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Food, Dining, & Drinks in Denmark

Culinary Influences

The Danish diet is based on Denmark's climate, which provides short growing seasons and a need to preserve foods for the long winters. These long cold winters also created a need for heavy dishes, most notably the heavy use of pork. Additionally, fish is common as the country is nearly surrounded by the sea and seafood is easily accessible.

In order to preserve foods, many fruits and meats were regularly salted, smoked, pickled, or dried. These preservation methods are still common today and many dishes use these foods as opposed to fresh ingredients, even if fresh ingredients are available, as most traditional recipes evolved from these preserved foods.

The next great introduction into Denmark came from the Americas with the introduction of the potato and tomato in the 1700s. The potato has become an essential ingredient in Danish cuisine and is their only true staple food today.

Since the mid-1900s Danish food has been slowly changing as fast food has been introduced and the people have gained a greater interest in foreign foods, most particularly French food. These influences have brought in new foods, while also altering traditional foods. On the fast food front, sausage wagons are common sights in large cities as the local rode polser is a good seller.

Staple Foods

Potato: served in some form with nearly every hot meal

Regional Variations & Specialties

Frikadeller: pork and veal meatballs mixed with various spices
Pastries: pastries are a national institution in Denmark and commonly served as or with breakfast
Smorrebrod: open-faced sandwiches on rye bread with butter and anything else a person can think of, generally sliced meats, cucumbers, parsley and a minimum of one vegetable or fruit

Dining Etiquette

The Danes are very punctual and somewhat formal in certain manners. If you get invited to dine with locals, be on time and if eating in their home, be sure to bring a gift of flowers, chocolates, or wine. It is also considered polite to offer to assist in the cooking process by offering to bring a dish to pass. Once you arrive, offer to remove your shoes and again offer assistance in the kitchen. You may be shown the home as well before being shown your seat (generally couples will sit together, with the woman to the right).

Generally, before dining begins, there will be a toast; during this toast make eye contact throughout and lift your glass before and after you take your first sip. After that toast, which will generally end with the word "skol," you are free to eat and drink at will. When you eat, maintain continental dining style (knife in the right hand, fork in the left), try everything, and keep your hands in sight by resting your wrists on the table.

As you finish eating, finish all the food on your plate and place your fork and knife together on the right side of your plate to indicate you are finished. Also, offering to help with the cleaning after a meal in a home is a very polite and appreciated gesture.

If dining out, every bill from a sit down restaurant in Denmark will include a service charge and this will replace any need to tip the server. If service was outstanding you may tip above this amount, but few locals will ever do this.

Drinks

Coffee and, in the winter, hot chocolate are two of the most commonly consumed beverages in Denmark, but the country also has a number of other drinks worth trying. A juice made from syrup and water is called saftevand and is a favorite among kids. Hyldeblomstsaft is also a unique drink, which is made from elderflowers. For those looking for something more familiar, juices, soft drinks, tea, and milk are all easily accessible.

Once the sun sets on the work week, many people turn to their national drink: beer. The two largest local breweries, Carlsberg and Tuborg are the most popular, but if you're out for a drink there's more to try than just the beer. Akvavit (similar to internationally popular schnapps) are also common, while "cherry herring" is a local cherry liquor worth a try. International beers, wines, and hard liquors are also available.

Generally speaking, the tap water is safe to drink in Denmark, but check with locals for any particular regional differences. Also, many people may have troubles adjusting to the local tap water, as it will most certainly be different from what your system is used to.

This page was last updated: March, 2012