Food

A Toast to Store Bededag

You might think that Store Bededag (“Great Prayer Day”) is a modern Danish invention, created to efficiently combine several religious holidays no longer celebrated by Danes going to church.  Danish church attendance, except for major life events and the big holidays of Easter and Christmas, is indeed astonishly low among the 80% of the population belongs to the state-supported Lutheran Church.

Bishop Bagger & Buns

But Store Bededag, which is May 16 this year, actually dates back to 1686, when it was created by King Christian V at the suggestion of Bishop Hans Bagger of Roskilde to consolidate several of the minor Roman Catholic holidays that survived the Reformation (and thus have more work days for laborers). Since that time it has been celebrated on the 4th Friday after Easter as part of a series of days off after the long Danish winter.

There is actually very little celebration associated with Store Bededag except the tradition of eating varme hveder, a type of warm, toasted wheat bun, the evening before. The tradition began when bakers, forbidden by law from opening their bakeries on Store Bededag itself, started making these buns the day before so that parishioners could toast them at home on the holiday. It eventually became the custom to eat them fresh on Thursday evening instead of waiting until Friday.

Many Danes wax nostalgic at the very aroma of varme hveder, which are traditionally eaten toasted and buttered. If you would like to make your own, the famed Claus Meyer offers a recipe (in Danish) on his web site. The Kitchens of Kiki blog by Kirsten Lauridsen has a translation of this recipe to English.

Efforts to do away with Store Bededag have met with opposition — who would want to eliminate a day off from work, and a tasty tradition to boot?  There may not be much praying done on Great Prayer Day, but one can be certain that those who can get outside celebrate by enjoying this precious day of Danish springtime.

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We are pleased to announce that Eat Smart in Denmark, our culinary guide to Danish food, will be published in August, 2014.  It includes a section on Danish regional food and holiday traditions such as this one.

Smørrebrød in Miniature

The Royal Cafe started the trend by combining smørrebrød with sushi to create what they called “smushi” soon after it opened in 2007.  The Royal Cafe, created and owned by Lo Østergaard and Rud Christiansen, is a combination of a cafe and a shop presenting Danish manufacturers such as Royal Copenhagen and Georg Jensen together with a fusion of traditional Danish foods and original cuisine.

While the name “smushi” implies the wedding of Danish open-faced sandwiches and sushi, these artistic little creations bear only a small resemblance to real Japanese sushi, which always feature vinegared rice (often combined with raw fish or other seafood).  Instead most smushi are traditional Danish smørrebrød combinations created in “sushi size”.  The small size allows diners to sample a wider variety without getting full, according to the company’s web site.

The concept has proven so popular that The Royal Cafe has issued a book with a decidedly not bite-size size or price:  The Royal Smushi Book is a coffee-table book that sells for a royal 350 kroner.  Photos of cute smushis abound on Pinterest, and the Danish-Japanese fusion has led a successful Japanese version of the restaurant and shop called Denmark – The Royal Cafe in Tokyo.

And now those who find even a smushi too large have a new option for truly bite size versions of smørrebrød: Danish Minies on Gentoftegade in Copenhagen. This company creates canapé-size smørrebrød based on traditional open-faced sandwich combinations. They don’t require knife and fork, or even a plate, so they’re perfect for parties or receptions.

It’s nice to see the revival of interest in smørrebrød, even if the trend is towards postage-stamp size creations. Which by coincidence is just what happened last year, when the Danish postal system issued a set of delicious-looking stamps that featured this classic Danish culinary favorite.

 

 

 

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Duck, Martin Luther!

November 10 is Mortensaften in Denmark, and in homes across the country duck will be served in honor of Martin Luther. Or maybe not.  Mortensaften is indeed named after someone named Martin — but in this case it was Saint Martin, who like many saints is not officially celebrated in Luther’s Protestant church.

The Martin being honored on Mortensaften, which is the eve of The Feast of Saint Martin, was named Martin of Tours, or  Sanctus Martinus Turonensis (316 – November 8, 397).  He was born in Hungary, grew up in Italy and lived in France — so his ties to Denmark are tenuous at best, although Sct. Mortens Kirke in Randers was named in his honor long before Martin Luther’s time.

But why do the Danes eat duck in his honor?  The answer to that question is a bit complicated.  The tradition in Denmark is actually calls for goose to be eaten on Mortensaften, but geese are larger than most families can handle, and not as readily available as duck.  Eating duck, however, just doesn’t make much sense from a symbolic standpoint.  According to legend, the monk Martin hid in a goose pen to modestly avoid being named a bishop. The cackling of the geese revealed his whereabouts, so it was therefore decided that every year on this day geese must lose their lives and be eaten. In actuality, November is a perfect time for a festive goose dinner, because it is a time in the late autumn when geese are often slaughtered.  But there is no legend for Mortensaften that calls for duck to be used as a scapegoat for their feathered brethren. The truth of the matter is that many Danes enjoy a good duck dinner, especially as a little preview of the festive Christmas season soon to come.

Smørrebrød: The App

VisitDenmark is using new technology to promote an old Danish food tradition with its creative iPhone app entitled Smorrebrod. The idea came from the U.S. office of VisitDenmark, which is the official Danish tourism organization.  According to PR manager Christina Heinze Johansson, “Within the past few years, Danish smørrebrød has experienced a renaissance. Increasingly popular are both the ‘old-school’ restaurants, which today are considered ‘retro’ and institutions almost, as well as the new restaurants. New chefs are interpreting their grandmothers’ versions of smørrebrød with respect for its legacy and position in Danish food culture, but with new takes and variations, making it more fresh and modern. Smørrebrød is such an iconic part of Danish cuisine and comes with a lot of tradition.”

“But for the average American traveler, this very particular and very Danish food phenomenon needs an introduction. With the app, we wanted to provide travelers to Copenhagen with a guide – to the customs, the places and the history of smørrebrød. A sort of handy ‘smørrebrød-pedia’. Experiencing smørrebrød is such a genuine Danish experience – a ‘must-do’ to cross off your list when visiting. It ties into the trend of visitors wanting more authentic experiences while traveling. We wanted to inspire travelers to Denmark to a more local food experiences – to eat like the locals – and for them to experience a piece of Danish food culture and history at the same time.”

The firm Kleberg & Küttemann was hired to design this clever smørrebrød app, along with one for journalists entitled Denmark Stay Tuned. The company also has a number of helpful apps available for those searching for campsites throughout Scandinavia — and even one for anyone looking for a taxi in Denmark.

What can you find on the Smorrebrod app, which is available for free in the iTunes store? Spinning the touch-screen home page takes you to a number of different features: Smørrebrød in the US, Smørrebrød in Copenhagen, Recipes (mostly from Aamanns), videos, and a wonderful, extensive section entitled Smørrebrød A-Å.  The uninitiated might not realize that this is the same as an A – Z listing in English, but that’s part of what makes it so Danish.

Among the many topics covered in the A – Å section is smørrebrød etiquette, which is also typically Danish. The uninitiated might not realize the importance of eating fish before meat, and within that category, eating herring before salmon.  Written with humor that is also typically Danish, this app is a great way “to explore this mouth-watering Danish food phenomenon in a new and fun way,” as VisitDenmark points out. The easy to use app allows you to e-mail a recipe or description to a friend, or to yourself so that you can print it out.  And the photographs that accompany the program are excellent. Unfortunately for Americans who love Danish food, Aamanns/Copenhagen in New York is the only US restaurant currently listed as serving smørrebrød — so we may have to make do with this beautifully designed virtual experience until our next trip to Denmark.

To download the iPhone app and learn more about culinary travel in Denmark, see: www.visitdenmark.com/smorrebrod.

For the Love of Smørrebrød

Marcus Schioler and his father

You might expect that a blog devoted to the art of making traditional Danish smørrebrød would come from Denmark – but it turns out that www.danishsandwich.com is the creation of a Canadian named Marcus Schioler. As he says in the  “My Obsession with Smørrebrød” page on his blog, Marcus is the son of an ex-pat Dane in Canada.  He first became aware of Danish open-faced sandwiches when the family flew to Copenhagen for family vacations.  The uncles who met the family would stop at the IRMA grocery store for pålæg (toppings) on the way home from the airport, allowing their excited nephew to help in the choice.  “With unfettered abandon, I would dash about the shop, delighted by the re-discovery of open-faced favorites I had forgotten since the last trip”, Schioler writes.

As an adult he took on the challenge of recreating these favorites using ingredients available in the US and Canada.  This proved to be no small undertaking, because recipes “frequently referenced prepared ingredients, ingredients that no Dane would even consider making, simply because it is readily available and high-quality in most Danish shops. Like Parisians would never bake their own baguettes to eat with their Camembert, Danes would never cure their own saltkød.” But Schioler persisted, researching ways to create authentic Danish smørrebrød from scratch in North America. His goal is to feature all of the most popular types of smørrebrød, and he’s getting close to achieving that mark.

Schioler does the cooking, writing and even the stunning food photography himself. In addition to the bog, which has been going for several years, Schioler has experimented with video – you can see his clear instructions for making rugbrød in a YouTube video which has been viewed over 3,000 times. “I’d like to do much more video”, Schioler admits, “but it is a bit too time-consuming to do well in my spare time.” His full-time job is working for Autodesk in Montreal as part of an Industry Strategy and Marketing team that makes software products for video editing, visual effects, 3D modeling and animation for use by customers in film, TV, and video games.

We recently asked Schioler for his thoughts about the future of smørrebrød both in Denmark and abroad. He wrote: “In the past 3 years or so we have seen a veritable boom in smørrebrød thanks to the efforts of Aamanns, New Nordic, Smushis at The Royal Café ( featured on a short video on the site Monocle), and many other people. Having said that, I still think that smørrebrød is completely off the radar for most people – at least as far as the true Danish culinary experience goes. Everybody that I introduce to smørrebrød loves it, which suggests to me that it could grow in popularity if many more people were exposed to it. But for that to happen, authentic smørrebrød restaurants (or food trucks) would have to pop up all over the place. I think we’re still pretty far away from that happening. The main thing standing in the way is that the ingredients needed to make authentic smørrebrød are not easy to find and are labour intensive to make.”

“Aamanns Cpenhagen in New York is showing that it can be done – spectacularly! – but it requires a significant effort and commitment. For it to grow into something like the scale of sushi or tacos, I believe smørrebrød ingredients would have to be readily available and affordable so that a larger number of restaurants could run a profitable business selling little open-faced delights! Think about sushi – the ingredients are so beautifully simple and easy to find at supermarkets all across North America – restaurants can source excellent quality produce easily and prepare everything themselves. This is the ideal situation.”

“But it has to start somewhere and I hope Aamanns Copenhagen is showing us the way. When I began documenting the traditional smørrebrød, I had a dream of becoming the Danish Sandwich King of Canada. Many friends and acquaintances have told me that I should open my own Danish smørrebrød restaurant in Montreal – I suppose that if I don’t do it why would anybody else? I believe that the communal aspects of smørrebrød, the rich diversity of the sandwiches, and the distinctive flavors all make for a unique experience that has a place among the great culinary traditions of the world. Many a day, I’ve woken up in the morning and thought to myself: “That’s it! I’m starting a Danish smørrebrød restaurant in Montreal.” Maybe one day I’ll actually do it!”

If Marcus Schioler does someday open his own restaurant, we’ll be first in line for lunch. Because as you can see from www.danishsandwich.com, even though he is a Canadian Schioler knows smørrebrød as well as anyone who was born on Danish soil.