How to Celebrate in Denmark | Etiquette and Cultural Misunderstandings
Tillykke med fødselsdagen! Congratulations with your birthday! That’s how you say “Happy Birthday” in Denmark. And there are certain ways to celebrate it here. Like most everything you encounter when moving abroad, no matter where that may be, you quickly find there are distinct rituals and customs about how to do things. Those little, unspoken rules that are blanketly accepted by that society. The “rules” that no one tells you about until you do something incorrectly. Didn’t you know? That’s how we do it here. We all knew. Why don’t you? It was in the manual. Continue reading “How to Invite Danes to a Party”→
When I say porridge – you say? Grød! No, no, no. Not grod. Grød. Listen.
When I say porridge – you say? Grød! At least the Danes do. Grød is porridge. To me, the word porridge conjures up visions of huge kettles of oatmeal that has been sitting out way too long at the breakfast buffet of your hotel when on a long weekend away with your son’s lacrosse team. Oh sorry. Just me? Maybe the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears? I always steer clear. Of the “porridge.” Goopy. Soupy. Snotty. Oatmeal. Don’t get me wrong. I love oatmeal. But it isn’t porridge to me. It is oatmeal. And that stuff in the kettle? That is not oatmeal.
Here the Danes love porridge. Specifically risengrød. Rice porridge. When presented with new foods, I instinctually scroll through my mental rolodex of experiences and tastes. As you do when trying to make connections with that strange dish placed in front of you. The closest thing to risengrød that I have tried before would probably be rice pudding. In the States, it is a salad bar staple, but often gelatinous or potentially chunky. Now before you judge, not all American rice pudding is bad, but many can be. We do love the Trader Joe’s rice pudding straight from the container. Especially when served cold with cinnamon and nutmeg. Wait. Cold? Nutmeg? Did you say NUTMEG?!?! Records screeching silent. Looks of disdain. Utter shock and horror. You do NOT put nutmeg on risengrød, says my Danish friend. Oh. Ok. Duly noted. Thanks for the tip.
When we moved here two years ago, we found a tube of risengrød at the local Netto, a local market that I can only describe as a cross between Safeway, Tesco and the Dollar Store shoved inside the space of a 7-11. But Netto is an institution here. And a shopping experience it is. You either love it or you hate it. Or you grow to love it. Nothing is ever in the same place. There are boxes everywhere and there is nary a concern for presentation or atmosphere. Of any kind. But the prices are good. Very good. For Danish prices. Before arriving, I had read a little about Danish Christmas and knew that this tube at Netto was potentially a key player. It said Risengrød. That was an important Danish dish. You can see our first attempts at testing it here. Oh what we didn’t know that we didn’t even know at that time.
In Denmark, grød is a staple. (You’re still trying to say it correctly aren’t you? Keep trying.) You can eat grød for breakfast, lunch AND even dinner. Risengrød gets elevated status as a special dish at Christmas time. Think about it. Rice doesn’t grow here in Denmark. It was imported. You had to buy it. So if you normally made your daily grød from commonly grown grains like oats or rye or barley, rice was special. A treat. As was the exotic cinnamon which topped it. A risengrød was for Christmas. And when served at the beginning of the rich Danish Christmas dinner people filled up and it helped meter the costs of the more expensive dishes like the Duck and Roast Pork. Today, when modern Danes serve risengrød to their families, they make connections to history and those cultural roots. Those roots set in early, as most children have grown up with porridge for breakfast. It is comfort food in a bowl. And my family was eating it all wrong.
It should be served piping hot. With a “knob” of butter. And covered in cinnamon sugar. COVERED. Let the butter melt, but don’t stir it all in. Nibble like a Nisse from the edges. What’s a Nisse you ask? Those mischievous little sprites that live in the forest and help at the farm, but only if you treat them well. In December they move inside. Modern children place nissedør (doors) in their homes to allow the Nisse access. Leave them a little risengrød and they might leave a present in your boot. But forget and they might hide the toaster. Or move your shoes. They’ll play tricks to remind you. I can’t help but think that the “Elf on the Shelf” tradition has some roots with the nisse. Nisse love risengrød.
And risengrød has to be the perfect consistency. Recipes allow for any short grain rice, but Danes only use grødris. Follow a recipe. Keep stirring and stirring. Don’t walk away or the milk will burn. The rice shouldn’t be al dente, but definitely not mush. You want to feel the grains when you chew. It needs some tooth. Too much to take in? Not interested in making your own risengrød? But you are intrigued by this Danish tradition? Don’t worry. You can try it. At GRØD.
Yes. There is a restaurant that serves only porridge. In bowls. Piping hot. In fact, GRØD loves to claim that they were “the world’s first porridge bar.” You can visit the mother ship in Nørrebro on charming Jæggersborgade or in the glass market at Torvehallerne. Lucky for me, my Danish friend loves GRØD and we have one right here in our Østerbro neighborhood.
Today, we met for a bowl of the klassisk risengrød. Served just how she taught me. It’s simple. But homey. And definitely not soupy. Just right. Let the butter melt. Don’t stir it in. Warm and filling. Do I need it everyday? Probably not. But I would not say no to another bowl of porridge served hot.
A warmed spiced cider with elderflower.
Ready to nibble like Nisse?
My little Nisse, still not so sure.
GRØD serves many different kinds of porridge beyond the simple and traditional risengrød. They want to elevate what they believe a classic and elegant meal in a bowl. I will admit that last time I visited I enjoyed the curried lentil porridge. Been to GRØD? It is definitely worth seeking out. What did you try? This time of year – don’t miss the risengrød. Cozy Danish Christmas in a bowl.
WHERE TO FIND GRØD
Torvehallerne Glass Market
Hall 2, Stade 8A, Linnésgade 17
1362 Copenhagen K
Monday – Friday: 07.30-19-00
Saturday & Sunday: 9:00 to 18:00
Jægersborggade 50, kld. TV
DK-2200 Copenhagen N
Monday – Friday: 7:30 a.m. to 21:00
Saturday – Sunday: 9:00 to 21:00
Nordre Frihavnsgade 55,
2100 Copenhagen Ø
Monday – Friday: 7:30 to 21:00
Saturday – Sunday: 9:00 to 21:00
Additional locations in Frederiksberg and on Jutland in Aarhus.
In Denmark, you can add the word jule to everything and it becomes an instant Christmas creation. We hunt down juletræer – Christmas trees. Santa is the Christmas man – Julemanden. Much energy and effort go into creating julehygge – those cozy Christmassy moments with family and friends. You can buy julekaffe, Christmas coffee. Julethe, Christmas tea. Julekugler, Christmas balls. Julegaver, Christmas gifts.
But what to eat? That is called julemad. Hang on – wait! Don’t get mad! Mad means food in Danish. And it isn’t pronounced how you are probably thinking it might. It’s more like… “mehl.” But you don’t really pronounce the L. You kind of swallow it. What? I know. It’s complicated. Danish is like that. Don’t worry. Just enjoy. There is so much to enjoy about Danish Christmas. And the julemad, Danish Christmas food, they serve with it this time of year is delicious.
Being a small country, Danes are protective of their traditions. And for good reason. They are delightful. And tasty. Seriously. If you don’t think so, then you are eating at the wrong place. Or have the wrong chef. Or the wrong recipe. Ask people who know. People who love it. Love the traditions. Christmastime alone gives evidence of the very strong food culture here in Denmark.
What if you aren’t Danish? But you live in Denmark. What then? If you’re like me, you sample and try and taste and sip. Then some of us blog about it, sharing it with others. Luckily, there are lots of great writers, storytellers and photographers living around Copenhagen. I rounded up a group of remarkable foreign bloggers and I asked them all to share their favorite Danish julefood. Dansk julemad. Please enjoy the following anecdotes, recipes and images and be sure to check out their blogs as well! Without further ado, let me introduce you.
Caroline is a Canadian travel writer living in Copenhagen and starts our tour of Danish julefoods with a stop at Tivoli Gardens. All kinds of fun and charm at Christmas, Caroline shares her favorite tastes to try this time of year at Tivoli.
TASTES OF CHRISTMAS AT TIVOLI GARDENS
My favorite taste of the Danish festive season isn’t just about the food itself, but the experience. For me, the place to sample all of the delicious local goodies during the holidays is Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens. Just before Christmas, Tivoli transforms into a winter wonderland, with a Nordic-style Christmas Market complete with every kind of festive treat. The smell of brændte mandler (hot caramelized almonds) wafts through the air, you can nibble on æbleskiver (fried dough balls with jam and cream), and you can warm up with a hot gløgg (mulled wine). You can even keep the souvenir mug! My favorite treat though is Tivoli’s version of the classic flæskesteg, a traditional sandwich made with thick slices of juicy pork, including the crunchy, salty crackling. Their modern take nestles the pork inside a rosemary focaccia roll and tops it with homemade relish and a tangy, creamy mustard dressing, along with the traditional red cabbage. To me, it has the taste of the holidays.
Melanie has lived in Denmark for over eight years, making the transition from England, with an interlude in Berlin. She knows well the ups and downs of relocating. Need help with your own move to the happiest place on earth? Melanie can help. Today, she is comforting us and helping us settle into Christmas with a little Danish doughnut. Homemade! When done right – these little puffs are delightful.
Delightful Danish doughnuts | ÆBLeskivers
This time of year in Copenhagen you can’t go anywhere without spotting that Danish yuletide staple of æbleskiver, delicious little apple filled (sort of) doughnuts. But did you know they are pretty easy to make at home once you get your hands on a cast iron æbleskiver pan?
I use this Trine Hahnemann recipe and I am told that it is a little fancier than other recipes but it is very easy to make the batter. As it uses yeast there is a little waiting time before you can fire up the pan and get started. But once you do they are super quick and easy to make. A knitting needle is the best way to turn them to ensure they are perfect rounds.
Once they are made, dust with icing sugar and serve warm with a little dollop of jam and a glass of gløgg, the Danish version of mulled wine. Perfect! Glædelig Jul!
2 teaspoons dry yeast
3½ cups lukewarm milk
3 cups plain wheat flour
2 teaspoons salt
1½ teaspoons ground cardamom
2 whole vanilla pods
2 tablespoons caster sugar
4 eggs, separated
1 stick of butter for frying
1. In a bowl, dissolve the yeast in the milk. In another mixing bowl, sift together the flour, salt and cardamom.
2. Slit the vanilla pods lengthways, scrape out the seeds with the tip of a knife and add them to the dry ingredients along with the sugar.
3. Whisk the egg yolks into the milk mixture, using an electric mixer if possible. Add the dry ingredients and beat to make a dough.
4. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff, then fold them into the dough.
5. Leave the batter to stand for 40 minutes.
6. Heat the æbleskiver pan over medium heat. Put a little butter in each indentation, and when it has melted pour in some of the batter. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes or until golden underneath, then turn the doughnuts over so they form a ball.
7. Continue frying for about 5 minutes, then remove from the pan and repeat with the remaining batter.
8. Dust with a little icing sugar and serve the æbleskiver in a serving dish. Serve icing sugar and raspberry jam on the side.
Hailing from South Africa, Rochelle has embraced the idea that Christmas in this hemisphere can be cozy and delicious despite the cold. Rochelle is a brilliant photographer and you can check out her portrait work here. She loves cooking and shares the iconic Danish risengrød. In Denmark, porridge as a meal is elevated to cult-like status. Learn how to make yours along with a quirky cooking technique passed on from the Danes.
RISengrød | warm rice porridge with cinnamon, sugar, and butter
According to Danish folklore elves live in the lofts of every house and in the run-up to Christmas unless you give them risengrød, a cinnamon rice pudding, they will get up to mischief in and around the house. To keep them sweet you need to make them rice pudding on the 30th of November before the countdown to Christmas starts. Leave it out at night, include an elves beer, nisseøl, and they might just leave you a gift such as an advent calendar or the like.
120 g or 100 ml of arborio rice, paella rice or grød rice
200 ml boiling water
a pinch of sea salt
600 to 700 ml milk [ I use 700ml as I prefer mine milky and velvety]
1 whole cinnamon stick
a knob of butter per serving
brown sugar and ground cinnamon to taste
Place your boiling water in a thick-based saucepan and add your rice and a pinch of salt.
Stir whilst boiling for approximately 2 minutes or until the water has reduced by half. This helps that the milk doesn’t burn to the pan.
Add your cinnamon stick and milk and bring to a boil all the while stirring with a flat-bottomed wooden spoon.
When boiling turn down to a simmer and place the lid on and leave it to simmer for about 35 to 40 minutes. Stir every so often to avoid burning.
Remove your cinnamon stick, serve and adorn with a knob of butter, ground cinnamon and preferably brown sugar to taste.
Makes approximately 4 pudding servings or 2 main course servings.
I was recently told by some lovely Danish ladies that I could bring my milk to a boil and then wrap my pot with a lid in newspaper and put it underneath my duvet. Leave it there for a minimum of an hour and a half and have ready-made rice pudding. This way apparently you don’t have to watch the pot or stir. And it carries on cooking under the duvet!
Naina is from Mumbai, India, and brings a colorful and fresh approach to cooking, which she loves. Check out her blog for easy and gorgeous recipes that she wants every busy family to be able to make. I love that she is teaching her daughter traditional Indian AND traditional Danish recipes. HOW you make and serve your rice pudding at Christmas in Denmark divides opinion – you either have risengrød to start your meal OR you serve Risalamande for dessert. Try Naina’s recipe for the sweetened creamy dessert!
I’ve lived in Copenhagen for 9 years now and I must say the magic of Christmas in this wonderful city never gets old! The gorgeous Scandinavian decorations, never garish, always tasteful and the hyggelige candlelight are enough for me to slow down and ease into Yuletide.
One of my favorite Danish Christmas foods (besides the butter cookies) is Risalamande, a creamy rice and almond pudding, served with warm cherry sauce. It may not look like much and rice pudding may not sound grand enough for Christmas, but believe me, it is delicious and it is all about enjoying with your family and friends. And coming as I do from India, where rice is a part of every auspicious celebration, Risalamande does remind me of home 🙂 Oh, and did I mention there is a game involved?
1 cup short-grained white rice (risengrød or arborio work best)
½ cup water
1 liter milk
1 whole vanilla pod
150 grams peeled almonds
2 tablespoons sugar
500 ml heavy cream
Cherry sauce to serve
In a saucepan add the rice and the water. Boil it for about 2 minutes.
Add the milk to the pan and let it come to a boil while stirring.
Add the vanilla seeds from the vanilla pod. Also, add the empty vanilla pod to the pudding as it adds a lot of flavor.
Cover the saucepan with a lid and cook the pudding on low heat.
The rice has a tendency to stick to the saucepan, so remember to stir regularly.
Let it simmer for about 35 minutes.
Remove the vanilla beans. Let the porridge cool completely in the fridge before you proceed to make the Risalamande.
You can also make this porridge the previous day.
Coarsely chop the peeled almonds. If you like, you can toast the chopped almonds or add them directly to the porridge.
Mix the almonds and the sugar with the cooled porridge.
In a separate bowl, whip the heavy cream to stiff peaks.
Gently mix the whipped cream with the rice porridge.
The Risalamande is ready. Refrigerate till you are ready to serve.
Serve with warm Cherry Sauce.
Note: If you want to play the traditional Danish almond game (mandelgave), add a whole peeled almond to the Risalamande; whoever gets the whole almond wins a small prize.
Before I even moved to Denmark, I followed Laura’s Blog – The Copenhagen Tales. As a German living here, I loved her clean, concise posts and gorgeous pictures. Here, Laura takes us to the Danish Julefrokost – or Christmas lunch – which includes a litany of dishes and courses. But she’s shared her favorite – curried herring – which she believes doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Make your own karrysild this year. Go on! It’s good!
When it comes to Danish Christmas food, herring is somewhat inevitable. No classic Danish julefrokost (Christmas lunch) would be complete without different types of sild (herring) – pickled, fried, or in a creamy sauce. Among Danes and ex-pats alike, opinions are divided: some despise herring, while others, me included, absolutely love it and look forward to the couple of times a year we get to enjoy it. My personal favorite is karrysild, pickled herring in a creamy curry sauce, served on a slice of rye bread and often topped with an egg. Here’s my Danish grandma-in-law’s family recipe for traditional karrysild:
1 glass pickled herring (3 fillets)
150g good mayonnaise
200g Crème Fraiche
1 red onion, cubed
2 small red apples, cubed
1 tbsp curry powder
2 tbsp chives, chopped
1 tbsp dill, chopped
1 tsp sugar
Salt and pepper, to taste
Drain the herring and cut into bite-size chunks. Blend mayonnaise, crème fraiche, curry powder, and spices. Add apples, onions, and chives and mix well. Add the herring and mix to coat. Leave in the fridge for at least an hour before serving. Serve on a slice of rye bread.
Because we are talking Christmas lunches, we have to discuss what Danes drink along with the karrysild and other Danish dishes. And more often than not, that is Snaps. Or Akvavit? But which is which? Are they different? Alex, a fellow American and traveler who loves sharing ways to integrate and connect with the Danes, is a great sport and explains it here for us. The one caveat being – that he doesn’t really LOVE either! Thanks for educating us, Alex. As he explained, “it wouldn’t be a Danish julefrokost without it!”
SNaps or akvavit | what to toast with at Danish Christmas lunch
The difference between akvavit and snaps is a confusing one, further confounded by the changing definitions from country to country and the fact that many use the two terms interchangeably. But, for Denmark akvavit (aquavit elsewhere) is a distinct, strong, alcohol most similar in profile to Vodka, but predominantly flavored with caraway, dill seeds, and coriander. Danish snaps (schnapps elsewhere), on the other hand, is made by taking akvavit and then aging it, and further flavoring it with ingredients like walnut, horseradish, lemon, or chili.
As a result, while akvavit tends to come from a short list of Nordic distilleries, you have a wide variety of snaps types, strengths and flavor profiles with many Danes making their own. Akvavit has a minimum required alcohol % over 37, though most are closer to 45%. Snaps vary but usually fall in the 30-45% range. One thing’s for certain, snaps is a fundamental part of the Danish julefrokost tradition and a must-try. Skål!
Make mine mulled wine | Gløgg | Add spices, raisins, and almonds
You didn’t think I was going to let you get away without sharing my favorite, did you? I love the Danish Christmas Dinner, but that is only one night a year. It isn’t the Danish Christmas season to me unless there is a glass or two of gløgg. Warm and spicy – it’s julehygge in a mug to me. And I like gløgg outside in the cold, wandering around a julemarked or warming up after traipsing through the fields to find your perfect fir juletræ. This recipe comes from Trine Hahnemann – a Danish Christmas ambassador herself. Her version is not so sweet, which I prefer.
GLØGG EXTRACT INGREDIENTS:
200ml blackcurrant juice
75ml lemon juice
10 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
2 cinnamon sticks
Place all the ingredients in a saucepan. Cover. Bring to a boil, stirring to help the sugar dissolve. Simmer for 30 minutes, and drain through a sieve. Discard spices, and store in sterilized bottles. Seal at once. Stored in a dark, cool place, this keeps for months.
But where’s the wine? Ha. Don’t worry. I’ve got you covered.
TO MAKE YOUR GLØGG:
Take 1 – 750ml bottle of red wine and add 250ml Gløgg extract. Combine and heat for 10 minutes. Add 150g blanched almonds coarsely chopped and 150g raisins. Serve with teaspoons to enjoy the nuts. (I personally skip the raisins, you may find them soggy and plump sitting at the bottom of my glass!)
I hope you might be inspired to make or try some of these lovely Danish Christmas treats this year. I will raise a mug to you! Skål! Cheers. And Glædelig Jul! Merry Christmas. With love from Copenhagen, Erin
Tackling a new language through a tasty seasonal recipe
EVEN IF YOU CAN’T PRONOUNCE IT, YOU CAN ENJOY IT
I may not be fluent in Danish. Actually enrolling in classes would probably be a good way to get cracking on that. But I have picked up some Dansk words and phrases and I definitely know how to eat in Danish. Not eat a “danish.” Eat Danishly. Continue reading “Rhubarb is Rabarber in Danish”→
Lacrosse. Do you know it? No? If you are from America, you probably do. You may have heard of it in Europe, especially if you’ve been around our family! The sport is growing in popularity and participation. It is an intense fast-paced game of footwork, hand-eye coordination, agility, teamwork, contact, strength and grit. Using a stick topped with a mesh basket, a hard plastic ball is passed between 10 teammates on the field attempting to score on an opponent’s goal. Roots of the game originate nearly 1000 years ago played in various forms by aboriginal peoples of North America. It doesn’t get the television coverage or celebrity status of other mainstream professional sports in the States (or elsewhere) – but if the escalating growth for participation in youth programs is any indication – it may. Our big boy loves the game. Unfortunately with our move to Denmark, participation in a youth program was out of the question. They just don’t exist here. Continue reading “Danish Lacrosse needs your help”→