Copenhagen May Just Be the Hot Dog Capital of the World
With a wide stable of world-renowned, Michelin-starred kitchens, Copenhagen finds itself at the forefront of contemporary fine dining. When envisioning the landscape, perhaps you see René Redzepi, tweezer in hand, arranging an artful display in pickled fish, and Nordic vegetation. But this is merely one part of the picture. The Danish capital is equally proud of its pedestrian inclinations. Unbeknownst to most outsiders, people here are pretty serious about fast food. Proper fast food — which in these parts equals one part bun, one part sausage. The hotdog, it turns out, is as much a local staple as dill and herring. And while you can forage this fare in just about any city across the globe, the Danes — as with most foods — seem to do it better than anyone else.
“In my opinion, the rolling hot dog stands are the only place where you’ll find real ‘street food’ in Copenhagen,” contends Rasmus Palsgård, Food Concierge for the Nimb Hotel, in Tivoli Gardens. It’s his job to match a wide range of culinary experiences with diverse palates from many visiting countries. When they want something quick and easy, he typically lands on a reliable fallback. “Compared to an American hotdog, the Danish version has more components. We usually have it with remoulade, mustard, raw and fried onions, as well as pickled cucumber.”
At Johns Hotdog Deli, in the former meatpacking district of Kødbyen, a DIY condiment stand features a menagerie of multi-hued relishes, alongside pickled cabbage, Jerusalem artichoke, onion and bacon compote. All these high-quality add-ons would mean little, though, if it weren’t for a solid foundation. “Johns is collaborating with an amazing butcher, and the hotdogs are great and very affordable, too,” Palsgård explains. For $8, you get nearly a foot’s length of plump, pork sausage, hugged by rye bun — fresh off the griddle. Immediately noticeable in the bite is the slightly-charred crisp of the skin, guarding a supple, well-spiced interior.
It’s a common experience at purveyors throughout the city. Part of that consistency, in texture and flavor, is owed to a universal truth around here: “Hot dogs in Denmark are all pure pork; if you gave a Dane a beef hotdog he would freak the f*$% out,” exclaims Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, Danish brewer, and a founding father of the city’s dynamic craft beer scene. “We are the biggest pork producer in the world — per capita, at least. I have no idea why. But seriously, we eat pork. It is the national food in Denmark.”
That the country makes so much pork isn’t nearly as shocking as where they’ll go to consume it. “7-11,” admits Jarnit-Bjergsø, of the ubiquitous convenience store chain. “They might not be the best, but they are surprisingly delicious, and what I find myself eating the most late at night. The fact that you can get a great hot dog at 7-11 says everything about the scene.” Rather than their American counterparts — sad, tired meatsticks languishing under heat lamps — here they are locally-sourced, freshly-prepared, varied by an assortment of spices and bread choice.
Even the stands are doing it right. In Copenhagen they call them pølsevogn, which literally translates to ‘sausage wagon.’ A popular style here is the Fransk, a French-style dog bored thru a toasted baguette. Think of it as an elevated, full-sized ‘pig in blanket.’ Palsgård suggests Harry’s Place, a 50-year-old landmark in the Nørrebro neighborhood. Thick cylinders of grilled, seasoned sausage are served solo — bun and condiments come plated to the side.
The Danish dog scene benefits from the same level of care and precision which the Nords famously apply to all aspects of life. Just because something is quick and easy, doesn’t mean it should be denied proper presentation. The essential elements of a hotdog are simple: bun, meat, condiments. By holding each in high regard, the street food slingers of Copenhagen provide an instantly accessible portal to a truly gourmet experience — not unlike what you find on the best of tasting menus around here. Just quicker, and easier. They aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel, they’re just rolling out a better cart.
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