A Day in the Life

So far this semester, I have been introducing you to some especially popular or notable foods in Scandinavia (especially Denmark), and I have also been introducing you to the food culture. At this point, though, you may be asking yourself: what is it that people eat on a daily basis? My goal with this post is to walk you through a typical gastronomic day in the life of a Dane, as I have observed from my stay with a host family and through discussions with other students about their host families.

As in most of the western world, Scandinavians typically divide their days into three meals: breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Morgenmad (Breakfast, or literally “morning food”)

Knäckebröd with butter and marmalade

Breakfast is eaten early in the day, typically before leaving for work or school. It is usually centered around some type of grain. Sometimes people will eat, for example, yogurt (which comes in cartons and is much thinner than its American counterpart) with muesli or a standard breakfast cereal with milk. Children, on the other hand, may be more partial to a pastry.

More commonly, though, breakfast involves toast or some other type of bread. Danes take their bread very seriously, and therefore they will usually not eat the squishy supermarket bread, but rather rolls that have been freshly baked or frozen and reheated in the oven. They also seem to prefer bread with at least a little bit of whole grain.

This toast or bread almost always has a liberal spread of butter. On top of this, Danes will often put one or more of the following:

  • Chocolate (either Nutella or thinly-sliced chocolate sheets called pålægschokolade, both of which are readily available in grocery stores),
  • Honey
  • Cheese
  • Marmalade

My personal favorite is a nice roll with butter, cheese, and marmalade. It might sound like a strange combination if you have no had it before, but trust me, it is worth a try next time you get a chance!

In Sweden especially, they are particularly fond of a type of bread called knäckebröd, which is a thin rye cracker, prepared much like a roll might be. It is sometimes eaten in Denmark and other Scandinavian countries as well. The main advantage is that is lasts forever. If you ask me, that’s because it always tastes stale. Crazy Swedes!

Tea and/or coffee are also often served to drink, along with standard juices.

Frokost (Lunch)

Around the world, lunch has become the meal most affected by industrialization. In Denmark, this is no exception. As in most countries, Danish families used to eat their largest meal at midday. It has now become a more hurried affair.

In urban areas, many Danes will simply buy food at local restaurants and eat it there, eat it while sitting on a bench outside, or bring it back to their offices.

Far more common, though, especially among children, is to bring a lunch from home. This lunch is almost always a Danish classic: smørrebrød (literally: butter bread). I will write a future post exclusively about smørrebrød, but for now, it will suffice to say that this is an open-faced sandwich on an extremely hearty, completely whole grain, sour, unleavened Danish bread called rugbrød (literally: rye bread. It is usually translated as black bread because of its dark color). On top of this is spread butter (are you beginning to sense a pattern?), along with a deli meat and some kind of sauce (usually mayonnaise or remoulade). Here are some common toppings:

  • Leverpostej (like liver pâté) and cucumber
  • Ham
  • Turkey
  • Chicken
  • Frikadeller (Danish meatballs)

Middag or aftensmad (Dinner; literally “midday” and “evening food,” the first referencing the time when lunch was main meal)

These are Swedish meatballs, although it is very typical of what might be served for dinner in an average household.

Dinner is very important to Danish families. It almost always takes place at the home, and very seldom takes less than half an hour or with any family members missing. It is much earlier than in other parts of Europe, and usually takes place between 6pm and 8pm.

The meals are generally home cooked, prepared with fresh ingredients and with minimal pre-prepared or frozen additions. It is hard to give specifics about all of the different types of food that can be served, but there are a few characteristics of the meal that are worth noting. It generally includes a main dish (usually meat-based) and one or two side dishes, often potatoes or cabbage prepared in various different ways. Further, it often includes alcohol, although usually not every night. In addition to traditional red and white wines from around Europe, Danes are especially partial to their national beers, Tuborg and Carlsberg.

All of that said, here are some main dishes I have especially enjoyed:

  • Frikadeller (Danish meatballs) and potatoes
  • Curry chicken stir fry, topped with coconut shavings and a dried fruit and nuts mix, on top of rice (for some mysterious reason I have yet to uncover, curry is very popular here)
  • Soups (usually pureed with a dash of cream for richness)
  • Risengrød (rice porridge with butter and sugar, often served at Christmas time)
  • Fried, baked, or grilled white fish
  • Sausage (sometimes filled with cheese, sometimes wrapped in bacon)

Snacks and dessert

There is very little snacking in Denmark. However, tea or coffee and a small amount of sweets (pastries, chocolate, gummies, or salty licorice) are often served in the evening, an hour or more after dinner has ended.

Thanks for spending a day eating with me in Denmark! What do you think your favorite meal would be in Denmark?

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Hi there! I'm Jonah, a junior in Columbia College studying sociology and statistics. Coming from a background in the social sciences, I am especially interested in the social and cultural meanings of food and food culture. Also... I really like food. Whether it's home-cooked and eaten around a table with family, eaten at a nice restaurant with good friends, or simply picked up during the course of a busy day, I believe all food deserves to be noticed, and more importantly, enjoyed. I look forward to sharing my gastronomic, cultural, and culinary adventures in Scandinavia with you!

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