When you’re not eating street dogs, Michelin-starred feasts, raw oysters, and Danish home cooking, be sure to squeeze in some smørrebrød. The national sandwich of choice is built on a single slice of dark buttered rye, a dense and satisfying launch pad for tiers of elaborate toppings: beef tartare, cut with red onions and capers, crowned with a raw egg yolk; thick slabs of pate covered with sautéed mushrooms, smoky bacon and a wobbly rectangle of jellified gravy; or, the granddaddy of them all, the stjerneskud, the “shooting star” of the smørrebrød discipline that pairs half of the ocean’s creatures—crispy fried white fish, ruby curls of smoked salmon, sweet baby shrimp, salty orbs of caviar—with cucumber and dill and wedges of hard-boiled egg. It’s a death-star shot at hunger and the most potent example of the smørrebrøod ad campaign slogan we created on the road: half the bread, twice the sandwich.
Akvavit, Denmark’s national spirit, may be falling out of favor with young Danes, who’d rather pound Red Bull vodkas than drink the stuff their parents keep in the liquor cabinet, but that just means there’s more for you. Traditionally it’s sipped during lunch, paired like wine with a variety of dishes heavy on salt and brine and spice which the akvavit—heavily charged with caraway and dill—plays off perfectly. Best to try it in Aalborg, where Danish akvavit was born. At Restaurant Elbjørn, a converted steamboat floating not more than a few hundred meters from the Aalborg Akvavit factory, you can taste nearly a dozen types as you work your way through lunch. A pickled herring smørrebrød and a few ounces of Danish firewater around noon will set you free.
Take to two wheels. Estimates have it that one third of Copenhagen commutes on bike, and if you’re out on the street at 8am, dodging thick packs of pedals and spokes, it’s easy to believe. Join the urban fray and explore the capital on wheels, or better yet, grab a bike and get out of town. Denmark is one of the world’s flattest countries and everywhere you turn will remind you of the Shire. Try the Lammefjord area just north of Copenhagen, where the roads are gentle and meandering, the fields are painted yellow with rapeseed flowers, and the towns are studded with country cooking taverns perfect for fueling the adventure. If you ate and drank as much as we did, you’re going to need the exercise.