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Best food in Copenhagen: Top dishes to try on your next trip

Copenhagen pastries in Denmark

Copenhagen is known for many things: incredible art and design museums, pastel coloured harbours (Nyhavn is a dreaaaam), bike rides and amazing thrifts. But perhaps most of all, Copenhagen is known for the delicious pastries!

From pillowy buns to sticky-sweet rolls and doughy fruit-filled horns, you could spend days salivating at the windows of various bakeries and trying them all. More than pastries, Copenhagen also has a remarkable food scene which ranges from casual to fine dining – ever heard of Noma? So, if you’re heading there soon, this is your list of the best food in Copenhagen to try while you’re there and give your belly a sweet holiday of its own.

About Danish food

Traditionally, Danish cuisine was based on what was available in the nearby lands, or what could be farmed in the short Scandinavian summers. As such, root vegetables were a prominent feature, as well as rye breads, and fish and pork.

Denmark and Copenhagen have since become large cultural hubs in Europe, and the foodie scene has grown alongside this. Many dishes from traditional Nordic cuisine have been reimagined for modern tastes, and Copenhagen seems to have become a haven for experimental chefs around the world to cook up some literal magic. Restaurants in Copenhagen will cater to all moods whether you want a brunch between museum visits or an elegant meal with wine pairings.

Savoury dishes

1. Smørrebrød

You may or may not have heard of this already, but smørrebrød is perhaps the most iconic Danish food EVER! What it is, is an open faced sandwich made with rye bread and topped with virtually anything you like!

Common toppings include raw beef, egg and seafood like pickled herring, as well as pickles, red onion, cucumber, fresh dill, and many more crunchy bits. Some smørrebrød are also topped with nuts, fruit, and cheese for that fancy cheese board effect. 

As a meal, you would have around 3 smørrebrød and there are a few rules to eating them! For example: always do fish first, and then move on to meat, and finish with cheese – this combination best complements the flavours. It may seem silly, but if you try it that way you’ll soon realise it’s the best anyway.

You can also get a more extravagant version of the smørrebrød called stjerneskud which translates to ‘shooting stars’. It’s basically the same, but the toppings are different including fried fish fillets, lettuce, shrimp, or caviar.

2. Hot dog

A staple in many countries, the hot dog is a super easy lunch that you can pick up and eat on the go. Many food stalls during festival season, like Christmas market time, will sell hot dogs, so it’s truly an anytime anywhere kind of food. Yum! But the Danes do it a little differently. Best picked up at a hot dog stand in the street, you can choose between a regular or red sausage and a variety of toppings (which is where it gets fun). 

If you ask for your hot dog ‘with everything’ then it will typically include ketchup, mustard, remoulade, raw onions, and slices of pickled cucumber. But you can of course customise your own hot dog if you’re not in the mood for the full works.

Interestingly, hot dogs have a very long history in Denmark. Hot dog vendors have existed in the northern European countries since World War I, but it wasn’t until 1920 that Copenhagen got its first proper vendor! These became successful (though faced some challenges at first) because hot dogs were a cheap and convenient hot meal. This became a lucrative business, however the vendors were not seeing much of the money they were making, and so in 1942, they unionised and requested that the laws concerning hot dog stalls be revised.

Also interestingly, hot dogs have become a divisive topic in Denmark – it’s said that each Dane has a very strong opinion on the right way to assemble a hot dog, causing many debates. Join in, if you dare!

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3. Stegt Flaesk

Stegt Flaesk is Denmark’s national dish, but what is it? It’s a classic dish which many regions in the world share a variety of: crispy pork served with a healthy blanket of parsley sauce and a side of caramelised potatoes. Doesn’t get much better than that!

Stegt Flaesk was voted the country’s national dish by the Danes themselves, proving just how much a simple meal like this can garner favour and become a must try, and why it’s one of the best foods in Copenhagen! The dish can be found in most restaurants around Copenhagen and Denmark, and it’s also one of the cheaper meals in the country – so you can enjoy it to your heart’s content.

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4. Frikadeller

If you think Sweden is the country dominating the Scandinavian meatball game, think again. Enter Frikadeller, aka, Danish meatballs! These meatballs are traditionally made with equal parts pork and calf, but today you can find many varieties around the city. They’re served with thick brown gravy or a vibrant curry sauce, and sometimes they even serve as a smørrebrød topping! Eat them for a traditional Danish lunch or dinner, crack open a craft beer to accompany it, and your trip to Copenhagen is complete.

5. Pickled herring

A true cultural food, pickled herring can be quite hit or miss on a tourist’s palette – but still, you can’t say you’ve visited Copenhagen unless you’ve tried this. Pickled herring is a staple in Scandinavian cuisine and an important part of the local food heritage. Each country does it a little differently, but in Denmark it’s kept quite simple: herring is served with capers, onions, and dill on rye bread for a quick lunch.

Pickled herring is also a very common topping choice for smørrebrød, and you can dress it up or down as much as you like! The dish will always be the star of the show for its strong flavours and the heritage it holds.

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6. Mørbradgryde

A theme seems to be forming here… Pork is once again the star of the show here (42% of Danish dishes use pork as the main ingredient), and this time it’s the tenderloin. The reason this dish is so amazing and popular in Copenhagen is because it’s just so darn easy to make: chop all your ingredients up, toss ‘em in a pot, and let that stew for 40 minutes until the pork is soft enough to fall apart in your mouth.

The pork is accompanied by a creamy red stew sauce and often served with boiled potatoes or rice, and sometimes sausage for those who are on that protein kick. The great thing about this dish as well is that you can fill it with as many veggies as you like, so it makes for a great fridge-raid dinner.

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7. Chicken salad

A seasonal treat which is most commonly devoured around Christmas and Easter lunch, the chicken salad is delicious on its own or, you guessed it, as a smørrebrød topping (what can’t these open-face sandwiches do?).

Shredded chicken breast tossed in a tart sauce composed of mayonnaise, sour cream, mustard and vinegar and then topped with buttery mushrooms worth all the finger-licking, as well as crispy bacon bits and crunchy, fresh, red onion and chives. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

Danish chicken salad

Image source:Denmark.dk

8. Forloren hare

Otherwise known as Danish meatloaf, the name of this dish alludes to ‘mock hare’ because the meat – typically beef or pork and not actually hare – is cooked in a similar way to game meats. This is to say, the meat is wrapped in bacon and baked in the oven for some extra juicy, crispy goodness. Forloren hare is then served alongside a jelly sauce – usually cranberry, lingonberry, or redcurrant – for that extra bit of sweetness. It’s one of the best foods in Copenhagen for sure! 

Forloren hare and Stegt Flaesk are two of the ultimate Danish comfort foods and if you’re missing home on your travels a mouthful of either will get you feeling right in no time at all! Sometimes all you need is a little home cooking.

9. Kartofler

Potatoes. Who doesn’t love them? They truly are the most versatile vegetable, and it’s no surprise that the Danes enjoy them greatly, and the kartofler have descended into the mortal plain straight from heaven! They’re THAT good. And how can caramelised potatoes not be? Potatoes are boiled, peeled, then sliced, and then sautéed in a beautiful helping of golden butter. 

Just imagine it all sizzling and bubbling in the pan together – it’s almost obscene. Kartofler are used as a common side dish, especially during Christmas, and they’re glossy, soft, and melt right on your tongue. At one time in Danish history, kartofler were only enjoyed by the very wealthy because of the high prices of sugar and butter – but thank goodness that’s not the case anymore.

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10. Braendende Kaerlighed

Also known as ‘Burning Love’, this is not a catchy pop tune but instead one of the cosiest meals of all. If you’re in the middle of some travel nightmares like losing your luggage or getting rained on at the beach, sit down and dig into a hearty bowl of Braendende Kaerlighed. Your troubles will melt away.

All you need for this dish is three simple things: mashed potatoes, diced onion, and fried bacon bits. Mix those magical things together and voílà! A true comfort meal is served. You can add slices of crinkle cut vegetables on the side for a dose of health, but we won’t judge if you just go for the plain and simple version. 

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Michelin Star restaurants

There are loads of Michelin star restaurants in Copenhagen such as Noma, Veve (which is entirely vegetarian), Alchemist, Geranium, and so many more. Many of these restaurants offer lunch and dinner services, and the food ranges from traditional Danish foods to fine dining to creative other-worldly tasting menus. Either way, you’ll be tasting some of the best food in Copenhagen.

Generally Michelin star restaurants are a little more on the expensive side of things, but we have a guide for fine dining on a budget that you can follow to really stretch your money over some delicious horizons. Make sure to book in advance as many of these restaurants fill up super quick and they usually don’t take walk-ins.

If you’ve never dined at a Michelin Star restaurant before it can feel a little daunting, but it’s just like any other dinner service and it’s a great excuse to dress up! You may be intimidated by the price, but if you can afford it, heading to one of the many restaurants in Copenhagen is 100% worth it, and your taste buds will thank you.

Michel star restaurant Veve in Copenhagen, Denmark

Image source:Charlie Fabre / Veve

Pastries

We could go on and on and on about all the pastries, they’re without a doubt the best food in Copenhagen, so for the sake of time and not keeping you here forever, these are 5 of the must try pastries in Copenhagen that you can’t miss on your trip there. They’ll make for gorgeous breakfast options or midday pick-me-ups to re-energise from all that cycling!

1. Frøsnapper

Twisted dough with a hefty layer of remonce (a sugar and butter paste) in the middle, finished off with a dusting of poppy seeds and a little bit of salt, the frøsnapper is one the more savoury side of pastries, but it’ll still make a perfect partner for your morning coffee and stroll.

2. Spandauer

THE pastry of Denmark, the spandauer is truly at the top of this list of best food in Copenhagen and it cannot be missed. This is the oldest and most cherished pastry in Denmark, so treat it with respect. Flaky pastry, a luscious filling of custard cream, and a dollop of icing, this is more than a snack, it’s everything.

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3. Direktørsnegl

Snegl translates to snail, and there are many varieties of this pastry (such as the kanelsnegl: ooey gooey cinnamon buns), but this one is the boss – literally! Translated into Boss Snail, the direktørsnegl is a frosted spiral bun of flaky pastry filled with a generous amount of unctuous chocolate, all resting on a shortbread-like bottom. You may want to sit down to fully enjoy this one so that no crumbs escape.

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4. Kanelstang

If you, like me, are obsessed with the warming sweetness of cinnamon, then the kanelstang is the pastry for you. Also called a cinnamon stick, the kanelstang is fluffy and light and heavenly. Slathered in cinnamon remonce and decorated with icing, this is usually made as a cake, but bakeries have taken to selling this treat by the slice so you can grab and go!

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5. Rabarberhorn

Soft and golden, the rabarberhorn translates into rhubarb horn, and they’re a staple of Danish pastries available all year round and ready to take anywhere on the go! Filled with tart rhubarb and sweet marzipan then folded in a pillowy dough, this is a little pocket of joy.

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The myth of Danish

While we’re on the topic of pastries, we need to address the Danish. If you were to order a Danoisein France or a Danish in England, you’d be served a flat, spiral-shaped pastry filled with some sort of fruit jam or crème patissière and a zig-zag of icing on top. But in Denmark, a Danish pastry is not the same thing.

In fact, the Danish pastry we know in other countries isn’t from Denmark at all! They’re from Vienna, or rather they were inspired by Viennese bakes when a Danish baker travelled to Austria in the 19th century during a baker’s strike. In Denmark, ‘Danish pastries’ refer to a specific type of pastry: the flaky doughy ones with various fillings, and they are referred to as wienerbrød or Viennese bread. The closest in Copenhagen to what we’d call a Danish pastry would be the Spandauer.

The more you know!

cherry danish pastry

Image source:Smallbox / unsplash

Desserts

Got your fill of pastries earlier in the day and looking for a different kind of sweet treat to finish off the day? Copenhagen has plenty of beautiful desserts for you to enjoy as well! Here are 6 of the best.

1. Strawberry tart

Red and white like the Danish flag, why wouldn’t a simple yet mouth-watering strawberry tart be a staple dessert in Copenhagen? Beautifully ripe and red strawberries are laid out on a luxurious bed of vanilla custard and melted dark chocolate with a sweet marzipan tart shell base. Can you think of anything better for a warm summer’s day?

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2. Danish apple trifle

While this dish is called an apple cake (aeblekage), it actually has more in common with a trifle or a crumble. The assembly is simple, it goes: sweetened buttery breadcrumbs, soft apple sauce with a squeeze of lemon, more breadcrumbs, and a dollop of whipped cream on top. This is served cold and is perfect after any meal.

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3. Risalamande

Another dessert that matches the Danish flag, risalamande is a rice pudding made with whipped cream, sugar, vanilla, and slivers of almond. A bright drizzle of cherry sauce goes on top, as well as a few cherries and a sprig of mint, and there you go! Served either cold or warm, it’s traditional to have risalamande during the Christmas period.

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4. Koldskål Med Kammerjunker

This translates to a Danish cold buttermilk soup, which might sound a little bit odd, but we promise that it’s delicious. It’s a common summer dessert because of how light and refreshing it is, so if you want to enjoy the sun like the Danes you’ve got to have your fill. Vanilla, buttermilk, and yoghurt go together to make a creamy base, and lemony biscuits float around like islands. You can also add strawberries or any other fruit for that extra goodness.

5. Drømmekage

The most famous of Danish cakes, and one of the best foods in Copenhagen to end the day with, the drømmekage translates to dream cake and it’s exactly that! A vanilla sponge cake is topped with a hefty layer of sticky caramelised coconut flakes which harden like a shell on top. It’s so easy to make, and even easier to eat the whole thing in one sitting. 

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6. Chocolate liquorice

A very popular sweet treat in Copenhagen that doesn’t involve cake or pastry is chocolate and liquorice. One of the most interesting creations is a blend of the two, invented by candymaker Johan Bülow. Chocolate covered liquorice with a selection of toppings like local berries, raspberry flakes, sea buckthorn. It’s unique and one to try!

7. Traditional Danish layer cake

The traditional Danish layer cake is one of the prettiest cakes around. It resembles a Victoria Sponge cake but it’s a lot shorter and the cake layers are thinner. They’re stacked and held together by a spread of frosting or jam, and then the whole cake is covered in whipped cream with ornate decorations, and completed with a pile of fresh fruits. This cake is typically served for birthdays and other celebratory events (like your first trip to Copenhagen with Contiki?).

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