A Traditional Danish Lunch


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!”


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. 


A Typical Day in Denmark 

Daily Morning Bike Ride

It’s still dark outside, but the day is calling. I wake myself up with a shower, scarf down some oatmeal, and make coffee with hot water and Nescafé espresso powder.

I speed out the door into the crisp morning air and hop onto my bike. It’s cold. I pedal furiously to Kokkedal station and make it just in time. The train glides south toward Copenhagen, past the wintry pastoral landscape.

Downtown Copenhagen. I walk past shops in the city center and the morning rush of cyclers. It feels like New York City, but calmer and less industrial.

I make it to my economics class just in time. New answers and new questions: Globalization, the welfare state, winners and losers, Denmark vs. America.

It’s time for Danish. We’re learning how to order food.
“Jeg vil gerne have en kop kaffe.”
[I would like to have a cup of coffee]


Today, just like yesterday and the day before, I packed a sandwich for lunch. Specifically, I packed Irene’s quick and easy smørrebrød (see recipe below). Denmark is famous for smørrebrød, which is an open-faced sandwich made with rye bread. I admire, eat, and savor my perfect creation.

I spend the afternoon in a cozy coffee shop – reading, writing, or just have a nice afternoon over coffee with friends. Sights are definitely interesting to see, but it also seems that relaxing with friends after a long day is a part of the lifestyle here.

Chilling at a cozy coffee shop

On Mondays and Wednesdays, I make my way to Frederiksberg for rugby practice. The girls on the team are really nice and our coaches are hilarious. We do fitness, drills, and passes for 2 hours. It’s really fun, but I wonder how long it will take me to play just mediocrely well. When practice is over, I wait for a while at the train station because trains don’t run as frequently at this hour. It’s still cold.

On other days of the week, I head home, so I can make it in time for dinner. I relax or do some reading on the train ride home and wonder what we will be having for dinner. The train announces, “Næste station: Kokkedal.” I get off the train and embark on the last leg of my journey home. This is one of my favorite parts of the day – speeding down the road home on my bike.

I’m home! I get settled and it’s nearly dinnertime.

At the table, Malene lights the candles. We have a nice meal often with chicken or fish and vegetables. Dinner can sometimes last a couple of hours, and it’s really quite cozy.

Irene's Quick & Easy Smørrebrød

  • Difficulty: Easy
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  • 2 pieces Rye bread
  • RejeOst cream cheese spread
  • smoked salmon
  • lettuce
  • cucumber
  • avocado


  1. Spread the RejeOst onto one piece of bread
  2. Layer avocado, cucumber, tomato, and lettuce
  3. Do steps 1&2 again with the second piece of bread