Copenhagen may not be the first city that comes to mind when you think haute cuisine, but this is through no fault of its own. Oft-overlooked Denmark, besides boasting a unique and delicious national cuisine, has steadily developed into a hotbed of internationally renowned restaurants and chefs. The Danish emphasis on creativity, attention to detail, and quality, has lately trickled down to all levels of the gastronomical world.
Danish Popular Foods: Danish cuisine, like that of many northern European countries, has its origin in traditional peasant food (see the historical overview). As a coastal and sea-faring nation, fish is well represented. Smørrebrød (not to be confused with the buffet that Swedes call smörgåsbord) is an open-faced sandwich with any range of toppings, but usually incorporating some kind of fish. The bread of choice is invariably dark rugbrød (rye). Popular seafood in Denmark includes salmon (laks), shrimp (rejer), eel (ål), and especially herring (sild), which is eaten pickled and has a disturbing candy-like flavor. Remoulade sauce, similar to tartar sauce, can be and is added to anything.
Other popular elements of Danish cuisine include Frikadeller (big meatballs), liverpostej (liver paste), potatoes, cold meats (for breakfast), ymer (thin yogurt), rice pudding, cheese, pork and other meats, and anything pickled.
Danish Desserts: Danes love dessert and there is a cornucopia of local confections to consider, many of which are predictably similar to what we call a “Danish.” Æbleskiver (apple strudel) is popular especially around Christmas and is a spherical apply-pancake with powdered sugar. The tongue-twisting rødgrød med fløde is a dessert of strawberries or rhubarb and cream.
Danish Beers & More: Denmark also has its own local alcoholic beverages. Carlsberg is the best known and biggest export beer, although Tuborg (owned by Carlsberg) is a cheaper and more popular option in Copenhagen. There are also many local craft beers and fantastic brewpubs such as BrewPub København, Nørrebro Bryghus, Bryggeriet Apollo, and the Vesterbro Bryghus. Akvavit, the flavored spirit similar to vodka, is as popular in Denmark as in the rest of Scandinavia (though nobody can figure out why—it tastes like hand sanitizer). Unique to Denmark is the liquorice flavored vodka Fisk, which is often be sold at discount if you buy ten shots at once, and the bitters Gammel Dansk. During Christmas, gløgg, a kind of hot mulled wine with cinnamon, is everywhere.
Copenhagen Street Vendors: Street vendors are very common in downtown Copenhagen and usually sell the ever-popular Pølser (Danish hot dogs), Italian sausages, and, in the winter, crêpes, waffles, and roast nuts. Even the menus at local sandwich and kebab shops are astoundingly creative and delicious, a result of better ingredients and a large helping of love. On the subject of kebabs, the Danes call this middle-eastern spit-roasted pita dish shawarma after the Arabic word or sometimes Döner Kebab after the Turkish, and it is probably the cheapest meal around ($4 in the suburbs, $6 in the center). Shawarma is the king of late-night snacks, and stores selling it are open into the early hours of the morning.
Copenhagen's Noma: No overview of CPH’s restaurant scene would be complete without mentioning René Redzepi’s Noma, which bears a large share of responsibility for putting Copenhagen on the gastronomical map in recent years. The two-Michelin starred restaurant, which specializes in Nordic fusion and uses ingredients harvested by dedicated scavengers, was Restaurant magazine’s best restaurant in the world in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2014. Although the price starts at around $250 for the set menu, the atmosphere is unpretentious and dress is casual. If you want an unforgettable experience, an extraordinary spectacle, and the chance to eat art, it may be worth it.
Moving down the price-scale somewhat, Aaman’s near the National Gallery is the place to get smorrebrød starting at around $8 each. Schønnemann, opened in 1877, is another popular local choice for Danish food and traditional smorrebrød. Sankt Peders or the chain Lagkagehuset are both good for those famous pastries and desserts. Fiskebaren in the meatpacking district is great for Danish seafood. Also, Nyhavn is packed with great Danish restaurants, like Cap Horn, with its excellent fish dishes.
Other Restaurants: The budget-conscience should try the Greek buffet at Samos on Skindergade or the vegetarian buffet at Riz Raz (several locations). If you are into vegan/organic/alternative eating habits, Bio Mio in Vesterbro is the coolest place to see and be seen. Spiseloppen in Christiania has a daily changing menu that takes its cue from cuisines the world over. There are of course also restaurants of all ethnic stripes, from Polish (Krasnapolsky) to Australian (Reef n’ Beef).
Expat: If you’re feeling homesick, the Engelsk Pub (English Pub), Scottish Pub, and Rosie McGee’s (an old-west themed pub) are all conveniently clustered next to each other in between Rådhuspladsen and the train station. If you are looking for a burger Halifax will fix you right up.
Copenhagen's Supermarkets: For whatever reason, 7/11 is a major institution in Denmark, found on most major street corners. But these are not like 7/11s in the US: they’ve been souped-up and outfitted with a cheap and decent bakery (look out for the two-for-one deal on croissants) and a case of hot food made on site. They also sell beer and wine, and therefore, given Copenhagen’s unenforced open container laws, you’d be well advised to use 7/11 as a cheaper alternative to the bars.
Major supermarkets in Copenhagen include Superbest, which is cheap to mid-range, Føtex, which is a bit more expensive but has a better selection, Netto, on the cheaper side, and Aldi, which is a really cheap no-frills kind of operation, great for non-perishables, but avoid buying your fruits and vegetables there. Street vendors selling fruits and vegetables are easy to find downtown even in the colder months (though they thin out around December) and have fair prices. Danes still like to buy from local specialty stores, so if you prefer quality, it’s a good idea to make the rounds at the baker, the butcher, the greengrocer, etc.