Copenhagen's food scene is one of Europe's best, with award-winning chefs and their prodigies opening new restaurants and pushing culinary boundaries—all through a sustainability lens. While foodies may be familiar with traditional smorrebrod and artfully plated New Nordic cuisine, there's much more to Danish grub than that. This list of top foods to try will be your primer for what to eat in and the best places to find your soon-to-be new favorite food
Translated to butter on bread, smorrebrod started as a humble lunch for Danish farmers but became the country’s unofficial national dish. This open-faced sandwich begins with a sturdy base of rye bread (rugbrod) and is piled high with toppings that range from pickled herring, meatballs, fried fish, shrimp, beef tartare, and more. From there sauces, like mayonnaise, runny egg yolks, or remoulade are added along with herbs and a slice of lemon to balance out the acidity. The Michelin inspectors awarded Aamanns 1921 a Plate for their artistically plated smorrebrod and head chef Maxim Surdu is known as Copenhagen’s “smorrebrod king.”
In neighboring Sweden, cardamom buns (called kardemummabulla) are given such reverence, and there is a national day to celebrate them. In Denmark, the cardamom bun isn’t nearly as dense or heavy. Instead, it’s rolled a bit flatter and is light, airy, and filled with finger-licking-good cardamom and sugar.
Hands-down, the best place is Juno the Bakery in Østerbro, where a former Noma head chef sells pastries so good you might cry. While the lines are long in the morning (they also have phenomenal croissants), the famous buns are made all day long so that cravings can be satisfied almost anytime.
Busy sightseeing days, late-night drinking fuel, or a just-because snack are all good enough reasons to grab a Danish-style hotdog. And the nearly foot-long hotdogs (called red polsers) are a national staple, like herring and smorrebrod. But unlike the American counterpart, the Danish hotdog is always 100 percent pork, loaded with gourmet toppings, and served on a homemade bun.
Catch a rolling hotdog stand (called a polsevogn) by chance or order from two of the best in town. DØP by The Round Tower on Kobmagergade pedestrian street specializes in organic hotdogs, and they make the best veggie dog in the city. Or head to the meatpacking district where Johns Hotdog Deli works with a local producer to ensure the best pork is used. Their DIY topping cart is filled with fried Jerusalem artichokes, shaved foie gras, black truffles, homemade mustard, onions, and rhubarb.
Denmark's extensive coastline means fresh fish is never far away, and herring is beloved among hungry Danes, who enjoy it smoked, cured, pickled, or fried. Served with a side of potatoes or atop smorrebrod are the most common ways to enjoy the fish. Herring is even better with akvavit, a spirit distilled from grain or potatoes and flavored with caraway. Ready to discover this local treat? Restaurant Møntergade offers modern presentations on traditional herring dishes.
While those who didn’t acquire the taste as a young child might call this candy disgusting at best and abusive at worst, Danes can’t seem to get enough black salted licorice. There’s a lot going on in each bite: a sharp salt hits the tastebuds first but then, as the candy dissolves, gives way to the caramel undertones of the chewy licorice.
The black licorice comes in various shapes, from Scotty dogs to a sailor’s pipe, and most 7-Elevens have a full row devoted to the candy. To try a gourmet version, visit Lakrids by Bülow. They have both classic and innovative flavors, and even ship to the U.S. in case you get hooked.
Fiskefrikadeller (Fish Cakes)
Danes eat a lot of fish, especially in winter, and one of the most common dishes is fiskefrikadeller, a pan-fried fish patty served with a thick, yellow remoulade and fresh lemon wedges for squeezing. These fish cakes are customarily made with a white fish, like cod, or use the catch of the day.
To taste the fish cake in their most traditional and classic form, head to Restaurant Schønnemann. Founded in 1877, it’s one of the oldest restaurants in the city.
Danish cheese offerings go far beyond havarti and include some wonderfully creamy blues, semi-hard cheeses made from cow’s milk, and light goat cheeses. Sure, you could order a cheese plate at dinner but we’d recommend heading to a local cheese monger and having them create a tasting board or takeaway picnic basket if the weather is warm.
At Torvehallerne food hall, grab a bottle of wine and a few other snacks before stopping at Unika. They have a large selection of mostly local cheeses, and will take the time to explain them before creating pairings; the shop also offers cheese tasting classes. Dating back to 1888, Ostekælderen’s basement level cheese market is the city’s oldest and focuses mostly on sourcing small, local producers. They selling herring, jams, and other treats to complete a picnic.
Dense and dark, rye bread (rugbrod) is a staple in most Danes diet, and it’s not uncommon to eat it at breakfast, lunch, and dinner since it’s high in fiber and low in fat. It’s the foundation for smorrebrod and is often served toasted with butter, jam, and a slice of cheese.
For a fresh loaf, look for one of the many bakeries (bageri) around town but the super-seeded loaf at Hart Bageri is particularly delicious. Richard Hart, the former Tartine head baker, makes each loaf fresh daily and rolls the exterior in a mix of pumpkin, flaxseed, sesame, and sunflower seeds.
While the Danes consume a large amount of pork (some claim the most per capita in the world), they take pride in their grass-fed beef. The highest quality cuts are reserved for the hand-cut beef tartare, which is common on menus across the city. But not all are created equal, of course. One of the best casual versions can be found at Hallernes Smørrebrød (locations at Tivoli Food Hall and Torvehallerne) where the beef tartare smorrebrod is topped with horseradish, onion, pickles, and egg yolk. At the contemporary Italian restaurant Barabba, their decadent beef tartare comes with cured fat and black truffle.
These slightly-bigger-than-bite-sized round pancakes were originally prepared with an apple filling (hence the aeble in the name). Today, a leavened egg batter creates the fluffy outer shell that’s dusted with powdered sugar and filled with a variety of fillings, like cardamom and vanilla, and served with fruit compotes on the side. While you can find this almost anytime, it’s most popular at Christmastime. The best place to try this holiday treat is served fresh at a Christmas market.