Copenhagen, or København to the Danes, is renowned for its picturesque canals and bike-friendly streetscapes, its cutting-edge design and sky-high standard of living. In recent years, however, it’s gotten a disproportionate amount of press on the culinary front, and for good reason—the Danish capital of 1.2 million was awarded a record-breaking 18 Michelin stars among 15 restaurants in 2015, while Noma, that pioneer of so-called New Nordic cuisine, has been voted the World’s Best Restaurant for four of the last five years. The majority of those Michelin-starred restaurants are doing something “Nordic” in the kitchen— no small feat in a city where, 15 years ago, fine dining predominantly meant French cooking.
But none of this is news to any traveling food lover. What’s news is that traditional Danish food never went away. The classic open-faced sandwich lunch, smørrebrød, has never gone in or out of style; it’s been there all along, in hundreds of creative varieties, feeding the Danes at home, in elegant basement eateries, and in casual takeout cafes for the past century and a half. Wienerbrød, beloved Danish pastry, is just as old and varied, and mind-bogglingly delicious. Know what’s immensely satisfying in the late afternoon? A classic Danish hot dog, or pølse, on the street, paired with velvety chocolate milk. These dishes aren’t new or hot or experimental. They are the unsung heroes of Danish cuisine, the ones that continue to live on in relative anonymity while the “New Nordic” concept, the very foundation of which is rooted in tradition, spreads across the globe.