Tag: Denmark

Story of the week: The Holy Grail of hotdogs in Copenhagen


* This is the second post in a new weekly series, highlighting stories from the archive for which the is no active link. I’m running them here in full. Subscribe to this blog for more.

They’re long, pink and very, very satisfying. The Danes consumed 27,000 tons of them in the last 12 months alone and companies like Danish Crown and Steff-Houlberg produce over 25 varieties of them, ranging from the humble røde pølse to the exotic-sounding kaempe knaek.

They are, of course, hotdogs, a culinary phenomenon in Denmark and as integral to the Danes’ culinary identity as smorrebrod (open sandwichs) and the koldt bord (cold buffet).

There are hundreds of hotdog stalls (pølsevognen in Danish, meaning “sausage waggon”) in Copenhagen alone, with most privately owned and operating round the clock.

“The food culture in Denmark is very rustic and based on Viking recipes. Hotdogs are the ultimate comfort food for Danes as they need a minimum fat intake to keep warm in the extreme climate,” explains  Essex-born chef Paul Cunningham who, in eight years in Copenhagen, has built a reputation as one of the city’s leading chefs.

“The city’s best pølsevognen,” he adds, “are ones that serves the bread warm, and those with home-made sauces and relishes.”

Personally, I’d never been much of hotdog fan. Not until, that is, I tasted my first proper Danish hotdog one Sunday evening in July.

Arriving late, I found myself wandering around Nyhavn, Copenhagen’s picturesque canal-side café district, with a severe case of munchies. With the streets almost deserted and café owners closing up for the night, my eyes were drawn to a lonely fast food stall on Kongens Nytorv, the square that is home to the majestic Charlottenborg Royal Academy of Fine Arts.

Outside a gaudy picture menu displayed a range of unfamiliar sausage and bread roll combos with exotic names like the Ristet Pølse, Pølse I Svob and, rather dubiously, Hot Lips.

The most expensive item on the menu cost 25 Danish kroner (£2) and, presumably the royale with cheese for the hotdog cognoscenti, came served with lashings of ketchup, mustard, fried onions and remoulade, a pickled sauce. I was instantly hooked.

The first hotdog stall was introduced to Copenhagen in 1921 selling hotdogs for 25 “oere” (2.1 cents in today’s money). Today, the Danes take their street food very seriously indeed and prefer one of three types of hotdog: the American, a frankfurter served in a bread roll, the classic pølse med brød, a frankfurter served with bread on the side, and the French dog, which comes served in a half baguette with a customised sausage hole.

All three can be made with any one of 25 different types of sausage. A recent story in the Danish newspaper Politiken reported that 116 million red frankfurters are used each year alone.

Over the next few days I became a man possessed by the quest for the ultimate hotdog. Forget the city’s burgeoning dining scene and celebrated café culture, I wanted it long, thin and served in a bread roll.

Furthermore, I trawled the city’s hotdog stalls, I came to realise that, to the Danes, the hotdog is not just a savoury treat after a night on the local Carlsberg or Tuborg beers, it’s the ultimate social leveller. The pølsevognen is where Danes from all walks of life come to worship en masse at the altar of hotdog haute cuisine.

One night I was happily munching on a Mozzarellapølse outside Q’s club on Axeltorv near the terminally fashionable Latin Quarter. The next day, I found myself sharing an Alm Hotdog and a pleasant chat with a middle-aged businessman at Harry’s Place, a modest stall on Nordre Fasanvej , adjacent to the Norrebro subway station in northwest Copenhagen.

Clearly delighted to share his insider knowledge with a hotdog-hungry foreigner, he told me in conspiratorial tones that Harry’s had, in fact, won the 2001 award for the best hotdog stall in Copenhagen by a local website. With a frisson of excitement, we both hungrily ordered another.

Even the Tivoli Gardens, the family entertainment hub of the city dating from 1843 with its flower gardens, amusement rides and open-air shows, is host to a hotdog stall in keeping with the prevailing ambience — a Art Deco cart dating from the 1920’s. It serves a mean Fransk Dog.

But still I hungered for more. Deep down I knew that somewhere in the city was the holy grail of all hotdogs, a place where man and sausage live in perfect harmony.

On my last day, I found myself following Amagerlandevej, a country road in Kastrup, 10km southeast of the city on the outskirts of Copenhagen’s airport. Acting on a tip-off from the hotdog underground, I was searching for a stall referred to in hushed-tones as ‘Flyvergrillen’, the Flying Grill.

As the road gave way to dirt track, the familiar aroma of fried onions told me I was close.

I jostled through ranks of Danish plane-spotters, fought my way to the front and ordered a pølse med brød, the classic hotdog meal.

My taste buds twitched but then, strangely, a feeling of Zen-like calm washed over my body. This was the greatest hotdog I’d ever tasted — pristinely warmed bread, a meaty red frankfurter and an expert ying and yang balance of tangy remouillade and spicy mustard.

Three days, a dozen hotdogs and a whole slew of disappointments later, my quest was over.

I’d found hotdog heaven.

* This story won the British Guild of Travel Writers European Travel Article of the Year in 2005. It was originally published in the Independent. It was such a good angle, I subsequently sold again it to the Observer.

Story of the day: Green initiatives in Copenhagen


I’ve been to Copenhagen several times and covered lots of different angles.

Last time it was hotdogs. This latest story, taken from the Express, was about green tourism projects – something Denmark does rather well.

It’s a few years old now and tales of The Killing and Nordic cuisine have since dominated the Danish agenda.

But maybe it’s time for a return trip. Anyone got a strong new angle on a green tourism story?

Meanwhile, here’s an extract:

I have a date with an ambassador. A cycling ambassador, that is.

On a nondescript sidestreet behind Nørreport railway station, the Cycling Embassy of Denmark is planning to take its specialist knowledge of cycling culture to the world.

Outside the work-in-progress office, a blue sign boldly proclaims: “Pedal power. Yes, please!”

Lise Bjørg Pedersen, head of political affairs, greets me with coffee and tells me her vision of the future, whereby 50 per cent of all commuters will travel to their place of work or study in Copenhagen on two wheels by 2015.

“In Denmark, cycling has no gender, race, age or social status. Even our Crown Prince Frederik travels by bicycle,” she explains.

Read the story, Going Green in Style.

And post your comments below.


Story of the day: On the edge in West Greenland


It’s a journey back in time to end the week.

This is an old story from Wanderlust magazine, a feature that launched a lot of commissions even if it didn’t all go smoothly at the time.

Here’s an extract:

Frederik was laughing at my pronunciation. “Siku,” he said. “That means ice in Greenlandic.”

“Then there’s Sirmirsuaq. And sikursuit. They mean ice too.”

Sikurlaaq. Sikuaq. Siirsinniq. They’re all tongue-twisting variations on the same theme.

In fact, more than a dozen Greenlandic words for ice exist – most of them comprising such odd juxtapositions of consonants and vowels that, should they ever make a Greenlandic version of Countdown, there’ll be some serious overtime in Dictionary Corner.

Read the full story, The Future of Greenland.

Have you visited West Greenland? What are your experiences of handling stories in remote communities?

Post your comments below.

Story of the day: Hotdogs in Copenhagen


I’m staying on a Nordic motif this week. This story is another off-beat piece, a way of looking at a well-known destination in a fresh light.

It appeared in the Observer and involved consuming my own body weight in gourmet hotdogs in a 24-hour period.

Here’s an extract:

I’m about to tuck in when Thomas calls for a moment’s contemplation of our creation.

“The perfect hot dog has three elements: the smoked flavour of the sausage, the sweetness of the sauces and the cinnamon-flavoured bread, and the sharpness of the onions,” he says.

“We grow up with hot dogs in Denmark. I remember going ice-skating with my father and we would always grab a hot dog on the way home. Hot dogs taste of nostalgia.”

Read the full story, Man bites dog.

What’s your favourite place in Copenhagen for a hotdog? Post your comments below.