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Scandinavian open sandwich

It is lavish in Denmark, frugal in Norway and a cake in Sweden

Open sandwiches, delights of the Nordic kitchen

The Nordic countries have a love affair with cold food. The open sandwich is the national dish in Denmark and a staple in many Norwegians’ lunch boxes.

Lavish sandwiches in Denmark (smørrebrød)

In Denmark the open sandwich is called smørrebrød. Smørrebrød are served on rye bread, they are lavish and resemble more a dinner plate than bread as the bread disappears among all the greens and proteins. In Denmark there are restaurants focusing solely on smørrebrød, the most famous among these, Ida Davidsen, has a menu consisting of 250 different types of sandwiches. The Danish smørrebrød is truly Denmark’s contribution to the world’s culinary heritage along with Danish pastry.

Sandwich cakes in Sweden (smörgåstårta)

In Sweden  sandwiches are not served seperately but put together into a huge sandwich cake (smörgåstårta). The “cake” consists of layers of sliced loaves, eggs, shrimps, mayonnaise and whipped cream.

Frugal sandwiches in Norway (smørbrød)

The Norwegian open sandwich (smørbrød) is a more frugal version than its Nordic cousins, often just featuring a piece of cheese or jam. However, the simple Norwegian sandwiches have a more luxurious cousin that shows up on special occasions.

Trays with different types of open sandwiches are often served in Norway instead of warm dinner. It is a convenient way of serving many guests as you can prepare the food in advance. It is often used in funerals, confirmations and even weddings, sometimes accompanied by hot dishes. Nowadays these plates are something you order from catering companies, but from my childhood I remember them skilfully prepared by proper housewives, especially old ladies. These sandwiches were simply old ladies’ delights.

To every child the favorite occasion to eat these sandwiches was at the Christmas tree parties (juletrefest), a Norwegian tradition dating back to the 19th century. At these parties, the centerpiece were the big Christmas tree and Santa Claus bringing gifts to the children. The gifts, wrapped in paper cones, contained only sensible items; clementines and a few pieces of candy. Still they were magical. And so were the trays filled with open sandwiches and topped with home cooked salty lamb, spiced meat rolls, boiled egg with anchovies and smoked salmon.

The sandwich tradition, along with tapas, started as a practical invention

In Denmark these lovable sandwiches used to be food for the working class, and before that, the farmer. Tapas started in Andalucía as a way to cover the sherry drink with at piece of bread or meat. In the 15th century the Danish farmer could easily bring the bread with him out to the fields, and the bread functioned like a plate at a time when plates were expensive and rare. The sandwich consisted of simple ingredients, yesterday’s fish such as smoked herring or meat with rye bread.

These humble sandwiches have lately seen a renaissance in Denmark at high-end restaurants. They have also crossed the Atlantic and the English Channel. In the middle of Manhattan you will now find the Danish smørrebrød restaurant Aamanns Copenhagen while London has its Snaps and rye and the little deli Scandinavian Kitchen.

But what should you drink with the sandwiches? In Denmark enjoying snaps (shots, usually aquavit) is the only way. In Norway coffee or tea is the preferred choice (though in my family we always enjoyed them with cocoa). And the swedes say yes to white wine.

Open sandwich with egg salad

Scrambled eggs with chives and smoked salmon

For the best scrambled eggs I turn to one of my classic American cookbooks, Joy of Cooking (All about breakfast and brunch).

1. Whisk 4 eggs with two tablespoons water until the yolks and whites are completely blended. If you add water, milk or cream, it will make the eggs more tender, but only if cooked gently.

2. Melt a tablespoon butter in a frying pan on medium heat. Turn the heat down and pour in the eggs. (If the pan is hot, the eggs will thicken immediately). While the heat is low, stir and scrape the pan with a wooden spoon – if you do it too often, it will produce small curds. Too seldom stirring produce uneven curds. Transfer to a plate while slightly undercooked as they will continue to cook. Serve half the scrambled eggs with chives and half with smoked salmon on top.

More Nordic sandwhiches?

Nordic BLT sandwich

5 comment on “Scandinavian open sandwich

  • Asbjørn Hægeland
    June 2, 2013 | 8:52 pm

    The open sandwich may very well be back from the past. About time, would I say! I just got back from Copenhagen where I enjoyed a couple of Ida Davidsens classics: Laks Sommer and Kogekones Nattmad. Sadly I’m living in the past when it comes to posting pictures so I can only ask for all of you to go and see – and EAT – for yourselves! They were stunning…

    • nordicdiner
      June 5, 2013 | 7:31 pm

      Hey Asbjørn, thanks for your very tasty little review. I have heard about Dyrlægens natmad, but not Kogekones natmad. Now I know what to do the next time I am in Copenhagen.

  • Marjorie Hilton
    October 29, 2015 | 1:15 am

    What are the boards/trays called upon which one eats sandwiches. They are used instead of plates. Do you know where I can get some? Thanks.

    • nordicdiner
      October 30, 2015 | 1:27 pm

      Hi, these trays can differ widely and be made of various materials, but at Etsy you can find a whole range of trays:
      Best regards, Trude

      • Margie Hilton
        October 31, 2015 | 12:36 am

        Thanks so much for your suggestions.

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