How to get weird in Copenhagen
Brace yourself: Danes have it all figured out.
The design, the furniture, the height, the socialist monarchy thing, the bikes, the hygge, the generous paid maternity leave, the happiness thing, the food scene. NOMA.
It’s almost enough to make you never go there because it’s so damn perfect.
Which is why I kind of hated it?
OK, I didn’t hate Copenhagen, but it was a little too safe for me. Not sterile, but organized. Not boring, but … organized. Until Denmark, I’d mostly hit the countries of Romance Languages: Mexico, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece. OK, maybe Greece isn’t a romance language country, but it is a country of arid landscapes and hairy chests, so, you know, romance.
Up to this point, my only brush with Scandinavia had been a whimsical and short-lived love affair with a brooding Norwegian sailor who ended up being a little too brooding in the end. “We have darkness in Norway most of the year, Sarah,” he’d once said to me. “What do you want from me?”
But when IcelandAir launched its summer sale, the flight to Copenhagen from Boston was so cheap that I couldn’t resist. After all, I enjoy sleek Scandinavian design and fancy foods, pickled fish, and generally getting down and comfortable with the Danish cult of coziness known as hygge, which has practically become a global movement thanks to some good marketing and even this how-to book.
I had three nights only in Copenhagen and so my goal there was easy: Spend Thanksgiving break alone, shopping Christmas markets and eating some Michelin-starred meals in the world’s hottest gastronomical destination.
But none of that happened.
My first meal in Copenhagen was at the much-hyped Slurp, proprietor of all things ramen. Albeit, ramen by NOMA alum Philipp Inreiter, that is. (It’s hard to shake the ghosts of NOMA chefs past in Copenhagen, which is a good thing.) I’d read to get there early, and, as they opened at 5 p.m., I figured I’d arrive right after opening time with no problem at all. When I walked in at 5:15, the place was packed, with just one seat left for me. Luckily, ramen–as the restaurant’s name suggests–is meant to be slurped, so the turnaround is quite quick. On this day, the Slurp team was debuting a new beer they’d created, a perfect counterbalance to the salt and umami of the ramen broth, which was heaven.
On my first night I did, however, discover one of the cornerstones of Danish hygge: gløgg. Gløgg is a Christmas-y mulled wine that’s really like no mulled wine you’ve had before, because DANES DO EVERYTHING BETTER. Are you sensing a theme here?
While every Scandinavian country has their own version of gløgg, I’m going to go ahead and assume the Danish interpretation is the most exceptional, because it floored me. It’s spicy wine with brandy and port wine for good measure too, and once you reach the bottom of the cup, there’s blanched almonds and raisins, warmed from the wine, which you eat with a dainty little spoon. And I’ll eat just about anything with a dainty little spoon.
Along with candles, fireplaces, woolen sweaters and good conversation, gløgg is the epitome of hygge, and it’s eponymous in the city at Christmastime, and so I drank it any chance I could.
Here I should also mention that Danes also have the cleanest public bathrooms I have ever seen. EVER.
The next afternoon, I planned to lunch at this Michelin-starred restaurant for smorrebrod–classically Danish open-faced rye toasts with a bevy of toppings–but jet-lag had me so discombobulated that I canceled my reservation at the last minute, opting to sleep in. Later, I walked to the Coffee Collective in Norrebro, where I’d rented my Airbnb, and ate a croissant and downed a cup of black coffee so perfect that I could just die, having experienced that kind of greatness.
DANISH PEOPLE KNOW WHAT THEY’RE DOING, OK?
Then I wandered to the Nyhavn district, toured the canals by boat, drank some more gløgg, and ate a hot dog from a street vendor for lunch. Hot dogs (polser) are something of a phenomenon in Denmark, and its most popular street food, complete only with a signature mound of fried onions.
For dinner, I headed across town to Vesterbro for a 5-course seating at Sanchez, chef Rosio Sanchez’s acclaimed Mexican outpost. Also a NOMA alum, Sanchez was the co-conspirator behind NOMA’s controversial Tulum pop-up in 2017, which, despite its noble but ultimately irresponsible intentions, still makes me cringe. But nevertheless, I like Sanchez, and I was curious about how she’d elevate her heritage’s flavors in a casual dining atmosphere, with fine dining flourishes.
My meal at Sanchez was one of the finest solo meals of my life! For one, I was seated at the bar, overlooking the entire kitchen. Cooking is a spectator sport, and I was riveted being that close-up to the action, witnessing both culinary triumphs and near disasters (the restaurant ran out of limes that night!).
For 385DKK you can get a 5-course tasting of the chef’s favorites, which were both beautiful and tasty. Having spent years on and off in Mexico, I was truly transported.
I think also that, subconsciously, I was missing the spontaneity of Mexico, too, which is how I found myself at a taqueria the very next day.
La Neta is Danish brewery Mikkeller’s foray into Mexican food, and I was glad to discover this beer brand more than anything. Apparently it’s available stateside, but I’d never heard of it. The tacos were decent, the decor featured the flamboyant pop of color I was missing in Copenhagen, but the Chilean bartender was what really had me ordering another beer and staying longer than I probably should’ve.
Things I didn’t do in Copenhagen?
- The Little Mermaid Statue.
- Tivoli Gardens.
- Freetown Christiania
So, basically I went to Copenhagen to eat hot dogs, Mexican, and ramen. And I’m OK with that.