Hello all. In the spirit of continuing my summer of frugal fun, I’ve just spent 4 and a half fabulous days on a trip to Copenhagen with my former flatmates. Praise be to Ryanair, and to Danish friends with spare rooms – so far, so cheap. But what about feeding ourselves? How would we* experience a good dollop of food-based culture while staying within our budget, in one of the most expensive cities in Europe?
Oh, don’t get me wrong here by the way – one day I’d love to be able to write about eating at Noma, or another of Copenhagen’s many incredible restaurants. I would roll over like a dog in heat and offer myself unashamedly to any sans serifed, single-noun menu (“oysters. grobmyrtle. yuzu. wigwam”); to minimalist scandi decor; to a winelist I can’t ever hope to understand without the help of several of its most reasonably priced glasses. I so want to delight in the little foams and gels and pearls that adorn those perfect morsels which have only just ended an affair with a pair of tweezers. But alas, for now I must make do with what I have, which is a small budget, expensive taste, and an eye for a bloody good bargain.
Happily, despite the lack of molecular gastronomy, we ate very well in Copenhagen. I’m going to document most of it here in this rather long blog post, because I think it’s important to describe a trip through food, and also because there’s a few things unique to Denmark which I think will be fun to talk about. Feel free to skim.
(Oh, there’ll be a normal return to recipes from next month, when hopefully I’ll be in a kitchen I can call my own again, just in case you were wondering.)
As soon as we got off the plane and into town, we started with a cinnamon roll each; a chunky swirl of laminated croissant-like dough containing a perfectly balanced filling of brown sugar, butter and cinnamon. It was absolutely the best cinnamon roll I’ve tasted – and I’ve been to Stockholm, so don’t tell the Swedes. Dropping off our bags to her flat in the early evening, our Danish pal then offered us each a bowl of Koldskål, which is a sweetened buttermilk and yogurt soup with little biscuits and berries in it, traditionally served in the summer as a sort of afternoon snack, or even in place of dinner when it’s hot out. It was lovely and creamy, with lemon and vanilla coming through alongside the cardamom crunch of the biscuits. And yeah, ok, dinner on the first night was two glasses of white wine and a bottle of west-country cider at a student bar. I’m still on-brand. Don’t question it.
The Danes love their baking. Danish pastries are common in the UK of course, but what you get here isn’t a patch on the baked goods found on every street corner in Copenhagen, where the bakeries practically outnumber ATMs. Eager to be hooked up ASAP with more of those excellent cinnamon rolls, we headed out in the morning to the closest bakery and came back to the apartment with chocolate croissants, said cinnamon rolls and some absolutely gorgeous brown bread, which we ate with cheese and questionable pesto from the fridge.
My pal then took us into the town centre and showed us around before having to rush off to a project meeting as part of her Master’s degree. This left three of us going for a mooch around Copenhagen’s luxury shopping streets to laugh at the silly, silly prices. We ended up in an upmarket department store, so headed to the ground floor food hall to have a look around. I was immediately enticed by some free samples of what looked like lovely chocolate balls; all I had to do, according to the free-sample lady, was scan the QR code and enter my email address to get a generous looking taster. Only when I read through the branding on the website, however, did I realised those balls contained liquorice, and while I’ll eat liquorice if it makes someone else happy, it’s not worth giving my email address away for. For reference here, I’ve promised my firstborn for free samples in the past, so not giving out something as trivial such as my email address here is poignant.
After liquorice-gate, we found some lovely looking sandwiches on reduced price in the chiller of the fancy food-hall, (roast beef, horseradish and pickle on a brown roll, then tomato, pesto and mozzarella, and chicken and bacon, both on danish rye) and ate them sitting on the big fountain statue in the square, which, perplexingly, didn’t have a traffic cone on its head. I’d also picked up an ‘oakwood’ infused San Pellegrino tonic water, which is far too many words for one drink, and accordingly tasted as tonic water had been left to ferment in a tree for a few months. After that, we chilled out on the lawn of the botanic gardens and I bought my first and last cup of tea of the trip, because I later realised it cost £4. Whoops.
Following a long day of doing fun Danish things, we did very boring undanish things for dinner that night, going home to the apartment to make shakshuka, drink cheap cider, and gossip.
Day three started with Aebelskiver for breakfast, which are traditional Danish christmas treats which I’d spotted in the supermarket freezer the night before, following years of detailed descriptions from my pal. Aebelskiver are essentially soft balls of golden pancake batter, and you eat them with both icing sugar and jam. Consequently, my teeth felt as if they were melting down to their very nubs even before 9:30am, so I remedied this by gnawing on a piece of nearby rye bread.
After some more sightseeing, we had lunch in Freetown Christiania, the hippy district of Copenhagen renowned for drugs, gang violence and good vegan food. The cafe we ate at served a range of hearty salads and soups and I only ruined my meal at the last moment by mistaking a piece of goat’s cheese for feta, which would have been fine if I liked goat’s cheese. Everything else was delicious, and their sesame noodle salad is one dish I’ll be trying to recreate at home, for sure.
We were then cordially invited to afternoon tea at our pal’s mum’s apartment, which was splendid on all counts. She’d bought us some delicious cream cakes including a giant strawberry shortcake covered in a mountain of vanilla-infused creme pat, as well as some passionfruit and raspberry bombs, which were cut dutifully into quarters so everyone could try a bit of everything. It was all very civilised.
Feeling full from both lunch and arvo-tee, we then headed back to the apartment to get ready to go on a big night out. Do note here that my friends are very similar to me in that we consider putting on some deodorant and mascara to be “getting ready”. Because it wasn’t long before we got back into town, we were only just peckish, so dinner for me as a packet of very reduced smoked salmon from the supermarket, which I gobbled down like a seagull just outside the shop. We then spent 5 hours and a ludicrous sum of money in return for simply not enough alcohol before being grannies and heading home at 12:30am. Happily, we found a house-plant going free on the way home which my pal was delighted with, and made up for paying £8 for less than a pint of lager.
Day 4 was Smørrebrød and Little Mermaid day; a cultural bonanza of Danishness that was consolidated beautifully by spending time riding on Copenhagen’s excellent cycling infrastructure. We pedalled out to the famous mermaid statue from the flat in the morning, and marvelled at the wikipedia entry on its constant vandalism since it was erected in 1913. We then met our pal’s mum again and walked to the Danish equivalent of Buckingham palace, before finding a bizarre nautical themed restaurant in Nyhavn to go and eat Smørrebrød (sort of pronounced, “smolbrol”), which are Danish open-faced rye bread sandwiches.
This is a touristy thing to do, but we’d managed to find a deal which meant you got three different types of Smørrebrød for a set price, which seemed like relatively decent value. We ate in an weirdly dark basement setting with Danish sea shanties being piped through the speakers, but the food was good – heaped piles of blushing roast beef, two dainty fried plaice fillets, and a mound of prawns and egg, all topping three separate slices of danish rye bread. The mustard and apple mayonnaise which accompanied the plaice sounds terrible in writing but complemented everything nicely, as did the pickled gherkin and horseradish mayo on the beef. I’m definitely going to make a habit of buying rye bread back in the UK so I can have a go at Smørrebrød as a quick and delicious lunch option.
After lunch we had ice cream, which came with a complimentary (but optional) topping of marshmallow fluff. I’ve never thought of marshmallow fluff as a logical addition to ice-cream – sure, roll a Cornish vanilla cornet in clotted cream and toasted chopped hazelnuts and call it a hedgehog – but marshmallow fluff? Nah. Far too sweet. However, as the only one of my friends not to add it to my strawberry cone, I was branded a culturally insensitive killjoy. You be the judge.
We then slipped and fell into a climbing gym for the afternoon, before cycling back home and ordering sushi, which is one of the few foods that is far better value in Scandinavia than the UK. We shared a good selection which included some thickly marbled salmon nigiri, and some crunchy fried prawn California rolls.
And pudding? Pudding was danish pick-n-mix sweets, harvested from groaning containers in a brightly lit, sugar-scented sweetshop. This is our pal’s signature thing she likes to eat (no, she’s not a foodie), but it must be said, Danish pick-n-mix blows our sad little cinema cups out of the water with its variety. There are no scoops in danish pick-n-mix shops; instead you have to wear those clear gloves you get for filling up the car with fuel and use your plasticky hands to dig around in the candy, which is a nice sensory experience on top of the fact that everything looks enticing, shiny, and tooth-achingly saccharine. It’s not the cheapest way of buying sweets but it is good fun, and something we had to do as a homage to our favourite sugar-addicted Danish friend. The only thing we had be aware of was liquorice – it hides in everything in Denmark with aniseed flavoured malice.
We decided our last day in Denmark should include going to the butterfly house in the Botanic Gardens, which was a lovely thing to do before our flight home in the late afternoon. Although some of the butterflies resembled the pick-n-mix from the night before, we refrained from eating any of them, saving ourselves for the treat to come: a trip around Torvehallerne KBH, Copenhagen’s indoor, glass-encased equivalent of Borough Market. This was actually more like being a kid in a candy shop for me than the pick-n-mix experience the day before, as there was just so much spectacular produce – meat, fish, charcuterie, cheese, and lobsters in tanks – to ogle at. My pal recommended we try the fiskefrikadeller; dense, fried fishcakes around the size of an ice hockey puck, hot and golden from the fryer. Alongside one of those, I also bought 100g of zingy haddock ceviche, which was delicious (though slightly expensive) as a chaser, plus some short-date semi-hard cheese to bring home for a sandwich or two.
The last thing I ate in Copenhagen was a slightly disappointing ham and cheese focaccia type thing out of a supermarket, but I should have known better. It was for the airport anyway, but it’s a well known fact that no one has ever eaten nice food within 500 yards of a runway so I wasn’t too devastated.
We had a brilliant time in Denmark’s sprawling capital, enjoying the food and culture of somewhere that seems to have its shit together a lot more than the UK does. I need very much to go back on an eating holiday when I have enough cash to try everything properly, including some of the more upmarket seafood, seaweed and foraged mushrooms. It certainly won’t be the last time we visit, not least because I’m hankering after one of those cinnamon swirls already, and I’ve only been back 5 minutes.
Also, if you made it to here, I’m mightily impressed. Thanks for indulging me. I should say that I’m on the lookout for more commissions at the moment, so if you know anyone who’d like to pay me to write about food in any way, shape or form, then do let me know. You can email me on firstname.lastname@example.org or send me a homing chicken.
Much love, and speak soon.
*Yes, I do speak for all my friends, as three of the four of us are skint, and the fourth one has yet to realise she’s not skint. We’re all on the same page with budgets, which is nice.
One thought on “The Dearest Diary: Copenhagen Cuisine on a Kroner”
Denmark! Such a beautiful country!