressed to find a Dane readily engaging in casual conversations with strangers. That is, until you hit the country’s bars and nightclubs.
As any foreigner who has spent time observing the Danes will tell you, alcohol is the fabric that holds Danish society together. And when they are off their face in the dead of night, many suddenly let their guard down, loosen up, and while a bit pitiful, somehow transmorph into one of the most likeable bunch of people on Earth. Rather than the violence associated with binge drinking elsewhere, because it seems to serve a very important social purpose, the natives get very open, friendly and loving instead. It takes some time getting used to, but if you want to form bonds with the Danes, this is how you do it – God help you if you are abstinent. This also means Danes have a very high tolerance for drunk behaviour, provided it takes place in the weekends. Drink a glass or two of wine for dinner during the week, and you can be mistaken for an alcoholic, but down 20 pints on a Saturday night, and puke all over the place, and everything will be in order.
There is no legal drinking age in Denmark, although a legal purchase age of 16 is in effect in shops and supermarkets when under 16,5% alcohol, and 18 in bars, discos, restaurants and shops and supermarkets when over 16.5% alcohol. The enforcement of this limitation is somewhat lax in shops and supermarkets, but quite strict in bars and discos, as fines of up to 10,000 kr and annulment of the license can incur on the vendor. The purchaser is never punished, although some discos enforce a voluntary zero-tolerance policy on underage drinking, where you can get kicked out if caught with no ID and an alcoholic beverage in your hand. Some would claim that the famous Danish tolerance towards underage drinking is waning in light of health campaigns targeting the consumption of alcoholic beverages among Danes. As adult Danes do not approve of the government interfering with their own drinking habits, the blame is shifted towards adolescents instead, and proposals of increasing the legal purchase age to 18 overall have been drafted, but have yet to pass Parliament, neither is it likely to in the foreseeable future.
Drinking alcoholic beverages in public, is mostly considered socially acceptable in Denmark. Having a beer in a public square is a common warm weather activity, though local by-laws are increasingly curbing this liberty, as loitering alcoholics are regarded as bad for business. Drinking bans are usually signposted, but not universally obeyed nor enforced. In any case, be sure to moderate your public drinking, especially during the daytime. Extreme loudness may in the worst case land you a few hours in jail for public rowdiness (no record will be kept, though). Most police officers will instead ask you to leave and go home, though.
Danish beer is a treat for a beer enthusiast. The largest brewery, Carlsberg (which also owns the Tuborg brand), offers a few choices but is mostly limited to lager beer (pilsner), which are good, but not very diverse. A large number of micro breweries, however, offers a broad selection of beers well worth trying from IPA to porter, stout and weissbier and anything in-between. Special spicey “Christmas beers” are produced in the 6 weeks leading up to the holidays and strong “Easter brews” are on offer in the early spring. Other tasty beverages include the Aquavit (Snaps) and Gløgg – a hot and sweet wine drink popular in December.
Beer is the best companion to the Danish cuisine and there are many high-quality breweries to sample. Most brews are available across the country, a few can only be enjoyed at microbreweries specifically. Carlsberg (and perhaps Tuborg) is well-known outside Denmark, but there are a plethora of smaller Danish breweries well worth trying, while in Denmark. A small selection includes:
- Thisted Bryghus, a brewery in Thisted, North Jutland founded in 1902. The production includes a range of organic beers.
- Fur brewery. Situated on the island of Fur in the Limfjord, North Jutland.
- Fuglsang, brewery based in Haderslev, South Jutland since 1865.
- Hancock, based in Skive, North Jutland since 1876.
- Bryggeriet Refsvindinge, a brewery on Funen near Nyborg, founded in 1885. The brewery has a bed & breakfast.
- Skovlyst. A brewery and restaurant in a forest just west of Copenhagen. Available in shops all over the country.
- Vesterbro Bryghus. Microbrewery and restaurant in the Copenhagen neighbourhood of Vesterbro.
- Mikeller. Relatively new high-end Copenhagen-based brewery with Mikeller bars in Copenhagen and Aarhus of uncompromising quality. Mikkeller has bars around the globe, from Taipei to San Francisco.
- Aarhus Bryghus. Micro-brewery in Aarhus with a large and changing selection. Usually large 0.6 litre bottles.
The gastronomical underground scene is stirring and bubbling in Denmark and it also includes distilleries and breweries of all kinds. Small quality micro breweries and distilleries can be found throughout the country and comprise craft beers, whiskeys, aquavit, gin, wines and liqueurs. Almost all of them are relatively new, from the early 2000s, but several has already received enthusiastic appraisals by connoisseurs and won awards for their unique products. They aren’t called micro breweries for nothing; the productions are usually rather limited, with beer taking the larger share generally, and the products can usually only be found at the breweries themselves, a few select bars and restaurants or in speciality shops in big cities. Historically, the excellent fruits and berries produced in the Danish climate has been used to make several fruit wines and liqueurs, in particular local varieties of cherries, apples and black currants. Modern distillers and entrepreneurs has been inspired by these traditional practices and use of local ingredients, enhancing and developing production methods to make exquisite luxury products.
- Denmark has been a well-known exporter of cherry liqueur for more than a century, in particular to Sweden, England and Holland. The Heering brand from 1818 is perhaps the best known worldwide as it went famous in 1915 when bartender Ngiam Tong Boon in Raffles Hotel, Singapore used it to make the first Singapore Sling cocktail. Cherry Heering can still be had in Denmark and around the world, but newer small Danish winemakers has out-competed it, in terms of quality. This includes Nyholmgaard Vin on Funen, Cold Hand Brewery near Randers in East Jutland and RÖS cherry liqueur from Dyrehøj Vingaard near Kalundborg on Zealand.
- Solbærrom (black currant rum) is another traditional Danish sweet fruit liqueur, even though it is based on imported rum from the Caribbean. It used to be much more popular in previous times, with several producers, but nowadays only Oskar Davidsen delivers with an unchanged recipe since 1888. The black currants gives this liqueur type a rich, sweet almost creamy fruit flavour, but also tannins and a certain character that the rum further enhances.
- Other Danish liqueurs are based on apples and new distilleries have launched prize winning strawberry and elderberry liqueurs as part of the gastronomical wave of New Nordic innovations.
- Frederiksdal estate on Lolland has developed high-end luxury cherry wines in the last one or two decades, receiving several appraisals and prizes internationally. Frederiksdal wines are rich, complex and with several variations depending on the cherry type and production methods, but they are not sweet (or cheap) as the cherry liqueurs. You can buy Federiksdal cherry wines at specialty shops across the country, some restaurants serves them to be enjoyed alone or with desserts or why not visit the estate yourself, while you are in Denmark? Guided tours with tastings are arranged regularly.
- There is a long tradition of home productions of fruit wines based on apples and other local fruits and berries, but such wines are hardly available in the market.
- Mead is a honey-based wine that used to be much more prominent in Danish and Nordic culture and is in particular associated with the Vikings. This alcoholic beverage has also seen a cultural revival, but since the main ingredient is honey, it is a bit expensive and can mostly be found in specialty shops. Mead taste like nothing else and is worth a try.
- Wine based on grapes have been enjoyed in Denmark for millennia, but the climate has not allowed for grape growing here since the Bronze Ages, so wine was exclusively an imported luxury, until recently. With the current climate changes, globally and locally, Denmark is becoming increasingly suitable for domestic wine production and foresighting entrepreneurs and enthusiasts has initiated local productions on a small scale. Perhaps a local curiosity more than a treat for wine connoisseurs? Try for yourself and be your own judge.
- Dyrehøj Vingaard near Kalundborg on Zealand is the largest wine farm in Denmark and produces wine, brandy (edelbrand), gin, cider and liqueurs, including cherry and apple liqueurs. All their products are marketed under the brand RÖS, referring to the Røsnæs peninsula where the farm and winery is located.
- Skærsøgård north of Kolding in Jutland was the first authorized winefarm in Denmark and produces all kinds of wine, including fruit wines, and liqueurs since 2001. You can visit the farm the first Wednesday (15:00-17:00) of the month.
- Nordlund (Dansk Vincenter). You don’t have to leave the city to visit a Danish winefarm. Nordlund in Hvidovre, a suburb east of Copenhagen, welcomes visitors year round on Thursdays (13-17 hours). Winetastings and arrangements can be negotiated.
- Aquavit, also known as snaps or brændevin (burning-wine) in Danish, has been popular in Scandinavia for centuries and in Denmark it is still to be found anywhere you look. Made from potatoes and sometimes various grains, pure distilled aquavit is clear and without taste, but an endless variety of herbs are used as additions for flavour and colour. Caraway, dill and sweetgale are common herbal infusions but many locally tied variations exists and are worth trying. One or two shots of aquavit is to be enjoyed on festive occasions such as the traditional dinner-party arrangement of Det Kolde Bord (The Cold Table), comprising a selection of cold dishes, including smørrebrød. Aquavit is also used to mix some local drinks; added to a cup of coffee to make a kaffepunch or mixed with lemon soda to make a flyver (airplane) are well known drinks. At 45-50% alcohol, aquavit should be approached with caution and it is not an everyday beverage nowadays.
- Quality gin is increasingly popular and available. Njord is a micro distillery in central Jutland producing high quality gins.
- Whiskey has been enjoyed for many years in Denmark, but it used to be an imported luxury. In the 2000s, however, local distilleries have launched high-end whiskeys of various kinds. Braunstein in Køge south of Copenhagen has produced Danish whiskey since 2005. They also make aquavit and vodka and has a sizeable craft beer production that can be had across the country. Fary Lochan in Give, central Jutland, is one of the smallest distilleries in the world, but has a varied production nevertheless. The name is Scottish and is meant as a homage to the Scottish culture of whiskey making, as single malt whiskeys has the primary focus here. Various aquavit’s flavoured with local ingredients are also produced, a specialty gin and some experimentation with wines as well. A much appraised specialty from Fary Lochan is their sweet and celebrated strawberry liqueur.