29 October 2012

The Curious Case of Danish Sandwiches

Denmark will have you questioning everything you thought you knew about sandwiches.  It all starts with smørrebrød, the legendary Danish open face sandwiches.  Now, open sandwiches are a bit of an anomaly to begin with.  Doesn't the word 'sandwich' imply at least two pieces of bread with something between them?  Would you call a piece of toast with butter and jelly an open sandwich?  Probably not.  Now if it were peanut butter and jelly, you may.  But what if you ate it with a fork?  These things are complicated.  Even more so in Denmark, the land of smørrebrød.
The Danish open face sandwich begins simply enough,  with a slice of bread and some butter, the two words from which smørrebrød is derived.  Traditionally, the bread used is rugbrød, a deep brown, dense rye.  If smoked salmon is involved, unspoken law dictates the use of white bread.  Next come the pålæg (toppings), which typically include meat, fish, egg, cheese, etc.  The meat can be sliced or roasted, tartare or pate;  the fish, marinated, smoked, fried, steamed; the egg, scrambled, boiled, or raw from a chicken, quail or fish.
Next up, the pyntet (garnishes).  Herbs and sliced lemon are common and remoulade and/or mayo are smothered, dolloped and spread.  The finished product couldn't possibly be picked up off the plate and eaten with your hands.  This is what makes the Danish smørrebrød different than other open-faces, the bread is so smothered, covered, buried that you wouldn't know it was there!  I promise there's a bread needle in the above smoked salmon and scrambled egg haystack.  My final bites of a "shooting star" (stjerneskud) entree at Restaurant Klubben revealed a soggy, square slice of white bread, excavated from beneath two fillets of plaice (one steamed and one breaded and fried), a mound of shrimp, a dollop of caviar, remoulade, dill and lemon.
Much of the time, there's no way to tell a smørrebrød and a salad apart.  We tested this theory one afternoon at lunch, with one of us ordering a shrimp salad and the other a shrimp smørrebrødGuess which is pictured above.  (Hint: this post is about smørrebrød).
To be fair,  Danes themselves make a distinction between a smørrebrød and a sandwich.  An entire menu will be in Danish, except for the word "sandwich" and anything called such would almost certainly come with two slices of bread.  However, that second slice just didn't make the case for its being there. We ordered many 'sandwiches,' as part of this unofficial sandwich/smørrebrød study, and not a single one came topped with a piece of bread.  The second slice either lay alongside an open face that you couldn't possibly close or in one amazing case....
... both slices of bread sat side by side under the whole she-bang! Behold the delicious salmon salad sandwich from Mokka Cafe in Kolding.  In the case of both open and 'closed' sandwiches in Danish restaurants, forks and knives are always necessary.   I noticed that a big distinction Danes make between a smørrebrød and a sandwich is the type of bread.  This salmon salad sandwich required a sharper knife than a salmon salad smørrebrød probably would have, as it was on a crusty french bread.  As far as I can tell, it's square bread only (rugbrød or white) for smørrebrød and anything but for sandwiches. 
This chicken sandwich came on a poppy seed bun, whose top was so unnecessary that it actually came on a little plate of its own.  A side note.  Now, I'm only talking about sit-down restaurant sandwiches here.  There were definitely occurrences of To Go heros and boxed sandwiches at convenience stores.  At Legoland, we saw a family of four eating some hoagies they'd packed, complete with cold cuts, lettuce and tomato all layered thickly and neatly between halved loaves of Italian bread.  But when I looked closely, I noticed something I've never, ever seen before.  Rubberbands, blue ones, held the sandwiches together at the center.  They're new to this whole closed-sandwich thing.
In the Vesterbro neighborhood of Copenhagen, hip young things eat burgers with utensils and leave the top of the bun behind.   Superfluous.  The same is true for the pulled pork sandwiches that are the current rage.  At Dyrehaven, the perpetually full cafe/restaurant on Sønder Boulevard, the lunch menu begins with four classic smørrebrøds: smoked mackerel with egg (above, and heavenly),  chicken salad with bacon, smoked pork tenderloin and the kartoffelmad, a smørrebrød topped with sliced, roasted potatoes, radishes and crunchy onions.  But the cool kids don't come for something traditional.  They come for something else, the dish that Dyrehaven is famous for - - eggs benedict.  Quite possibly the best open face sandwich of all time.

P.S. It's pronounced  SMUHR-bruth.

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