My First Try of Denmark’s National Foods: Danish “Chlebíček”

Look up “Danish food” and on any list, you are sure to find smørrebrød.

(It’s easier to read than to actually say out loud 🙂 )

What is smørrebrød? It’s like the Danish version of Czech chlebíček, which means at its most basic it’s an open-faced sandwich. Danish open-faced sandwiches have rye sourdough bread as their basic element, on which there is pålæg (literally “on-lay”), what we’d call topping in English. This can be combinations of seafood, meat (often cold cuts), cheeses, vegetables, spreads and condiments.

Czech open-faced sandwich, courtesy of

I used to dislike chlebíčky because I don’t like white bread, and prefer the ingredients like cold cuts and eggs separately (I will eat almost anything with hard-boiled eggs involved). At one time, I described the Czech classic this way: “they basically sum up Czech food: bread, spread, egg, ham, pickle.” I know, I know. So ignorant.

On our first journey to the center of Odense, Ondra and I stopped at Føtex, a higher-end Danish grocery store with a cafeteria in it. Being a bit hungry, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to check out the famous open-faced sandwich I’d heard about, and had missed, on my trip to Copenhagen.

Here’s an American not-quite-open sandwich – PBJ in the works, seen here with some Czech inspiration in the form of homemade sea buckthorn / redcurrant / banana jam.

I asked the woman behind the counter the decisive, destiny-setting question: If this was my first time trying smørrebrød, my completely. first. impression., what would she recommend me?

After thinking for a moment, she pointed at the open-faced sandwich with shrimp on it. It also had little black dots that I believe were fish eggs.

Aw man! – I had been hoping she’d say the roast beef one. Although the smørrebrød were expensive, there was a deal if you got two instead of one, so I decided to get my first choice aaanyway. 

Not only that, but there was a coffee and cake deal. I can read enough Danish to know that this treat below was called “potato cake,” and that was so weird that I had to try it too – just for the point of scientific research!

Sigh. Food is always the downfall of my bank account.

These were good choices, though! The shrimp and mysterious black dots one was a little weird, but ultimately I liked it, and I had a moment there where I was like, “I know the lemon is a garnish, but should I just… bite into it?”

My overall first impression is that smørrebrød is so hard to eat without having things fall off. Maybe these were fancy ones made to attract your eye more than fit in your mouth well, but there are just too many ingredients here to look graceful while eating, at all. (That’s probably not the point, anyway.) The black dots kept falling off, and I had a serious lettuce and tomato crisis. Let’s not even start with the sprouts on the roast beef sandwich.

Czech chlebíček is much easier to eat – the bread is softer and doesn’t crumble as easily, plus the ingredients tend to stick better. There aren’t so many little parts attempting to make a last-ditch kamikaze jump back on the plate or onto your lap to avoid being eaten. 🙂 So maybe they’ve grown on me a bit.

Still – I’m excited to try more Danish cuisine! Any suggestions for what to try next?

Now while we’re on the subject, what is “potato” cake?

The name is for its appearance. It’s actually vanilla cake with cream covered by a layer of marzipan dusted with cocoa powder. Delicious, and heavy.

No potatoes were harmed in the making of this cake.

So that’s the story of how my first “snack” in Denmark cost 64 dkk (221 czk, $10). I’m used to Czech money now, so it looks way worse in Czech koruna. The fact that Ondra was rolling his eyes at how much I’d purchased (I left him in the aisles while saying “I’m just going to get a cup of coffee”) did not stop him from taking a bit bite out of the smørrebrød. Of course 😛

I couldn’t resist getting ramen at Odense’s Arkaden Market

By the way, some goodbye posts to Czech Republic are still in the works. They’re just kinda painful right now, so I will continue to work on them soon 🙂

What’s your favorite cuisine? What was your first impression of it?


  1. […] I’m used to thinking the U.S. is the center of the planet – our patriotic rhetoric emphasizes this and contributes to a lot of inherited bias that I try to be aware of. The simple fact that people grow up elsewhere, doing other things in different ways, is fascinating to me. Like that Israelis have a universal cleaning tool. Like that Palestinians turn their pilaf upside down. Like that Czech people think a stray draft will murder you if you don’t wear socks. Also, HOW DO DANISH PEOPLE FIT THIS IN THEIR MOUTHS. […]


  2. […] Of course, every country is different, and it will take a long time to get immersed in the Danish lifestyle. But for now I’ve benefited from excellent resources like Work in Denmark, How to Live in Denmark by famous expat Kay Xander Mellish (see below), FYI in Denmark, and The Local. I recommend them to anyone thinking of moving to the land of Odin and smørrebrød! […]


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