A Perfect Vegan Week in Denmark
A gorgeous variety of delicious vegan meals to help fuel all the biking and kayaking you’re going to be doing
You know a country is on the forefront of environmental action when a café cashier points to the water cups and without provocation exclaims, “Don’t worry, those aren’t plastic! They’re made of maize.” This happened to me at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art this summer on my 10th trip to Denmark in 25 years.
There are more pigs than people in this little country, but according to the German-based search engine for vacation rentals, Holidu, Copenhagen is the sixth best city in Europe for vegans, based on the number of eateries in relation to its population of almost six million. Plant-based eating is on the rise here — from Michelin-recognized New Nordic-inspired restaurants down to the open-faced sandwich (smørrebrød ) spreads marked “vegansk” in the local grocery stores and the date-based truffles available in every 7–11 store. In 2017, Danish politicians even took a public “22-day vegan diet challenge.”
It hasn’t always been this way, though. It has long been a challenge for vegan travelers to eat in the country where the national dish is still “stegt flæsk med persille sovs” (fried pork with parsley sauce) and its citizens love their cod, herring, and pølse (bright red boiled pork sausage, sold in street stands). But the new focus on vegetables fits right in with the locally-sourced bio-dynamic precedent set by restaurants such as Noma and the entire country’s commitment to caring for the environment, as seen in the bike-friendly city of Copenhagen and the government’s goal to phase out coal by 2030, replacing it with wind power.
Chef René Redzepi took the culinary world by storm when his two-Michelin-star restaurant Noma first topped the list of S. Pellegrino’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2010 (and later again in 2014). The concept of Nordic terroir emphasizes local, natural, and seasonal ingredients, including much of the formerly overlooked produce of Scandinavia. The restaurant was not vegan but revived an interest in little-used indigenous plants such as sea buckthorn, beets, celeriac, lingonberry, and elder flowers, among others.
Noma’s former head chef Matt Orlando opened his own restaurant, Amass, in 2013 in a section of Copenhagen’s industrial harbor area, just across the water from The Little Mermaid statue. The upscale establishment embodies the ethos of responsibility and sustainability stated on their website, offering a vegan menu upon reservation. “About 1 in 100 of our first visitors were vegan,” says the San Diego-born chef, “and we were taken aback by the amount of allergies and special diets at first, but rather than be defensive about it, we decided to embrace it. We are in the service industry and we are here to serve.” Now he says they have eight different menus most evenings, catering to vegan and gluten-free patrons, as well as those with allergies and other dietary restrictions, adding that roughly 80 percent of their clientele is international. He enjoyed an Impossible Burger while traveling back to the States recently, saying that it tasted almost just like his wife’s actual hamburger, but one won’t find many meat substitutes in Denmark in general, where plant-based menus steer away from processed foods and toward food in its natural state.
The vegan dishes at Amass are inspired, elegant in presentation and creative by design. From giant mushroom and celeriac appetizer crisps made from “scraps” of other dishes to Kroner-thin Japanese eggplant sautéed in quince and hearty potato bread topped by mossy green sunflower seed-based butter, lunch or dinner here makes for a sumptuous outing where vegans are guaranteed to walk away satisfied. Reservations are a must but there is more seating and a few vegan offerings at the more casual Broaden & Build Brewery that Chef Orlando just opened next door.
Even places farther outside of Copenhagen like Fredensborg Store Kro, an 18th-century inn next to the royal family’s summer castle, happily offer plant-based and gluten-free adaptations of traditional Danish food in their bistros if given a heads-up on guest’s requirements. And if you get up to Helsingør, home of Kronberg — also known as “Hamlet’s Castle” — vegan food can be had just across the Kattegat strait. Take the ferry over to Helsinborg, Sweden, and walk to Vegeriet for some whole foods freshness.
For something a little lighter on the pocket, there’s The Organic Boho, an all vegan café located in Copenhagen’s Christianshavn neighborhood. Dishes with names like “I am Radiant” and “I am Magic” are reminiscent of Los Angeles’ Café Gratitude, and sharing The Love Plate makes the vibe even better.
Freetown Christiania, an intentional community started in reclaimed military barracks in 1971, is worth a visit no matter what you eat, just to witness communal living at its best. The coffeeshops are like Amsterdam’s, since hash is sold openly on the streets here; there are music venues and a skate park on the premises; and the houses built by Christiania’s settlers are works of art unto themselves. This is also the home of the Christiania bike — the cargo bikes seen all over Copenhagen filled with kids, dogs, and groceries.
I’ve been eating at Morgenstedet in Christiania since 1995 and have never been disappointed. It is homemade hippie-style vegetarian food (with numerous vegan options), served in ample portions from an ever-changing menu. Bring kroners, because it’s cash only with mostly outdoor seating — and don’t dare ask for a Coke, like a friend of mine once did, only to be admonished for asking such a thing in a health food restaurant! Refill your water bottle from a jug or go for the elderberry soda instead.
Eating out in Denmark can get expensive, but buying vegan groceries at the likes of Aldi or Netto and cooking wherever you’re staying is comparable, price-wise, to eating at home in the U.S. Look for the green “V” on labels or the word “vegansk” (pronounced “vee-gaynsk”). If someone is nice enough to show you the hygge and cook for you while there, don’t forget to say “tak for mad!” (Thanks for the meal.) Most Danes speak English very well but will appreciate the gesture.
Short of that, there are places like Ungdomshuset, a youth house/community center in Nørrebro that offers a simple vegan dinner every Thursday. It’s free if you show up at 3:30 pm to help cook and about $5 if you just stop by to eat — wash your own dishes afterward. There are a few such community kitchens around the city.
Danes are also using apps like Too Good to Go and Your Local to prevent waste. Both connect users to shops and restaurants getting rid of unsold food at the end of the day, meaning you can get your dinner and dessert for a deep discount. It’s the modern person’s dumpster diving — only cleaner!
Whatever you do, please don’t miss out on the mørk chokolade (dark chocolate) — not to be confused with mælkechokolade (milk chocolate). This is a country that loves its sweets, after all.
Denmark has a mind-blowing number of ecotourism options and the tour boats in the harbor are all electric, making for clean, swimmable water. Try taking a dive at the Islands Brygge Bath (yes, even in the winter — these are Viking descendants we’re talking about). Or traverse the waterways for free by booking a GreenKayak and picking up trash while gliding through the harbor.
Of course you might rent a City Bike and see the city of Copenhagen as a real resident does — Assistens Cemetery is a nice place to stop with a packed lunch or grab a falafel from a nearby food stand while wandering the graveyard/park. And you can feel good knowing that just about any place you book to stay is sustainable, as their website brags, “Over 70% of the city’s hotel rooms hold an official eco-certification.”