Unless you’ve visited Denmark before, it is unlikely you have tasted Danish cuisine.
Unlike many other nations, Denmark exports little national cuisine - save a few tonnes of bacon, of course.
But this means hungry visitors have a few unexpected gastronomic adventures ahead. Danish food, while generally subtle in taste, has its fair share of oddities. Whether you tuck into a traditional dish or a standard lunch, your taste buds will encounter some surprising combinations. One word of advice: washing it down with schnapps may seem like a good idea at first, but those small shots have a deceptively lethal kick.
Smørrebrød - Denmark’s contribution to world gastronomy, these open sandwiches consist of buttered rye bread topped with meat, fish or cheese. Choose from smoked eel and scrambled egg, marinated herring and pork with red cabbage. But remember to use a knife and fork; these whoppers can be difficult to get your mouth around.
J-dag - J-day heralds the arrival of Christmas beer, a high-percentage beverage fit only for seasoned beer drinkers. On the same night across the country the beer is driven into town and delivered to pubs and bars. And what does J stand for? J is for Jul, or Christmas.
Brown sauce is a welcome legacy from Denmark’s old-fashioned culinary past. Eaten with potatoes and meat, this sauce is a vital accompaniment to many a traditional Danish meal today.
Akvavit This Scandinavian distilled beverage with a mind-blowing 40 per cent alcohol gets its name from the Latin, aqua vitae, water of life. Drunk in shot glasses often with herring, this fragrant spirit will put hairs on your chest. If you want to drink it like the Danes, raise your glass, look at everyone seated round the table and down it in one.
Julefrokost – Despite the name, Christmas lunch is often a dinner and held weeks before the festive season begins. Danes are often invited to several lunches each season and start early in order to fit them into their Christmas calendars. Combine all of the aforementioned specialities – adding extra helpings of schnapps and beer – and you get a true Christmas lunch: a good excuse to eat and drink until you burst.
Wienerbrød – Danish pastry has been devoured in Denmark since 1840, when immigrant bakers from Vienna hit upon the tasty morsel. Today, bakers across the world attempt to satisfy pastry lovers with half-baked imitations, however most agree that nothing comes close to the real thing.
Kærnemælk – Sour milk. Yuk, not surprisingly, is the first reaction of many non-Danes to buttermilk, once used as pig fodder. Today its image is revamped, and the low-fat dairy product is drunk like ordinary milk and used widely in baking. One tip: don’t confuse it with ordinary milk, though; buttermilk in your tea will make you wish you’d read the label.
Hygge – There is no English word for ‘hygge’, but it can most accurately translate as ‘cosiness.’ It means simply having a nice time together with friends or family, involving food, drink, warmth and good company. As newspaper columnist Anne Brockenhuus-Schack said: “You can’t hygge yourself very much if you’re cold and hungry.”
Saltlakrids – You either love it or hate it. Salty liquorice is chomped and sucked by the bucket-load in Denmark. It comes in many shapes and sizes, but the taste is unforgettable.
Pølsevogn – The first sausage stand was established around 1910 in Copenhagen and today millions of sausages – particularly the grilled variety – are eaten every year in Denmark. It is the nation’s answer to fast food. Indeed, a sausage stand is never far away in any town. Eat it with gherkins, raw onion, fried onion, ketchup and mustard.