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Danish Smørrebrød | How To Savor This Dish Like A Local


Modified: January 3, 2024

by Cilka Griego



Welcome to the world of Danish smørrebrød, a culinary delight that combines artistry and delicious flavors to create a unique and satisfying dining experience. Smørrebrød, which translates to “buttered bread” in English, is a traditional Danish open-faced sandwich that has gained popularity far beyond its homeland. With its diverse range of toppings, beautiful presentation, and rich cultural history, smørrebrød has become a symbol of Danish cuisine.


Originating in the 19th century, smørrebrød was initially a simple staple for Danish farmers and fishermen. However, over the years, it has evolved into a sophisticated dish that captures the essence of Danish culinary culture. Today, this culinary treasure can be found in restaurants, cafes, and even street food stalls across Denmark.


What sets smørrebrød apart is not just its taste but also the artistry involved in its creation. Each smørrebrød is carefully prepared with attention to detail, as every element contributes to the overall experience. From the crispy rye or sourdough bread to the mouthwatering toppings, smørrebrød offers a harmonious blend of flavors and textures.


This article will guide you through the fascinating world of Danish smørrebrød, exploring its history, traditional ingredients and toppings, the art of assembling it, proper etiquette, popular variations, and the best places to enjoy this culinary masterpiece in Denmark. Whether you are a food enthusiast or planning a trip to Denmark, this article will provide you with the knowledge to savor smørrebrød like a local.


History of Danish Smørrebrød

The history of Danish smørrebrød dates back to the late 19th century when it emerged as a popular dish among Danish farmers and fishermen. The origins of smørrebrød can be traced back to a practical need for a portable and satisfying meal that could sustain hardworking individuals during long workdays.


Originally, smørrebrød consisted of simple ingredients such as buttered rye bread topped with leftover meats, fish, or vegetables. These ingredients were readily available and could be easily assembled into a hearty and nutritious meal. The use of rye bread was essential, as rye was a common crop in Denmark and provided the necessary sustenance for laborers.


Over time, as Danish cuisine developed and evolved, smørrebrød began to take on a more elaborate and artistic form. Chefs and home cooks started experimenting with new combinations of ingredients and creative garnishes, transforming the humble open-faced sandwich into a culinary masterpiece.


By the 20th century, smørrebrød had gained popularity not only among the working class but also among the upper echelons of Danish society. It became a staple dish for festive occasions, family gatherings, and celebrations. Smørrebrød was not just a meal but a way to showcase Danish culinary traditions and creativity, as each sandwich was meticulously crafted with a variety of flavors, colors, and textures.


Today, smørrebrød has evolved into a reflection of Danish gastronomic culture and is recognized as an integral part of the country’s identity. It has also become a point of pride for Danish chefs, who continuously strive to innovate and elevate the smørrebrød experience.


As Danish cuisine continues to evolve and adapt to contemporary tastes, smørrebrød remains a beloved and cherished dish, preserving the centuries-old tradition while embracing new flavors and culinary techniques. Its rich history and cultural significance make smørrebrød a must-try dish for anyone seeking an authentic taste of Danish cuisine.


Traditional Ingredients and Toppings

At the heart of Danish smørrebrød lies a combination of traditional ingredients and toppings that beautifully complement one another, creating a harmonious blend of flavors. While the possibilities are endless when it comes to smørrebrød toppings, there are a few staples that have stood the test of time.


The foundation of smørrebrød is the bread, which is typically made from dark rye or sourdough. Rye bread has a distinct and robust flavor that adds depth to the overall taste of the sandwich. The bread is thinly sliced and generously slathered with butter, providing a creamy and rich base for the toppings.


When it comes to toppings, the choices are diverse and cater to a wide range of preferences. Here are some traditional ingredients commonly found on Danish smørrebrød:

  • Herring: Herring is a popular and classic topping for smørrebrød. It can be served marinated, pickled, or fried, and is often accompanied by onions, capers, and a dollop of tangy crème fraîche.
  • Cold Cuts: Cold cuts such as roast beef, liver pâté, and cured ham are frequently used as toppings. They are thinly sliced and layered on the bread, providing a savory and satisfying element to the sandwich.
  • Eggs: Hard-boiled eggs are a common ingredient on smørrebrød. They can be sliced, quartered, or mashed and mixed with ingredients like mayonnaise or mustard to create a creamy and flavorful spread.
  • Smoked Salmon: Smoked salmon adds a touch of luxury to smørrebrød. It is often paired with cream cheese, dill, horseradish, or lemon zest, creating a refreshing and indulgent combination of flavors.
  • Vegetables: Fresh and crisp vegetables such as cucumber, radishes, tomatoes, and lettuce are used to add a refreshing and crunchy texture to the sandwich. They not only provide a burst of flavor but also enhance the visual appeal of the dish.

These are just a few examples of the many traditional ingredients and toppings you can find on Danish smørrebrød. The beauty of smørrebrød lies in its versatility, allowing you to customize your sandwich based on your preferences and dietary restrictions. Whether you prefer seafood, meat, or vegetarian options, smørrebrød offers a wide range of choices to suit every palate.


How to Assemble a Smørrebrød

Assembling a smørrebrød is both an art and a skill. While there are no hard and fast rules, there are some guidelines to keep in mind to ensure that your smørrebrød looks visually appealing and is easy to eat:

  1. Bread: Start by selecting the right type of bread for your smørrebrød. Traditional choices include dark rye or sourdough bread, which provide a sturdy base for the toppings. Slice the bread into thin slices and make sure they are large enough to accommodate the toppings.
  2. Butter: Spread a generous layer of butter on each slice of bread. The butter not only adds flavor but also acts as a barrier to prevent the bread from becoming soggy when the toppings are added.
  3. Toppings: Arrange the toppings on the bread in an aesthetically pleasing manner. Start with a protein or main ingredient, such as herring or cold cuts, and layer additional toppings on top. Be creative with your combinations, mixing different flavors and textures for a well-rounded smørrebrød.
  4. Garnish: Add garnishes to enhance the visual appeal of your smørrebrød. This can include fresh herbs, sliced vegetables, edible flowers, or even a drizzle of sauce or dressing. The garnishes not only add a pop of color but also contribute to the overall flavor profile.
  5. Presentation: Pay attention to the presentation of your smørrebrød. Arrange the slices on a platter or individual plates, making sure to leave space between each sandwich. You can also garnish the serving dish with additional herbs, lemon wedges, or other decorative elements to elevate the visual appeal.

Remember, there are no strict rules when it comes to assembling a smørrebrød. Feel free to get creative and experiment with different combinations, flavors, and decorative touches. The goal is to create a visually stunning and delicious open-faced sandwich that tantalizes the taste buds and impresses your guests.


Etiquette and Customs of Eating Smørrebrød

When it comes to enjoying smørrebrød, there are a few etiquette and customs to keep in mind to fully appreciate the Danish dining experience:

  1. Use Utensils: Unlike other sandwiches, smørrebrød is typically eaten with a knife and fork. This allows you to fully enjoy the intricate layers of toppings without them slipping out of the sandwich.
  2. Taste Variety: Smørrebrød is meant to be enjoyed as a selection of different flavors. Instead of having just one sandwich, it is customary to try multiple varieties to experience the diverse taste combinations.
  3. Eat in a Certain Order: When presented with a platter of smørrebrød, it is customary to start with the lightest and mildest flavors first and progress to the stronger or richer ones. This ensures that your taste buds are not overwhelmed and allows you to appreciate each sandwich fully.
  4. Savor Each Bite: Take your time to savor each bite of smørrebrød. Appreciate the textures, flavors, and carefully balanced ingredients. Allow your taste buds to fully experience the different elements of the sandwich.
  5. Engage in Conversation: Smørrebrød is often enjoyed in a social setting, where friends and family gather to share a meal. Take the opportunity to engage in conversation and enjoy the company of those around you while savoring your smørrebrød.
  6. Respect Local Customs: If you are dining in a traditional Danish setting, it is important to respect local customs. For example, it is considered polite to keep your napkin on your lap throughout the meal and to wait until everyone is served before you begin eating.

By embracing these customs, you can fully immerse yourself in the Danish dining culture and appreciate the tradition and artistry behind smørrebrød. Remember, enjoying smørrebrød is not just about satisfying your hunger but about experiencing the rich culinary heritage of Denmark.


Popular Variations of Smørrebrød

Smørrebrød comes in a wide range of variations, allowing you to explore diverse flavors and culinary combinations. While the traditional toppings provide a solid foundation, Danish chefs and home cooks have embraced creativity and innovation, resulting in a plethora of delicious variations. Here are some popular ones:

  1. Roast Beef with Remoulade: This classic variation features thinly sliced roast beef topped with a tangy and creamy remoulade sauce. It is often garnished with crispy fried onions, adding a delightful crunch to each bite.
  2. Curried Herring: Combining the flavors of sweet and savory, curried herring is a popular choice for smørrebrød. The herring is marinated with a blend of curry spices and paired with sliced apple and onion for a well-balanced and flavorful sandwich.
  3. Chicken Salad: A lighter option, chicken salad smørrebrød features tender pieces of chicken mixed with mayonnaise, herbs, and sometimes grapes or apples for a refreshing and satisfying combination. It is often garnished with fresh lettuce leaves or microgreens.
  4. Vegetarian Delight: Vegetarian variations of smørrebrød abound, offering a range of delicious options. From roasted vegetables to creamy avocado and herb-based spreads, there are endless possibilities to explore for those who prefer plant-based options.
  5. Cheese and Pickled Cucumber: Simple yet flavorful, this variation features slices of cheese, such as Danish havarti or aged gouda, paired with tangy pickled cucumber. The combination of the creamy cheese and crunchy pickles creates a delightful contrast.

These are just a few examples of the many popular variations of smørrebrød. What makes smørrebrød truly exciting is the ability to experiment with different ingredients and flavor combinations. Whether you prefer seafood, meats, or vegetarian options, there is a smørrebrød combination to suit every taste.


Remember, smørrebrød is not limited to these variations. Chefs and food enthusiasts are constantly coming up with new and innovative combinations, blending traditional elements with contemporary flavors. So, feel free to get creative and create your own unique smørrebrød masterpiece.


Best Places to Enjoy Smørrebrød in Denmark

When it comes to experiencing the true essence of Danish smørrebrød, there are several exceptional establishments across Denmark where you can indulge in this culinary delight. From traditional eateries to modern cafes, here are some of the best places to enjoy smørrebrød:

  1. Ida Davidsen (Copenhagen): Known as the “Queen of Smørrebrød,” Ida Davidsen in Copenhagen is a legendary smørrebrød institution. Established in 1888, they offer an extensive menu with a wide selection of toppings, ensuring there’s something for every palate.
  2. Aamanns (Copenhagen): Aamanns is a contemporary smørrebrød restaurant that focuses on seasonal and organic ingredients. With modern interpretations of traditional flavors, their smørrebrød offerings are innovative and delectable.
  3. Sankt Peder (Aarhus): Located in the vibrant city of Aarhus, Sankt Peder is a popular destination to savor smørrebrød. With a cozy atmosphere and a menu that blends traditional and modern flavors, it’s a must-visit spot for food enthusiasts.
  4. Oskar Davidsen (Copenhagen): This family-run restaurant has been serving smørrebrød since 1888. Known for its high-quality ingredients and meticulous presentation, Oskar Davidsen offers a classic smørrebrød experience that honors Danish culinary traditions.
  5. Pilekælderen (Elsinore): Situated in the picturesque town of Elsinore, Pilekælderen is renowned for its delicious smørrebrød and scenic harbor views. Their diverse menu showcases the best of Danish cuisine with a focus on locally sourced ingredients.
  6. Slotskælderen (Copenhagen): Located in the basement of Copenhagen’s Royal Palace, Slotskælderen offers a unique smørrebrød experience surrounded by history and elegance. Their menu features both traditional and contemporary interpretations of the iconic Danish dish.

These are just a few of the many exceptional places to enjoy smørrebrød in Denmark. Whether you find yourself in Copenhagen, Aarhus, or other cities across the country, be sure to seek out local recommendations and explore the hidden gems that showcase the best of Danish smørrebrød.


Remember to make a reservation in advance, especially for popular establishments, as smørrebrød is highly sought after and tends to draw a crowd of both locals and tourists eager to experience this culinary masterpiece.



Danish smørrebrød is not just a meal; it’s a cultural experience that allows you to delve into the rich history, flavors, and artistry of Denmark’s culinary heritage. From its humble origins to its evolution into a sophisticated dish, smørrebrød represents the pride and creativity of Danish chefs and home cooks.


With its varied toppings, beautiful presentation, and emphasis on quality ingredients, smørrebrød captures the essence of Danish gastronomy. From the classic combinations to creative interpretations, there is a smørrebrød to suit every taste preference, dietary restriction, and occasion.


When enjoying smørrebrød, it’s important to embrace the customs and traditions that surround this iconic dish. Whether you’re using utensils, tasting a variety of flavors, or engaging in conversation, following the etiquette of smørrebrød enhances the overall experience.


If you find yourself in Denmark, make sure to seek out the best places to enjoy smørrebrød. From legendary establishments to up-and-coming restaurants, there are numerous options that showcase the diversity and innovation of Danish culinary talent.


So, immerse yourself in the world of Danish smørrebrød – savor the layers of flavors, appreciate the artistry, and embrace the social aspect of sharing this culinary treasure. Whether you’re exploring the bustling streets of Copenhagen or venturing into charming towns, smørrebrød offers a truly unique and delicious way to experience the essence of Danish culture.