Before coming to Copenhagen, I had been a committed vegan for 2 and a half years and vegetarian for most of my life, and I had no intentions of changing my diet. I was told all sorts of horror stories about how difficult it would be to maintain my lifestyle in Europe. I was constantly reminded that Scandinavian cuisine is extremely seafood-heavy, that pork is one of the biggest industries in Denmark, and that I would be ridiculed for my dietary choices.
Having lived in Denmark for over 2 months now, I see all the well-intentioned warnings as half-truths that came from people that have never traveled to the country themselves. Yes, Danish cuisine is heavy on meat and fish, but there’s a whole range of vegan-friendly cuisines you can find in Copenhagen. Yes, Denmark is the 4th-biggest exporter of pork, but it is also the 8th-largest exporter of rye. And to my surprise, plant-based lifestyles are widely understood and respected in Denmark.
I was a little nervous ahead of my first-time grocery shopping since I wasn’t sure whether I’d be able to get the ingredients I was familiar with or even understand the labels. To say I was shocked at how trivially easy it is to find plant-based food items would be an understatement. Netto, which to provide some context is the most budget-friendly grocery chain, features a selection that includes vegan yogurt, egg, and tikka masala! In the US, it would take me at least a few stops at specialty stores to find all these products.
Luckily, Danish vocabulary can be very similar to English, so there’s no need to wrack your brain trying to decode an ingredient list! If you’re vegan, it can be helpful to know that the word for milk is “mælk” and egg is “æg.” These can often be seen in compound words such as mælkspulver (powdered milk), kærnemælk (buttermilk), and æggehvide (egg white). Since they are common allergens, any ingredient containing dairy or egg will be highlighted and can be spotted with a quick glance. While shopping at Netto, I’d also recommend looking out the “SPIR” brand, which offers a range of ready-made vegan delicacies including falafel, pizza, and dal at low prices. Vegan options are typically labeled “vegansk” or “plantebaseret,” and vegetarian items are labeled “vegetarisk” (sometimes lacto-ovo-vegetarisk to make the distinction clearer). No explanation required, I think!
Also coming as a surprise to me, veganism/vegetarianism are widespread enough in Denmark that most restaurants have special signage on their menus to indicate suitable orders. At the very least, your waiter will understand your dietary needs and be able to confirm with the chef if an item is plant-based. Rest assured, you won’t have to cancel any plans with your friends because you’ll have nothing to eat! Here are some vegan-friendly places I frequent, depending on how much money I’m willing to spend.
7-Eleven takes the (vegan) cake here. While this may be ringing alarm bells in your head, allow me to explain that the 7-Eleven experience in Scandinavia is polar opposite to that in the US. Here 7-Eleven is not just home to greasy, sugary foods but also features a range of leafy, nutritious pre-packaged meals that include many plant-based options. It’s also perfectly safe to visit at any time of day! Some of my favorites are the couscous, hummus wrap, and falafel salad. If you have a sweet tooth there are also vegan cinnamon rolls (a Danish specialty), croissants, and muesli bars. All in all, you can comfortably enjoy a full meal for around DKK 50 (USD $7).
Here, I want to highlight Reffen. Located on a former industrial site a little bit outside the city center, it is a street food market featuring over 40 restaurants operating out of repurposed shipping containers. You can find any cuisine under the sun here, from Louisiana Creole to Gambian to Thai, and most places have vegan options. My favorite is Baobab, a Gambian food stall, which offers a warm, yummy peanut stew with rice and fried plantains for dessert. Although prices are mid-range, the food is perfect for sharing if you go with a group of friends, so you can still try plenty of cuisines on a budget. I personally went on 4 times with different sets of people on each occasion! The location also offers splendid views of the Copenhagen harbor and is gorgeous by sunset. Unfortunately, Reffen is a summer market and is only open from April-September, so I won’t be going back this semester 😦
Nestled in the heart of Freetown Christiania, Morgenstedtet (the morning spot) is an organic, vegetarian eatery serving homely food. In true Christiania fashion, it has an all-volunteer staff, and the cuisine varies from day to day depending on who is on shift. My friends and I visited right as they were opening for brunch, and the aroma of fresh spices emanating from the kitchen was enough to convince us that this was the spot to eat. For DKK 130 (USD $17), I got a generous portion of a baked casserole along with three salads of my choice. The food was more than delicious, it was nourishing – the fresh vegetables shone through the dish and were not drowned out by excess salt, sugar, or oil. I ordered “dirty vegan chai” tea just as they were preparing a fresh batch, and the chef gave me a taste to see if I wanted to adjust anything! Try finding that level of service anywhere else.
Here are some other places that deserve an honorable mention –
- Kaf – All vegan café and bakery close to the city center. On the pricier side, but the vegan cheesecakes are to die for
- Zahida Restaurant – Pakistani restaurant serving the best South Asian food I’ve tried in the city. First place I found with vegan naan bread.
Regardless of whether you’re vegan/vegetarian, looking to reduce your meat intake, or just in search of some good food, I hope you find these tips and recommendations helpful!