Danish Pastries and Other Goodies
Until recently Denmark was not known for its food. There is one food item that people the world over associate with Denmark, and that is the Danish Pastry or sometimes just ‘the Danish’. In case you’ve never come across one before (where have you been all these years?) a Danish pastry is a confectionery product made up of layers of buttery pastry, which are arranged on top of one another so the whole thing is light, airy and crispy. These come in a wide variety of shapes and with all sorts of different fillings. Popular shapes include the swirl shaped snegle – literally, snail – then there are spandauers which are circular pastries with different fillings in the flattened centre, and others like the frosnapper, aeblesnitter, brunsviger and so many more.
Interestingly, these pastries didn’t originate with the Danes, in fact they came from Austria and in Denmark they are called Wienerbrod which literally translates as ‘Viennese Bread’. They first started around 1850 when there was a baker’s strike in Denmark forced bakery owners to recruit bakers from overseas including Austria. The Danes liked the new Austrian pastries so much that they made them their own, modifying them to suit their own tastes. After they were exported around the world in the early 20th century, they were christened Danishes, but at least in Denmark they never forgot where they came from.
The kanelsnegle, or cinnamon roll is one of the most popular of Danishes, being commonly eaten at breakfast in Denmark and elsewhere, as well as being a popular holiday season treat. Recently however it has been the source of a big row over EU legislation, and is an example of the European Union at its daftest. The most common type of cinnamon, cassia, contains a compound called coumarin, which according to a recently published study can increase the risk of liver damage. The EU therefore has tried to ban it, or at least severely restrict it’s use. As a consequence, there’s a lot less cinnamon in the humble kanelsnegle these days.
Smorrebrod and other Danish Food
Other than Danish pastries, most people would be hard pressed to think of any other typically Danish foods. Pork and potatoes is a very common traditional dish in Denmark, and at lunchtime the Smorrebrod is very popular. A Smorrebrod is a traditional open topped sandwich of dark rye bread, spread with butter and with a wide variety of different fillings. Pickled herring is one of the most popular smorrebrod toppings, but other favourites include roast beef with pickles, onions and horseradish, shrimp with dill and apple, and blue cheese with apple and bacon. Smorrebrod fillings are carefully selected, and because they are quite small – usually coming in slices no bigger than a standard pack of playing cards – you will likely eat several over lunch. There’s a whole etiquette to eating Smorrebrod too. You must eat them with a knife and fork, never your fingers, and there is an order to eat them in (seriously): herring first, then other fish, then meat, followed by cheese and vegetable smorrebrods. As someone who loves open topped sandwiches, I think these are great. I’ve often wished I could take some to work with me, but how to transport them without getting the filling all over the lid of your lunchbox? It turns out that the Danes have special sandwich boxes for smorrebrod. I must get myself one of these…
Danish Food & New Nordic Cuisine
It would be remiss of me to talk about Danish food without mentioning New Nordic Cuisine. Not long ago food in Denmark was nothing to write home about, it was practically stuck in the 19th century. Then in 2004, chefs from all over the Nordic countries met in Copenhagen to discuss how to develop a “New Nordic Cuisine”. The conclusion was that they needed “purity, simplicity and freshness” and to use only local and seasonal ingredients where possible. The organisers of this initiative were Rene Redzepi and Claus Meyer, chefs at the newly opened Noma restaurant in Copenhagen. Fast forward ten years and the restaurant has two Michelin stars and has been voted the Best Restaurant in the World four years in a row. Since then New Nordic Cuisine has spread throughout Denmark and beyond. Danish cuisine is now well and truly in the 21st century.