Danes themselves are quick to admit that, until just a few years back, Copenhagen didn’t really have much of a street food scene. But with everything from markets to food carts to street vendors making appearances these days, you'd be hard pressed to tell.
The street food scene is a bit of a hidden gem, sitting in the long shadows of Noma, the restaurant credited with elevating New Nordic cuisine to worldwide fame. So, while most food lovers visiting Copenhagen have one goal: eat at Noma or at least at one of the myriad restaurants opened by Noma alum, that's shifting.
These days, Copenhagen is leaning toward a food scene that's more like the Danes themselves, relaxed and approachable and certainly sans Michelin stars and white tablecloths. On our recent visit to the city of bicycles, smørrebrød and minimalist cool, we searched Copenhagen's new Nordic scene: their growing street food offerings.
Snacking at Torvehallerne.
Visiting Copenhagen right means lots of cycling and sightseeing, which we happily fueled with pit stops at Torvehallerne. This high-end food hall, opened in 2011, is centrally located at Israels Plads (Israel’s Square), equidistant between the Nørrebro, Frederiksberg, and Amagerbro neighbourhoods. Housed in two airy glass-and-steel buildings, Torvehallerne is made up of more than 60 stalls and eateries, selling everything from tea to flowers to paleo meals. Outside the market's two main buildings, temporary vendors set up camp, where they sell produce, meat and glasses of wine, to be enjoyed like the locals at one of the alfresco picnic tables.
More than once, we started our day at Grød’s Torverhallerne location, joyously tucking into hearty bowls of grains adorned with delicious toppings. Grød, aka porridge, has long been a staple of Danish cuisine. Dating back before industrialisation when Danes relied on food that was easily preserved, porridge is beloved by locals. At Grød, they serve both sweet and savory (think: congee and daal) porridge. Sweet toppings include homemade dulce de leche, fresh apple and roasted almond; vanilla-apple compote with skyr (aka Icelandic yogurt) and 3-grain granola; or your very own choice of garnishes from a list featuring everything from fresh fruit to organic peanut butter to Valrhona chocolate. With bellies full of porridge and cups of joe from Coffee Collective balanced precariously on the handlebars of our flashy red bikes, we were more than ready for our pedal-powered exploration.
Weekend stop by Kødbyens Mad & Market.
If you’re in the city on a weekend, don’t skip lunch at Kødbyens Mad & Market (aka the Meatpacking District’s Food Market). Smack in the heart of Vesterbro, in one of Copenhagen’s most charming and fastest growing neighbourhoods, this weekly open-air market can have up to 70 food stalls at once. The stalls are purposely affordable to attract vendors who might otherwise not be able to get their food or produce to the public. The spaces are rented weekly, which means products vary greatly throughout the season, so there’s always something new to try.
We coasted through the vibrant tents and stalls on a sunny Saturday. After parking our bikes and finding our friends, we nabbed an iced coffee from Barkas Coffee’s bright and boisterous little stand before heading on a quick walkthrough of the market. We scoped out our lunch options, making frequent stops to sample sweet, fragrant Danish strawberries and salty umami-rich cheeses. Prepared foods ran the gamut — everything from South American street food at Tapioca, Jamaican cuisine at Jamaica Jerk Grill, and global fusion food truck Spisevognen, along with not-to-be-missed pastries at Vores Kaffefarm.
We eventually settled on primally satisfying beef tartare sandwiches from Tatar and the duck fat fries from Copper & Wheat, which, understably, have a cult following in Copenhagen. Grabbing a spot at one of the communal picnic tables we dug in, discussing the local food scene between bites of buttery tartare.
Afternoon on Paper Island.
In the late afternoon, we headed to Copenhagen Street Food on Papirøen (Paper Island). Opened in April 2014, this miniature food city is the Copenhagen’s first focused foray into the world of street food. The first thing that strikes you is the pulsing music that reaches your ears and vibrates up your legs as you pedal to this industrial waterfront location. Danes spill out of the massive warehouse that holds Copenhagen’s Street Food’s stalls and onto the cobbled banks, clutching their food. Inside the cool, spacious warehouse, food stalls stretch out in streets and alleyways like a miniature, very well organized town. Here, food from all over the globe converges: Fish and chips, Korean street food, fresh pasta, barbecue, Thai, Mexican, vegetarian Colombian food and more.
Our recommendation? One of the gloriously juicy, fresh burgers at FAT burger, where you’ll find the longest lines (with good reason and worth the wait!). With your food in hand, grab an iconic green can of local Carlsberg at one of the warehouse’s many bars and head outside to join the locals enjoying the sun, water and mellow party atmosphere.
Photos by Joann Pai. Joann Pai is a food & travel photographer who splits her time between Vancouver and Paris. A combination of prolific travel and international influences has shaped her distinctive visual style. Using photography as a way to document life's intimate moments around the table, Joann continues to explore how food brings people together and keeps them connected. She has been featured in Forbes, The Telegraph, and Buzzfeed and her work can be seen in Western Living, En Route and Open Skies Magazine. Follow @sliceofpai to see snaps from her travels.