A beginner's guide to Danish Smørrebrød

Danish smørrebrød with egg

Smørrebrød is a traditional Scandinavian open-faced sandwich. You may ask, what is the big fuss about that? Ask any Scandinavian and you’ll see. Let this guide help you understand what is smørrebrød and what you need to know about it.

The History of Danish smørrebrød


The word ‘smørrebrød‘ consists of the two Danish words meaning ‘butter’ (smør) and ‘bread’ (brød). Traditionally, smørrebrød is served as a piece of buttered rugbrød (rye bread) with some cold cuts on it, meat or fish, cheese or spreads and garnishes. The reason for such simple ingredients can be explained by the harsh weather conditions the region faces, so the Nordic countries have developed their own cuisine using mostly preserved and dry food.

The very first time smørrebrød popped up in a restaurant’s menu was in  1883 in Copenhagen. The restaurant was the legendary Nimb in Tivoli. Nowadays, smørrebrød can be found almost everywhere in Denmark, and people tend to eat it all times of the day – breakfast, lunch and dinner! It is also no stranger to Christmas dinner or Easter celebrations.

Danish smørrebrød with shrimp
Black rye bread

The bread used for smørrebrød

The most commonly used bread for smørrebrød is rye bread. The rye grains used in the Danish rye bread actually originates from present day Turkey.  It came to Denmark through tradesman and has been localised over a 1000 years ago. The bread is made with a flour that is from this specific rye grain.

The Danish rye bread tends to be a sourdough based and whole-grain. This grants the bread more fibers and can fill you up more, than regular bread. It also tends to have less sugar, therefore it is healthier bread choice!    

The toppings of Danish smørrebrød

In the 12th-14th century the most common topping for an open sandwich was herring. This was because Skåne was part of Denmark at the time (currently in Sweden), where herring lives naturally. 

Nowadays, toppings include salmon, eel, roasted pork, roasted beef onion rings and tartar. Other topping can be leverpostej (liver pate) served with bacon and sauteed mushrooms.

Another famous selection of topping is what is called stjerneskud, meaning shooting star. This variation has two pieces of fish – one that is fired and one that is steamed. On top there is a mound of shrimp with a few droplets of mayonnaise. 

This all proves to show how smørrebrød comes in many delicious variations!

Danish Smørrebrød on a plate

Smørrebrød around the world

The Swedish version of smørrebrød is called smörgåsbord. However, this is a little different to the Danish. Here, the name refers to the table where the open sandwiches are serves, referring to it as a ‘cold table’. The ‘table’ is to be understood to be a buffer. Unfortunately, during the corona virus pandemic these buffets has been suspended in Sweden.

The Danish smørrebrød, in its original form has also travelled beyond Scandinavia. Oskar Davidsen has introduced the Danish open sandwich by creating a 140cm long table that served over 190 variations of smørrebrød.

If you are interested to try some delicious smørrebrød, come and join us on our food tour in Christianshavn! We will make sure you will have an authentic experience with this traditional meal.

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