Sushi meets sandwich at a fusion-minded Copenhagen eatery
Author ALIA AKKAM
BEFORE CO-FOUNDING WHIMSICAL bakery-restaurant-shop Royal Café in 2007, Rud Christiansen was struck by the number of Japanese visitors he met who wanted to try Denmark’s famous smørrebrød—big, open-faced sandwiches made of rye bread, a smear of butter and hundreds of permutations of toppings, from smoked salmon and fresh dill to roast beef and rémoulade.
But there was a problem, he noted. The sheer size of each sandwich was interfering with diners’ desire to try more than one at a time. So he came up with a solution: Make smørrebrød smaller and serve them in sets, like sushi. In fact, he dubbed these mini sandwiches “smushi,” and they would go on to become the signature offering of his fairy-tale, chandelier-outfitted café.
Before long, the artfully crafted sets—with toppings such as chicken salad with salt crust-baked celeriac; roasted walnuts and pickled field mushrooms; and charred cucumber, sour cream and salmon roe—had so captured diners’ imagination that lines stretched out the door. Recently, chef Frederik Jensen drew on the eatery’s collection of 500 recipes to create a coffee table cookbook called Royal Smushi.
Bolstered by the restaurant’s success in Denmark, Christiansen and his partner, Lo Østergaard, are now slated to open a third Royal Café this winter in Tokyo (there’s also one in Beijing). They expect it will do nicely in a city obsessed with small-scale, aesthetically pleasing food. “The Japanese think of the café as an adventure in trying out new tastes and impressions,” says Christiansen. “Come to think of it, that is also what the Danes think.”
Haute cuisine may be generating the most buzz in Copenhagen these days—with 14 Michelin stars awarded to the restaurants serving it—but that doesn’t mean locals have forgone a lowbrow favorite. Hand-drawn hot dog carts known as pølsevogn are popular fixtures on the streets here, just as similar stands are commonplace across other Nordic countries.
Not all dogs are created equal, however. Throughout Scandinavia, you can tell where you are by the street meat. The franks in Norway are served wrapped in potato flatbread, for example, while the dogs in Sweden are buried under a befuddling hybrid of mashed potatoes and shrimp salad.
Denmark loves the ropelike rød pølse, served on a paper plate with ketchup, mustard, rémoulade, onions and a bun on the side. Legend has it these Slim Jim-esque skinny sausages appeared in the early 1900s, then sold like crazy among out-of-work Danes in the Great Depression, when they were dyed red to camouflage old meat. The gimmick proved so popular that the beloved sausages maintain their signature hue today despite (thankfully) conforming to modern standards of freshness.