Smorrebrod Sandwich

Lined up in the windows of cafes, served in specialized restaurants and packed in their own lunch boxes, sandwiches are everywhere in Denmark. They are stacked high with pickled herring, spoons of spicy horseradish cream and heaps of fresh shrimp. But forget what you think you know about sandwiches; these guys are in a completely different class. Let me introduce you to Denmark — and my-favorite dish: smørrebrød.

Stories and images of catchy and clever smørrebrød (pronounced smuhr-broht) attract visitors from Denmark as soon as they get off the plane. But few tourists know about the long history and the codified preparation of the sandwich — the characteristics that really make it a unique Danish staple.

In its simplest form, smørrebrød are open-faced sandwiches built on a thin layer of dense sourdough rye bread called Rugbrød. The name of the sandwich itself comes from the words for butter (smør) and bread (brød). However, you will rarely find one that is limited to these two ingredients. According to Danish food expert Trine Hahnemann, Smørrebrød became the standard option for a inexpensive and satisfying lunch at the end of the nineteenth century, when factory workers started eating their lunch outside the house. The workers piled the few leftovers they had on inexpensive and hearty Rugbrød, hoping that a few open sandwiches would satisfy them until dinner. From there, a gastronomic tradition was born.

Nowadays, on a slice of bread no bigger than a deck of cards, the Danes stack everything from rivers with caper Mayonnaise to pyramids with meatballs. Marcus Schioler, the blogger behind Danish Sandwich, explains that smørrebrød “should be arranged in such a way that it looks beautiful, with a more detailed texture and contrast than a regular Sandwich.”And it’s these details and contrasts that make smørrebrød the best Sandwich you won’t eat.

Smørrebrød label

Before plunging headlong into the Smørrebrød jungle, the responsible sandwich eater should familiarize himself with the long-established routines that determine the proper preparation and consumption of Smørrebrød. “The Danes respect the rules. [Smørrebrød] are very regulated in this regard,” comments Schioler.

These rules prescribe combinations of ingredients, the use of utensils and the correct order in which several Smørrebrød are consumed. Some rules are intuitive: avoid mixing proteins; apply thin fillings first, then voluminous. Others are less obvious. To eat a series of Smørrebrød, start with herring, then switch to other fish. then eat meat; finish with cheese. It seems silly until you stick to the order and realize that sour herring prepares the palate for rich meat that would be extremely difficult to eat after a simple cheese Sandwich.


Unlike fluffy deli rye from New York, Rugbrød is a heavy bread filled with seeds and crushed whole grains. The density of the bread means that a double-sided and crowded American Sandwich is quite inconvenient. And don’t even think about roasting it — the extra heat would dry out the bread and create an unpleasant cardboard texture. Instead, place a decadent layer of butter to stabilize the bread for a toppings rush. If they are thick enough, after biting you will see tooth marks called tand smør or dental butter. “It becomes smørrebrød once you have the bread and butter on it,” comments Scott Peabody, chef at Copenhagen in New York, “everything you put after is extra.”

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