Danes don’t have the widest spread of hot dishes; most of it is pretty simple and based on staples like porridge, meatballs, potatoes, and pork (if I am gross correct me dear reader!). But get a Dane talking about things served cold and I guarantee you they will never shut up.
For an iconic case of this delightful phenomenon, look no further than smørrebrød (pronounced something like ‘smrbrl’). Literally ‘buttered bread‘, it is the robust and wide-ranging Danish open-faced sandwich. Always (unless you’re ‘experimenting’, and heretical) served cold.
There are rules. I haven’t yet learned them all, but I do know that salmon ONLY EVER goes with white bread. NEVER with dark. Ever. Just, don’t do it.
There are more, but the only way to really pick up them all is to eat smørrebrød with a Dane and make grievous mistakes so they can civilly and definitively show you the light. Or you could read about it, but that wouldn’t be as fun, a) because you wouldn’t be eating anything, and b) because you wouldn’t get to see a Dane rise up and clarify this most particular matter of national culture.
It may seem trivial, but do not be fooled: it is, as they say, not.
Anyway, rules or no smørrebrød is just plain delicious. As far as I’m concerned, any culture that has made a whole institution out of open-faced sandwiches – or anything that resembles a tartine, canapé, bruschetta, or toast, for that matter – is on to something great.
One can roughly divide smørrebrød-making into two main types: the old school, and the new school. The old school uses mainly rye bread (except for with salmon!), fish, beef, venison, pickled things, and egg sometimes. The new school uses those things and more, with vegetables and herbs taking a prominent place. In short, the old school follows the rules; the new school sometimes does, sometimes doesn’t, and is best (I think) when it interacts with them playfully.
My first smørrebrød is new school. It is from Aamann’s, a popular restaurant in Copenhagen that specialises in smørrebrød. We order it in my first week for an Advisory Board meeting.
Asparagus, egg, bacon crumble, chervil
New potatoes, tarragon emulsion, fresh cheese, radishes, chives, rye crisp
Smoked herring, green tomatoes, crème fraîche, rye crumb, cress
These are the most vegetable-focussed of our selection. The varieties change throughout the year. All are delicious, fresh, and flavourful. And the textural contrasts are spot-on.
Later in the summer, when Chloe comes to visit, we try one with beef tartare, and another with venison pâté and juniper.
The moral of the story is: if it’s lunchtime in Denmark, you have no excuse not to eat well.