(This post was originally published in August 2019, and has been reposted now due to technical issues).
I like to think of myself of being moderately (gastronomically) well-travelled. I’ve sipped bubbles in the reflected gleam of Sydney Opera House, sampled the culinary delights that New York, San Francisco, and even Las Vegas have to offer – check out Hot and Juicy Crawfish, it’s splendid. And I’ve had some fantastic meals across much of southern and western Europe.
However, there’s a gap in terms of pins on the dining-related world map of places JML and I have visited. For, until recently, I was someone in their 50s who has never visited Scandinavia. A shameful omission, I know. Yet thanks to a surprise birthday trip I am Scandi-deficient no more, as this July  JML and I spent a wonderful, wonderful (sorry) long weekend in Copenhagen.
Not having visited the Danish capital before, I really didn’t know what to expect in terms of the quality and range of food and drink that would be on offer. Well of course it is THE place that started the Nordic food revolution thanks to the establishment of “the world’s greatest restaurant” there, in the form of Noma, and the subsequent inventive fine dining eateries it has inspired. However, irrespective of it being a birthday visit we couldn’t secure a place / afford to dine there – we did inadvertently walk past it mind, resulting in my going a bit weak kneed.
I’m happy to report however that Copenhagen has a captivating culinary scene, with a few components I wasn’t expecting. For anyone else planning a visit here’s what we discovered and enjoyed about eating and drinking in Denmark’s capital.
Mention street food, and places such as Bangkok, Mumbai, and Mexico City spring to mind. Little did I think, before visiting, that Copenhagen can also be added to that list. Who knew that Denmark has a tradition of street food going back nearly a century, in the form of Pølsevogn the literal translation of which is “sausage wagon”? These stands selling the most gorgeously aromatic, salivation-inducing hot dogs are dotted across Copenhagen and most Danish towns and cities.
And for our first taste of any Danish fare JML and I happened upon a corker, in the form of Døp (Købmagergade 52, 1150) a splendid Pølsevogn with a twist – not only are all the ingredients they use organic, but they include vegan sausages amongst their extensive menu. The classic roasted hot dog with ketchup, mustard, remoulade, fresh and fried onions, and pickles is sublimely superb.
I think it was possibly the smell of hot dogs that led us to our next street food discovery in Copenhagen. The aroma of delicious cheffy organic hot dogs courtesy of Kejser Sausge – themed on the film The Usual Suspects – together with scents emanating from superb organic-crust pizzas produced by The Pizza Bro, and the mouth-watering Indian curries of Dhaba. For just a stroll across a bridge from Copenhagen’s picturesque Nyhavn, the brightly-coloured dockside houses I think most tourists visit, is Broens Gadekøkken (Bridge Street Kitchen).
Located on the very aesthetically pleasing waterfront of the Greenlandic Trade Square, adjacent to the Inderhavnsbroen bridge – from which the initiative takes its name, Bridge Street Kitchen is a spring and summer pop-up from Copenhagen Street Food in collaboration with some of the owners of Noma (yes THAT restaurant). The aim of the initiative is simple – it sets out to provide the people of Copenhagen (and tourists too) with world-class street food kitchens and bars.
Amongst the repurposed shipping containers that serve as kitchens and refectory style tables that line the square can be found a veritable melting pot of street food – think classy burger joints, Californian-inspired salad bowls, and sensational Smørrebrød – Danish open sandwiches, as well as some super bars, serving great cocktails – top notch Aperol spritz – and beers – the Nørrebro Bryghus IPA was just lovely. All highly recommended.
One excellent street food venue would usually be enough for any European capital, yet not Copenhagen it would seem. For located on the former industrial island of Refshaleøen, half an hour stroll or a ten-minute bus ride from centre of the city, is Reffen. It’s a bit hard to take in at first. For lying between the shadows of former industrial buildings and the dockside Reffen constitutes an enormous (50+) collection of shipping container kitchens and stalls, sizeable bars, and creative workshops, featuring a man-made beach strewn with stages and DJ booths. It’s a bit like Tank Girl had taken up post-apocalyptical cooking, in a very good way.
Conceptually, Reffen is about gastronomy, entrepreneurship and community, providing new businesses with a stall for three years to develop their craft, as well as hosting weekly events that actively engage locals and visitors alike. The initiative also adopts a green “dogma” encouraging participants to “reduce waste and reuse resources”, hence the site is largely constructed from recycled materials such as old shipping containers.
Yet, “What about the food?” I hear you shout. Well the quality and choice is amazing, being really multicultural, featuring chefs from over 18 nationalities. From blue corn tacos, to plump spicy dosas, from juicy jerk chicken, to gorgeously crafted sushi, the range is superb. JML and I dined there twice in two days and sampled one of the best pork sandwiches we had ever tasted, courtesy of Crispy Pig, and truly delicious pulled duck burgers, with moreish sweet potato fries, from Miss Piggi. Definitely make time to go if you are in the Danish capital, you will not be disappointed!
You will not be surprised to hear that I adore a good food market. There are some super ones in the UK – London’s Borough Market, and Lancashire’s Bury Market being just a couple of examples. When visiting continental Europe, they really seem to push the boat out when it comes to food markets. Maybe it’s just that they haven’t let them disappear beneath the tide of ever abundant supermarkets in the same way that we in the UK seem to have done.
I was therefore delighted when a couple of friends with local knowledge backed up the recommendation of our guide book that we should visit Copenhagen’s Torvehallerne market (the name simply means “market halls” in Danish), located just to the north of the city centre. Originally a nineteenth-century centre for fruit and vegetables, the place closed in the 1958, only to be renovated and reactivated in its current form just shy of a decade ago. And like Borough Market, it is very much a foodie hub, albeit in a slightly more regimented, Scandi-cool sort of way.
The stylish glazed halls of Torvehallerne punctuated by a paved section sporting splendid fruit and vegetables, offer all sorts of ingredients including spankingly fresh seafood, top quality meat and game, baked goods, and a great selection of dried foods and herbs and spices. And fortunately for a couple of tourists without access to cooking facilities, there are all sorts of food and drink products available to purchase and consume there and then.
It was great to kick off our Sunday morning perusal of Torvehallerne with a visit to The Coffee Collective – a buzzing java stall run by a company that sources sustainably grown beans, roasts them locally, and serves them via some super-skilled baristas, as well as making available coffee to brew at home. The flat whites are smooth, rich and full of complex flavour.
Ravenously hungry, we toured the assorted kiosks offering an awe-inspiring range of ready-for-consumption foodstuffs, settling at Boutique Fisk – a bit of an institution, by all accounts. Famed for their deliciously, deep golden, moist fishcakes, made with 75% Danish-caught fish and 100% love, combined with a generous scoop of tangy remoulade and a chunky slice of caraway-infused rye bread. Tastily satisfying.
After feasting on savoury, it was time for something sweet, and the Is à Bella ice cream stand was just the ticket. Specialising in Italian-style ices, sorbets and even vegan alternates they offer a great range of unusual flavours, as well as some old favourites. A scoop each of caramel and liquorice really got my taste buds tingling.
Scoffing and supping in Copenhagen isn’t all about street food and markets, however. Like many European capitals, it has a thriving culture of local eateries, with a plethora of cafés, bistros and brasseries punctuating its neighbourhoods. A case in point is the lovely little bar / café we discovered just round the corner from our hotel in the central, Latin Quarter, district.
Dina Bar/Kafe is a welcoming, understatedly-stylish venue with a corner location truly made for people watching. Supping a – very decent beer – on their pavement tables was a pleasure. Likewise, tucking into brunch of a superb croque madam – made with Serrano jamon and Tomme de savoie cheese – was delightfully good, they really know how to roll out a garnish, too.
Tumbling across the tracks, quite literally to the other side of Central Station from where we were staying, is the bustling suburb of Vestebro – once a gritty working class area, that has now become the home to trendy bars, shops and at galleries. At the heart of Vestbro’s latter-day coolness is Kødbyen which was previously Copenhagen’s meat packing district. Many of its building have now been repurposed into a plethora chic cafés, bars and restaurants.
Included amongst Kødbyen’s appealing eateries is Fleisch (German for “meat”), which unsurprisingly contains a butcher’s shop within the premises that also houses an associated bar and restaurant. So what to order on a bustling Saturday lunchtime from a meat-themed eatery? Well fish, of course! For Fleisch also serves some knockout open sandwiches with seafood toppings. JML chose wonderfully tasty crumbed fried plaice with remoulade and lemon, whilst I went for pickled herring bathed in a flavoursome curry sauce capers, apple, egg and shallots. A real winner of a sandwich.
Smørrebrød – open sandwich – featuring curried herring, from Fleisch.
Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen
We certainly packed a lot of feasting, and some serious walking – 30 miles in three days – into our long weekend in Denmark’s capital. However, it feels like we only just scratched the surface of this truly enchanting city. It’s stylish, architecturally enthralling, and hosts a really thriving culinary culture. If you haven’t visited yet I would heartily recommend you do. We certainly plan to return in the very near future for more supping and dinning.