We leave the “local junk food” section and enter the international section. Many people look down on eating international foods when vacationing in other countries, but the fact of the matter is that modern Danes are just as connected to the international market as the rest of us are. Not only that, but I’ve found that every country puts its own personal spin on international cuisine, which can inform you just as much about the local culture as the foods they’ve been eating for hundreds of years. Fast food restaurants were turned into lavish cafes; burgers can turn into “freshly ground beef” or “all vegetarian” with equal likelihood; Thai food loses its spice and frozen popsicles take on flavors of local berries; ice cream becomes topped with licorice and pancakes become more like thin-crusted pizzas. You never quite know what you’re going to get when worlds collide…
Little Italy in a big world
Much like in the U.S., Italian food is virtually inescapable in Denmark. The main difference between American Italian and Danish Italian seems to be the standards: American Italian ranges from reheated frozen pizzas to Olive Garden to the authentic stuff. Obviously Denmark still has delivery franchises, but most of the restaurants we encountered took their Italian food quite seriously. Often the pizza dough was hand-rolled mere feet away and then baked in an old-fashioned stone oven before being served. Stuffed crust was replaced with crusts still coated in flour. The same seemed to go for various pastas: of course you can still buy uncooked spaghetti at the grocery store, but the in-restaurant stuff wasn’t half-baked (pun intended). This seemed to be the rule even for restaurants that didn’t specialize in Italian foods.
This can be good or bad, depending on your tastes. I definitely preferred the average Danish pasta, but I do tend to like my stuffed crust pizzas.
2. Movie theater foods … well, just Popcorn, really
I love seeing movies in other countries, because there are always subtle differences in the way they’re run. At our local theater in Lyngby, a minicruise-line held a game on the big screen that you could join via Facebook on your phone for a chance to win a free mini-cruise to Sweden. I’m not sure how American companies haven’t thought of that before — who doesn’t love playing a phone game while you’re waiting for the show to start?
But my favorite aspect of the two Danish theaters I’ve visited is that their concessions area comes before your ticket gets checked, so you can walk in and buy as much popcorn as you want without needing to see a movie at all. And instead of having a few shelves of packaged candy, they had dozens of shelves of candy you could scoop out into a bag for weighing later.
I’m mostly here to talk about the popcorn: there isn’t an option to butter your popcorn, and it’s only lightly salted. However, I actually really liked it. It was still addictively good, and it didn’t make me feel sick or guilty after eating it. My dad wasn’t a fan, but we discovered that he could take the leftovers home with him and doctor it with whatever toppings he liked. Heck, the theater is so close to his apartment he honestly had time to do that before the show started.
3. Shwarma is shwarming the market
Denmark has been getting a lot of immigrants from Syria and other parts of the Middle East in the past few years, so it’s not uncommon to see signs in Arabic or have two shwarma joints on the same block. I was surprised there weren’t any places titled “halal,” but I guess it’s implied that you’re not going to find anything haram inside a shwarma restaurant.
As I mentioned, I went off my pescetarian diet for this trip, and honestly the shwarma was the best non-fish meat that I’ve eaten so far. And I bet it’s good no matter where you go, because I had mine at a little cafe called Butterfly that didn’t specialize in halal foods at all.
Unlike shwarma, TexMex has not caught on nearly as much — which was disappointing, since back home the only restaurant type more common than TexMex is fried chicken, which also had not caught on in Denmark. I was worried that my poor dad would have to be without TexMex for three whole years. How could a Texan live without refried beans and melted cheese for that long?
But while we only found two TexMex places in our entire time in Lyngby and Copenhagen, they were both excellent! We were very pleasantly surprised that the food was indistinguishable from what we would find in Houston or Austin — although there were no free unlimited tortilla chips. The guacamole was also a little disappointing, but the tacos, quesadillas, and burritos were outstanding. Often the owners were genuinely from Latin America, and even spice-averse Denmark couldn’t convince them to stop making tacos that warranted three chili peppers next to their names on the menu.
5. Indian food
I don’t eat much Indian food beyond naan bread and various kinds of masala, but I found that both of those were quite excellent at the Indian restaurant we tried in Lyngby. The only things that stopped us from inhaling everything were our full stomachs. The restaurant was well-decorated, and at the end of the meal we were given mukhwas to freshen up our breaths. That was probably the largest difference between American Indian and Danish Indian food: I’d never been offered such a solution at an American restaurant before!
Denmark is extremely connected to the rest of the world, so it would be entirely possible to live off of the exact same foods we would find in America — the fruits we’re familiar with like bananas and oranges; the same candy brands we find in our stores; and even a replacement for pretzels made by a company called Taffel. But many of its traditional foods remain alive, and they’ve remained alive for this long because they’re genuinely quite good. Denmark does a great job of housing international foods, maintaining the best of its traditional dishes, and perfecting its sweets (which I guess includes licorice). From massive supermarkets to hygge pastry shops to exciting authentic restaurants, it’s hard to go wrong with food in Denmark.
It’s not exactly cheap, but at least it’s healthy and tastes good.