A sandwich is a sandwich – but not in Denmark, where it is a symbol of Danish pride and culinary heritage, a staple that has evolved through time and still lords it over every table inside or outside the home. Smorrebrod (pronounced as “smur-er-brewth”) is at its basic form an open-faced sandwich made with buttered rye bread and an assortment of toppings, called “paalaeg.” It is said that the sandwich dates back to the 17th century when farmers and workers would pack lunch baskets with bread, butter and typically sausage or smoked fish.
In the 19th century, the smorrebrod finds its way on the tables of Scandinavian nobility thus crossing socio-economic boundaries and becoming a national lunch tradition. And even when new food trends came along, the smorrebrod has survived and taken on different interpretations. Today even Michelin-rated restaurants in Denmark serve this time-honored tradition for lunch or as a late-night snack, employing smorrebrod “jungfru” or smorrebrod maidens, experts in making the sandwich. Whilst there are versions of the sandwich that use different types of bread, the Danish would tell you that the foundation of a good, traditional smorrebrod is sour-dough rye bread, smothered with butter. The butter keeps the bread from getting soggy with all the toppings put on it after.
Typical toppings include pickled herring or smoked fish, cheese, slices of cucumber, tomato, onion and boiled eggs. Liverpaste, ham and roast beef are also popular choices for toppings. Vegetables and herbs such as shredded horseradish or dill are also used as a final topping or garnishing. When eaten at home, the tradition is that the toppings are all laid out on the table and are passed around for people to make their own sandwiches.