A Traditional Danish Lunch

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Last Sunday, we visited my host grandparents’ house and had a traditional Sunday lunch. It was so cozy and so hyggeligt.

My host grandparents live in North Zealand, near the only harbor left in Zealand where the fisherman go out every morning to get fresh fish. The fish we had for lunch were all fresh from the ocean!

We had do-it-yourself smørrebrød with many different types of fish. Smørrebrød (literally translation:”butter bread”) is the traditional open-faced sandwich that Denmark is known for. I learned that there is a specific order you have to eat the fish. Otherwise, the taste of all the different fish will get mixed up.

To begin, we buttered small squares of fresh rye bread and layered a fresh slice of fish on top. We started with the white fish – delicate, tender slices of marinated herring (sild). The slight sweetness of the herring went perfectly with the sour rye bread.

Then, “Skål!”

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We let the fish “swim” with a shot of schnapps. It helped clear the palate for the next fish – another delicious kind of herring. The meal went on with fried herring, fried cod, curried herring, and shrimp salad. Then came the salmon – it was a perfect, buttery, melt-in-your mouth salmon. And lastly, we ended the main course with liver paste (leverpostej); ours had mushrooms and bacon on top.

For dessert, we had coffee and wienerbrød. Although Americans call pastries “Danishes,” the Danes call them “Viennese Bread” because these pastries actually originated from Vienna.

Now, I think I have a better understanding of the origins of smørrebrød. At first, I thought that it was just a different version of a sandwich where you use rye bread and just don’t close the bread. But, now I’ve realized the brilliance of smørrebrød. When you savor each bite, the tender fish goes so well with a hint of sourness in the wholesome rye bread (kind of like vinegar rice in sushi).

By the time we had finished eating, it was nearly dark outside. I felt full after the meal, not just with food, but also with that pleasant warm feeling that you get in the company of good food, good people, and good conversation. When I go back to hectic New York City, this is one of the things I will bring back with me – to take more time to pause and enjoy the company of others. 

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