Five Fantastic Danish Food Names

You have to love a country that makes a national sport out of asking foreigners to pronounce the name of a simple summer dessert. But rødgrød med fløde is by no means the only Danish food name with entertainment value.

Burning Love ElvisBrændende kærlighed, although probably not named after the famous Elvis song, would be called “burning love” in English. This entree of mashed potatoes is made with butter, whole milk or cream and salt and topped with chives. An indent is made in the mashed potatoes form a well for bacon cubes that have been fried with sliced onions. What’s not to love?

How about hold-kæft bolcher? These large hard candies are called “shut up drops,” a name that undoubtedly earns them popularity with harried parents. And while the name might seem rather rude, it’s nicer than the American equivalent: “jaw breakers.”

Abemad is not a common dish in Denmark today, but I enjoy the fact that its name reflects the Danish love of word play. What would you expect to be in “monkey food”? Bananas, of course, along with other fruits such as pears and apples.

The translation of skidne æg that we give in our book, Eat Smart in Denmark, is “messy eggs” — but those who speak Danish know that “messy” is just a euphemism for sh*tty. These hard-boiled eggs with a slightly soft yolk are served in a mustard sauce. Legend is that because it was forbidden to clean the house or do laundry from Good Friday through Easter, this potentially messy dish was considered appropriate for Holy Saturday, when clothes were not so clean.

You can’t talk about funny Danish food terms without naming hundeprutter (dog farts) and the other Danish gummy candies with irreverent names. The line originated in a candy factory in Holme-Olstrup, a small town outside Næstved. One day owner Michael Spang reportedly asked his son Nicolai to try a new candy, and the boy replied: “They’re so slimy – and they look like dog farts.”

Legend does not convey how young Nicolai knew what a dog fart looked like, but his father took a risk and gave an entire line of candies names like Seagull Droppings, Dirty Diapers and Ear Wax. Today the amusement park called BonBon Land  in Holmegaard takes the names of its rides from these famous candies. The popularity of this tourist attraction can be measured in foodie terms: every year 60 tons of French fries, 130,000 ice cream cones and 80,000 hot dogs are sold – to say nothing of countless bags of Rotten Fish, Garbage Heap and Sewer Slime.  Only in Denmark!

When you only have one day in Aarhus

A few weeks ago, I had business to attend to in the Aarhus area. My wife is American and had never been to Jutland, and therefore we decided that she would come along, and we would make it into a small weekend vacation.

We only had one day to enjoy Aarhus as tourists and we chose to use that day in “Den Gamle By.” It was a great choice. If you only have one day and the weather is nice and sunny, like it was when we were there, then Den Gamle By is the perfect place to use your time, especially if you are just a little interested in history.


Den Gamle By is very much like traveling back in time

A Danish open-air museum representing life from the 1800s, 1920s and 1970s

Den Gamle By is exactly what its name indicates it is, “The Old Town.” It is an open-air museum where you walk around in a town that looks just like a Danish town from the 1700s, 1800s, 1920s and 1970s. In many museums, you walk around in a modern building, and look at individual things from olden days. In Den Gamle By, however, you walk around among old houses, and that way you get a whole other experience. You can go inside most of the buildings, which you will see decorated just as they were back then. You can see an old-fashioned pharmacy, a bakery and the mayor’s house from the 1800s. If you move on to the two newer areas, you will see stores such as a bookseller (both the 1920s and the 1970s version). Or what about visiting an old museum inside the museum?

Danes did of course also bike back in the days

Danes did of course also bike back in the days

I was not born in the 1970s

Many people probably think it is a little weird that they have a section dedicated to the 1970s. I did quite enjoy it though. Everything seemed so familiar to me as a Dane, but there were still some things that we don’t do and see anymore. I was born in the 1980s, and therefore I only recognize the 70s from movies, and other small things that were carried on into the 80s. Life has actually changed a lot in the past 40 years, and it is funny to see how. For instance, there is the museum has both a travel agency and a photo shop, which look exactly like they looked back then. You can still find both things today, but it is starting to become very rare, thanks to computers and the internet taking over those areas. Therefore, it is great that a whole part of the story is saved in Aarhus.



An amazing place for all ages

We visited Aarhus a little early for the tourist season to set in, but there are supposed to be a lot more activities now in the warmer months. Den Gamle By has a lot to offer its visitors, and it is guaranteed to be a lot more fun for all ages than traditional museums are. It is definitely a place to visit!

If you only have one day, like we did that weekend, I would strongly recommend that you use the time in Den Gamle By.

You can read more about Den Gamle By on their own website.

A look inside an old electronic store from the 1970s

A look inside an old electronic store from the 1970s

It’s Good to Eat Green

Easter in Denmark begins with the Danes getting the day before Good Friday off as a holiday, a practice which apparently costs the country 5 million kroner, according to Jyllands-Posten.  This day is called Skærtorsdag, and it is known as Maundy Thursday in Christian countries around the world — where it is rarely a paid holiday (but the Danes do love their extensive number of spring days off from work).

The name Maundy is thought to come from the Latin word mandatum,  the first word in the Biblical quote “Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos” (“A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you”). The first part of the Danish name for the holy day, Skærtorsdag, comes from the Old Norse word skær, meaning clean. This is thought to be a reference to Jesus washing the feet of his disciples.

Suppe med 9 slags grønt

Suppe med 9 slags grønt

The food traditions of Skærtorsdag go back to early times, and were  thought to have magical rather than Christian connotations. Skærtorsdagskål (Maundy Thursday cabbage) is a dish made by cooking several types of cabbage together with pork and other meats. When eaten on Maundy Thursday this was once believed to have the power to prevent a type of malaria formerly found in areas of Denmark with brackish coastal water.

Another version of this tradition, referred to as syv slags grønt (seven types of green), originally called for eating a soup made with nine kinds of fresh green vegetables (mostly cabbage) on Maundy Thursday—but this later this was often reduced to just seven kinds, especially since grass and nettles were sometimes needed to bring the total up to nine. This dish was undoubtedly based on a pre-Christian tradition celebrating the return of green plants in the spring.

Today we all recognize the nutritional value of green vegetables — the more the merrier. The food company Arla has published a recipe (in Danish) for Soup with 9 Types of Green that not only has nine types of greens but also bacon and a soft-cooked egg for extra flavor and protein. Of course in order to get up to the magical number nine, the recipe calls for  parsley, chives, dill and chervil. But these herbs undoubtedly taste better than grass and nettles!

Buns up!


Photo by By Ole Palnatoke Andersen

Move over, Mardis Gras. Instead of this “Fat Tuesday” tradition to mark the day before Lent, the Danes celebrate Fastelavn. This Shrovetide celebration is held on a day known in English as Quinquagesima Sunday because it falls 50 days before Easter. The Danish name Fastelavn comes from the Middle Low German term vastel-avent, meaning “fast-evening”.

And although the Danes no longer fast during Lent (or any other time of the year, from what I can tell), there is still one tradition of feasting as part of the Fastelavn celebration: fastelavnsboller. These sweet buns, often filled with whipped cream, are a bright spot in the Danish winter.

The children’s rhyme associated with Fastelavns is a shout out for fastelavnsboller:

Fastelavn er mit navn,
boller vil jeg have.
Hvis jeg ingen boller får,
så laver jeg ballade.
Boller op, boller ned
boller i min mave.
Hvis jeg ingen boller får,
så laver jeg ballade.

In short, the song says “I want buns, and if I don’t get buns, I’ll make trouble.   Buns up, buns down, buns in my tummy!”

For children, Fastelavn means more than just demanding buns. There is an old tradition, probably dating back to the Middle Ages, in which a barrel is filled with candy and oranges. Well, in actuality the original idea was to put a black cat in the barrel, and beating the barrel was considered a way to ward off the plague. Today there is just a picture of a cat painted on the barrel, making it a sort of Danish piñata. The child who beats the bottom off the barrel becomes the Cat Queen, and the one who knocks off the last piece is the Cat King.

Fastelavn has also evolved into a dress-up holiday for Danish children, similar to Halloween. This tradition comes from the fact that rich and poor were considered equal on that one day, so costumes were worn that didn’t differentiate between classes. But that was back when the holiday was celebrated by Danes of all ages drinking and eating heartily for several days before the start of Lent.

fastelavn_toende_5In addition to beating on a barrel with a poor frightened cat in it – a tradition that continued into the 1800s – there is the custom of having children use a fastelavnsris (a symbolic whip made up of twigs or branches, often decorated) to playfully “flog” their parents awake on Fastelavns Sunday. Modern Danish children might be shocked to realize that they are participating in an old fertility ritual.

But the sweetest of the Fastelavn traditions is the buns. Fastelavnsboller were originally not filled, and even today there are varying opinions about which kinds are the best (have you ever known Danes not to have an opinion about food?). They originated as a wheat bun in the 1600s, and were filled with raisins and fruit until the cream filling appeared in the 1900s. Today there is often a glaze, such as the chocolate one used in this recipe (in Danish) by Claus Meyer. There may be a custard, whipped cream or jam filling. But whatever type you prefer, “buns in your tummy” is a great antidote to the dark month of February in Denmark.


Carol and Katrina

PS We are pleased to announce that our book, Eat Smart in Denmark, has been selected ‘Best American Culinary Travel Book’ in the Gourmand World Cookbook AwardsGourmand-Winner-Digital-Sticker-F, and recently received a prestigious starred review in the U.S. Library Journal.

Delicious Danish Irony

Home chef Søren Jessen with stegt flæsk med persillesovs.

Home chef Søren Jessen with stegt flæsk med persillesovs.

In the hotly contested survey that concluded this month, stegt flæsk med kartofler og persillesovs, (slices of fried pork belly served with potatoes in a béchamel white sauce with parsley, for the uninitiated) was crowned the national dish of Denmark. In fact stegt flæsk, which represented Southern Jutland in Food Minister Dan Jørgensen’s poll, received almost 28,000 of the 63,000 votes cast.

This is ironic (and the Danes love irony almost as much as they love licorice) because the survey was part of Dan Jørgensen’s ‘food revolution’, an effort to get Danes to focus on eating healthier and more local foods.  And yet stegt flæsk med kartofler og persillesovs is hardly a healthy food – in a recipe from the fat percentage is listed as an astounding 29%

Jørgensen himself voted for the potentially healthier – and much prettier — smørrebrød, which came in second with 17,000 votes, followed by hakkebøf as a distant third. For reasons known only to those who set up the survey, smørrebrød represented East Jutland and hakkebøf was the candidate from Copenhagen.

The purpose of the vote for Denmark’s national dish – aside from being a vehicle to get Dan Jørgensen to become a household name – was to draw attention to what Danes eat. The goal was not necessarily to glorify Danish food traditions, since spaghetti with meat sauce was originally in the running. Happily the ten final candidates were all tried and true staples of Danish cuisine, although frikadeller had mysteriously not made the cut.

Although the first round of voting was strictly based on popularity, the final round involved inviting celebrity chefs from different regions to prepare “New Nordic” versions of the top eight dishes. Few fans of stegt flæsk med kartofler og persillesovs, a popular and inexpensive meal, would recognize the winning version of the dish by Ninna Bundgaard Christensen. Christensen, a young sous chef at Comwell in Southern Jutland, created a fancier (and more stylish) recipe reflecting her interest in New Nordic cuisine – although she doesn’t stint on the butter.

Ninna Bundgaard Christensen's stegt flæsk

Ninna Bundgaard Christensen’s stegt flæsk

The vote for Denmark’s national dish has been criticized as being a publicity stunt, but it did initiate a great deal of discussion about Danish food culture. “Danish and New Nordic Cuisine have become known the world over. But here at home in our own kitchens, we often forget our culinary roots. The national dish has helped us to rediscover and develop our food traditions,” Jørgensen said in a press release.

Will the rest of the world embrace the new Danish national dish? Probably not, because unfortunately there are very few places outside Denmark where you can get pork cut correctly to make stegt flæsk med persillesovs. Those who want to taste this specialty will just have to come to Denmark to discover this longstanding traditional tradition – either the New Nordic version (at Noma, perhaps?) or the version of stegt flæsk med persillesovs known and apparently dearly loved by working class Danes across the country.

PS We would have voted for smørrebrød!