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My Norwegian friends Therese and Ole tell me that throughout Scandinavia, Copenhagen is thought of as the “party town”. (I found shopping in Copenhagen to also make it somewhat of a “shopping town.”) But, you can’t argue with the fact it is the only city in that part of Europe where it is legal to have an open bottle of beer on the street.
But the real reason is: more on this later…
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First let’s talk about Nyhavn (pronounced “New-ha-vin”, accent is on the “New”).
Nyhavn (“New Harbor”) is a beautiful, historic little harbor among the canals of Copenhagen.
It is really only a few blocks long, lined with colorful three- and four-flat houses (one of which was inhabited by Hans Christian Andersen), each about forty yards from the canal.
There are boats and there is the harbor and in-between are forty yards filled with cafes and more cafes. People watching is a favorite must-do pastime for both locals and the Copenhagen tourist.
The first time we went we sat in one of the cafes that offered typical Danish food and drink on the menu. It was June, Midsummer, and the sun sets around midnight. The evenings in Nyhavn, therefore can be quite crowded. What to eat in Nyhavn?
Sild. Sild. More sild.
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Herring: an important part of Danish food culture. When I was small, herring was something eaten by my grandfather – and occasionally my dad. A friend who specializes in dietary medicine reminded me before I went to Scandinavia that the perfect food to counteract the cold and damp was pickled herring.
I have to say that I did not believe him.
But in the beautiful little harbor, Nyhavn, herring is what we ordered. Coming from the Oresund Sound, sild is high in Omega-3 Fatty Acids EPA and DHA and Vitamin D.
We ordered regular sild, which is often served with Rugbrod (a dense fantastic sourdough rye bread), butter, hardboiled egg and chopped onions, and sometimes sour cream. Next we ordered a plate of mixed herrings, including Karry Sild (curry, my favorite) and Krydder Sild (spiced).
Another day we walked the canals and found a local place which served Stegt Sild, or pickled and fried herring. On this chilly day it was exactly what we needed. When we stepped outside again, we were no longer cold! (Plus, although it sounds unappetizing, it was delicious!)
Another fantastic thing to order is Fisk (fish). An easily identified Fisk is Torsk (cod). A wonderful snack is Laks (salmon) – prepared smoked or Gravad Lax (you know, “lox”, marinated/pickled).
Pomfritter (French fries), Kartoffel Salat (potato salad) and pickles were served everywhere: mixed pickles of carrot, cabbage. cucumber, beets and onions. Pickles are universally eaten to aid digestion. There is gooseberry jam, gooseberry pie and elderberries.
For snacking there is liquorice. All over Northern Europe (in the grocery markets) you can get this salty snack, which is black or brown. It is not actually made with salt, but with Saltakrids, also known as ammonium chloride. We brought bags and bags of this back to our family.
One of my favorite discoveries was Hyldeblomst Saft, an elderflower juice meant to be served diluted with water. If you have never had the juice of flowers, it tastes like Nectar from the Gods – no exaggeration.
Which brings me to everybody’s favorite thing to have at Nyhavn – and everywhere in the Copenhagen gathering places (remember, it is legal to have open bottles in the streets): Bier!
Danish beer ranges from Golden Wheats, which are sweet and light, and beautiful colors – richer in tone and flavor than our American “lite” beers, to Schwartz Bier which is dark and rich and made from denser grains.
Carlsberg and Tuborg are available everywhere, but we really enjoyed the local varieties. There was Brombier, Bredlunds Bryghus and many others.
My favorite, Brygoset (Bree-go-set, accent on the “Bree”) Mon, was fantastic, every flavor exploding on my little palate, complimenting our sild perfectly.
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After an enthusiastic evening of Danish food and beer, you can sip Gammeldansk (translates to “Old/Ancient Danish”), a secret weapon of the Danes. It is a bitter comprised of fruits and spices and herbs, which aids digestion and prevents hangovers. It is even sipped the morning after with your morning Sild.
Finally, the moment you have all been waiting for, the reason I will never travel again without a bottle opener. We figured out that if we went to the local markets, we could purchase bottles of bier, little jars of Karry Sild, and Rugbrod with the most amazing butter you have ever tasted.
We walked to Nyhavn, sat on the side of the harbor, dangling our legs over the water, drank our Carlsbergs and feasted on our Karry Sild.
It was pure heaven.
Editor’s note: For more info on visiting Copenhagen, here’s a great blog post from Brilliant Trips
First two photos by Leslie Coff