My Smørrebrød with prawns, egg, spring onion & mayonnaise, then herring, red onion, apple, dill & sour cream. Below some suggestions...
(Plate - Aluminia Sonja, c.1950 a subsidiary of Royal Copenhagen, cutlery by Arne Jacobsen 1957, as seen in a Space Odessy.)
We finish here, in God’s own country. We have been generously lent a small “town house", in an enclave surrounded by farmland and forest. This community placement seems quite common in Denmark. Here I spend a week pretending to be Danish. I have Danish muesli, Danish blueberries, Danish milk, Danish tea…The Danes have not learnt how to make bad bread. Danish pastries are called Viennese pastries. I drink lots of elderflower water. The food is very good.
Just going to the nearby shopping centre is a thrill. Have I mentioned that I love supermarkets? You learn so much. The language is difficult - I take photographs then look up words on "Google Translate" (the traveller’s friend). These ginger shots I learned were not for making dessert or cakes. The Danes also do "healthy" by adding them to their kale & chia smoothies.
Iceland has its Hákarl – fermented shark that has an underlying smell of ammonia
Sweden has its Surströmming – a salted, fermented, canned herring so fetid one is advised to open the can under water in a bucket.
Norway has its Lutefisk – whitefish soaked in lye. Left for too long the fat turns jellied and saponification takes place. (It’s the same method as making soap.)
Denmark just has the glorious pickled herring, seen at their best with sour cream, potatoes, egg perhaps, and there’s no better way than as a smørrebrød.
There are restaurants that specialize in smørrebrød such as the well-known Ida Davidsen (who boasts as patrons everyone from Danny Kaye to American presidents). It’s simply any delicious combination piled on bread (as distinct from the Swedish smorgasbord, which is a buffet). The bread is a delicate platform, generally a crumbly rye which in no way overwhelms the topping.
Left: Traditional /old-style restaurants are often underground. They're very "woody" and serve lots of herring, dill, beer and aquavit. Café & Øle-Halle is in the cellar of the "Workers Museum". As well as butter, they serve a smoked lard, studded with crispy bacon bits. Bliss.
Centre: Contemporary restaurants all seem to claim someone who did time at Noma (the Danish restaurant at the top of the world's best list for many years). Here, a very "on-trend" dish of haddock terrine, pickled vegetables and foraged beach-side herbs sits on a "soil" of smoked rye.
Right: We have a light lunch in the palm-filled atrium of the Glyptotek museum - a salad with blue dressing and a brioche filled with a massive heap of tiny prawns (locally sourced, fresh and hand peeled), topped generously by a cap of rich tomato mayonnaise.
We spend a couple of days trawling through acres of vintage, mid-century modern furniture and hardware where the "big names" fetch eye-watering prices. They are proudly displayed and curated, redolent of tung oil and turpentine, in particular in Frederiksgarde, the street that runs through to the museum of decorative arts. We calm our longing with a visit to the Kunstindustrimuseet to soak up chair upon chair upon chair and rooms full of porcelain.
At the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek Museum, I am pleased to make the acquaintance of Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg (1783-1853). He is seen as the father of the Golden Age of Danish Art. He studied abroad, in particular with Jean-Louis David, in France. One painting was particularly mesmerizing. With neo-classical perfection, the delicious, tactile flesh is juxtaposed against blocks of cold marble... but I did wonder why he had no clothes on, only his hat.
But it was the title of this 1812 painting that left a smile on my face all day.
Danish: En ung skytte, som sliber sin pil ( 1812)
English: A young warrior sharpens his spear. (ROTFL)
Smørrebrød are a great way to feed friends, with several compilations, one after the other. The bread should be less than the piled topping, in fact shouldn't be seen. Use thinly sliced whole grain rye (dark or light depending on the topping). This is crumbly and therefore light with no hard crusts. In the opening image, dressing is served in a plastic half egg - cute. Only in Denmark! (Save your eggshells and make your own.) You can Google suggestions but you can't go wrong with...
Herring, egg, red onion, prawns, dill & cucumber, blue cheese & fresh pear, roast beef.
Go cross-cultural with asparagus & humous, prosciutto & mortadella...
Be generous with dressing and herbs. Eat with knife and fork. Offer chilled beer, aquavit or schnapps from the freezer.
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