There are few pleasures simpler or greater than excellent bread and butter. Particularly when the butter is creamy and salted, and the bread is a freshly baked Danish bolle, or roll, available in numerous varieties: peppered with walnuts and dried fruit, sprinkled with poppy or pumpkin seeds, flecked with strands of carrot or beetroot… These always have the most luscious dense, slightly sour crumb, and are deliciously chewy and wholesome, particularly when slathered in the aforementioned butter. I should also mention that the Danes even have a special word, tandsmør, which literally means ‘tooth butter’ and describes a piece of bread so thickly spread with the good stuff that you leave toothmarks when you bite into it. This essentially describes the diet to which I have been rigorously adhering since I moved here.
It’s almost impossible to do one big food shop. Or, at least, it is when you’re a keen cook with a lust for eclectic recipes and cosmopolitan ingredients like myself. Although there are a multitude of supermarkets here, their stock can be variable, depending on what they’ve managed to source cheaply that week, and you always end up, inevitably, unable to find one or two key items on your shopping list, necessitating a trip to another supermarket which may or may not have what you need. I realise that this may only be the case for people like me, who absolutely have to have raspberry vinegar, enoki mushrooms and Thai basil during one weekly food shop…but it can be frustrating, the Danish supermarket gamble. I remember traipsing round Aarhus with a group of friends in tow trying desperately to find a cauliflower, the key ingredient for that night’s dinner. It took four trips to separate supermarkets before I was able to locate the magical brassica, and when I did I whooped for joy, bought two and paraded them through the street with glee.
But, despite that, meal planning is your friend. In fact, my favourite shop here even sells a special meal planning notepad, clear evidence of the fact that planning your meals meticulously might be the only way you survive here without having to take out a small mortgage. It helps avoid waste, encourages you to look in your cupboards and make the most of what you already have without splurging money on new ingredients, and means you only need to make one frustrating tour of the supermarkets per week (see above).
As are frozen fruits and vegetables. This may be old news to the budget-conscious out there, but it deserves reiterating. Frozen spinach, either pre-chopped or whole leaf, is incredibly good value compared to buying the fresh leaves, which wilt down into a microscopic quantity at the merest glimpse of a hot pan. Whole leaf spinach is better when you want a bit of texture, like in a pie or quiche, while the chopped variety can be stirred into sauces for a bit of greenery and extra vitamins. Either way, it’s incredibly handy to have in the freezer. Frozen berries are far more economical than fresh, especially in Denmark, and can be used from frozen in all sorts of baked goods, desserts, smoothies and compotes. My favourite ever recipe for frozen berries is this breakfast crumble - you can adapt the fruit to your liking, and all manner of frozen berries work well.
Fresh yeast is a joy for baking. A Danish friend of mine once expressed her surprise at reading British recipes that called for ‘fresh yeast’. ‘Surely all yeast is fresh?’ she asked me, perplexed. In Denmark, yes. You buy fresh gær in little 50g blocks in the supermarket chiller cabinet near the butter and milk, with the non-organic variety costing as little as 1 kroner (around 8p) and the organic around five times as much (still not very much money). I remember coming across this on my first visit to Denmark and thinking it was a small block of butter until I held it to my nose and inhaled that distinctive beery aroma. Now I’m obsessed; I love the almost squeaky, crumbly texture of fresh yeast and its powerful, vital scent. I also think it makes for a better, more lively dough when baking. In fact, I’ve never seen dried yeast over here at all. Most recipes that call for 7g of instant dried yeast can be adapted to use 25g fresh yeast – conveniently, half a block. I now stock up on a few blocks every time I do a supermarket shop, so I always have some in the fridge ready to use. It makes a big change from occasionally managing to score some fresh yeast from round the back of a British supermarket bakery counter, like some illicit substance. It keeps for a couple of weeks, but you can always check it’s still good by mixing it with the lukewarm water and sugar from your bread recipe and checking for frothy bubbles after a few minutes.
You might accidentally end up with brown baking powder. Brunt bagepulver is sold in small sachets and is simply baking powder blended with spices like cinnamon and ginger, recommended for use in something called an ‘Engelsk søsterkage’, which literally translates as an ‘English sister-cake’. I have no idea where the name for this confection, which looks a bit like a tea loaf or fruit cake and is apparently a Christmas treat, comes from, but I love that it’s apparently so popular that they manufacture a special baking powder for it. Less good is when you accidentally pick up said baking powder in the supermarket and end up with unexpectedly brown, spicy baked goods for days on end.
Organic is sometimes cheaper than non-organic. Often citing itself as an ‘organic country’, Denmark was the first country in the world to introduce an økologisk (organic) logo that guarantees control by national authorities, with many foods served in cafes and sold in the supermarkets bearing a bronze, silver or gold logo that identifies what percentage of the ingredients used came from organic sources. 8% of food sold in Denmark is organic, with the top-selling product being oatmeal, followed closely by oils, carrots, milk and eggs. 10% of the dairy sector is organic, too. Consequently, you sometimes find that the organic version of your desired ingredient is actually cheaper than its non-organic alternative, or only marginally more expensive, and many restaurants signal their use of organic products on their menus. Organic is accessible to all, which is a nice change from the UK where it is often far more expensive and consequently the preserve of the Waitrose-frequenting foodie elite.
Tea is excellent here. Until recently I was convinced that a cup of tea on the continent invariably signified a mug of tepid water with a Lipton’s teabag on the side, and always booked European self-catering holidays dismayed in the knowledge that I would almost certainly be without a kettle for a week, forced to boil water for tea in a pot on the stove like a medieval galley wench. Imagine my surprise when, upon ordering tea in Denmark, I am without fail inevitably presented with either a boxed collection of teabags so diverse it takes me several minutes to make my selection, or invited to inhale the scent of half a dozen loose-leaf teas in sample jars, my choice of which will be lovingly decanted into a little paper tea filter and, admittedly, still placed beside a mug of hot water but at least it is hot and the tea is decent. The UK claims to be the country of tea, but I rarely get to choose from anything other than a teabag of Earl Grey, English breakfast, green, peppermint or chamomile when out and about in my homeland, whereas here I have embarked upon adventures in white temple tea, blueberry green tea, quince tea, rooibos cream tea, Christmas tea…and I have barely even scratched the surface. Quince (kvæde) tea seems to be a particular favourite here, available in black and green varieties, which is a bit odd because Denmark is not the country you’d first associate with quinces (or tea, in fact). It has a beautiful appley aroma, though, and I’m a big fan. Although most Danes are coffee drinkers, those with a less sturdy disposition (read: prone to palpitations at the merest whiff of an espresso machine) are well catered for here.
BUT…liquorice gets everywhere. If you’re not careful, your beautiful loose-leaf Danish tea will have the underlying sickly-sweet lash of liquorice, or lakrids, which the Danes are obsessed with and finds its way into everything, from ice cream to cocktails to chewing gum. I can’t stand the hideous sweet taste it gives to tea, so I’m always careful to ask ‘um…er det med lakrids?’ when I order a new tea (to which I once got the response, ‘selvfølgelig, vi er i Danmark!’ (‘of course, we are in Denmark!’) There is even an annual Liquorice Festival in Copenhagen, and the Danes are particularly fond of a salty variety of liquorice, which has me shuddering at the mere thought.
Nuts are insanely expensive. Apparently this is due to a tax on high-fat foods. What it means for me is that unless I want to cook with only walnuts and hazelnuts (which are fairly reasonably priced, comparable to the UK), I have to smuggle pistachios and pecans back from the UK in my shoes. Ground almonds have become the stuff of hazy, distant dreams, like a long-lost childhood memory, because they cost about £7 a bag. Seeds, however, are cheap because they are a staple ingredient of the Danes’ beloved rugbrød (rye bread), so I now eat toasted seeds on my porridge instead. Good unless you buy the seed mix specially designed for rye bread which has tough rye kernels in it that will almost break your teeth when eaten raw. I’m sure dentists are expensive in Denmark too. I don’t want to find out.