Virtual Wayfarer

How to eat on the cheap in Copenhagen

How to eat on the cheap in Copenhagen
Danish smørrebrød is wonderful – even more so when you can find it for cheap. Photo: Alex Berger
There’s one essential rule for enjoying a city: it always looks better on a full stomach. Alex Berger, aka the Virtual Wayfarer, offers tips for getting your fill for under 100 kroner.
In Copenhagen, eating cheap can be surprisingly difficult to accomplish for students and budget travelers alike. With a minimum wage that floats around $21, cheap food for the Danes is still quite often expensive food for the rest of us. There are a few guides to eating on the cheap in Copenhagen floating around, but most are absolute hogwash and seem to fail to understand the concept of “cheap”.  This guide isn’t intended to be exhaustive, but it does share a number of places I’ve discovered and strategies I use for enjoying cheap Danish food. This post is dedicated to general types of venues with budget friendly food. I'll be back with another one to give outline specific recommendations and venues.
Types of Cheap Food:
Hot dog Stands and 7/11: Danes make great hot dogs. They also offer them in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and forms. Prices typically range from 19-35 kroner per dog. You can also find a beef or “Bøfsandwich” which is a bit like a Danish Sloppy Joe.  These are an ok snack, but most folks will need at least two dogs to fill up, which ratchets up the price considerably.  7/11 also offers a mixture of foods including hot dogs, small salads, and other similar snacks. It’s not a great option and their prices are a bit high for what you get, but it is still relatively cheap and a good option if you’re in a pinch.
Kebab/Pizza Combo Shops: These are your best bet for a filling budget friendly meal. They’ll all provide kebab (usually beef/lamb mix) and falafel (vegitarian) while most will also have chicken. While not terribly healthy, these aren’t nearly as unhealthy as many other options. It is also the go-to budget/ethnic/drunk food in Copenhagen. These shops also often, though not always, serve pizza. The kebabs come in one of two formats: pitabrød or durum.  The first is the smaller of the two and comes in a pita, the second is larger and wrapped in something resembling a tortilla. Fixings vary but usually include a yogurt sauce, lettuce, tomato, onion and the potential for a tasty but not terribly spicy chili. There aren’t a ton of kebab or pizza places in the city centre, but there are a few. The highest concentrations can be found in Nørrebro and Vesterbro.  Prices will also be cheaper the further you move from the city centre. The price of a pitabrød should range between 20-30 kroner and a durum between 30-40 kroner. Keep an eye out for a mix option, as that’ll let you pick up a good bit of extra meat for a minimal price increase. In Nørrebro in particular you’ll find that many of the kebab shops run lunch specials, especially along Nørrebrogade.
Pizza shops typically start at around 50 kroner for a pizza and go up to around 80 kroner. Pizzas in Denmark are often roughly plate sized and good for 1-2 people depending on your appetite. It is common to find kebab meat and kebab chicken meat used on the pizzas, so be prepared for slightly different flavors than you may be used to.  Many pizza shops also run lunch specials which can drop the price of a pizza to under 40 kroner. If you want to keep to your budget, consider a pizza for lunch instead of dinner and then rounding the meal out with a kebab for dinner.
A third type of kebab shop can be found that has kebab skewers in addition to pitabrød and durum meat. These are predominantly found in Nørrebro with plates usually falling in the 65-80 kroner range. Plates often include two meat skewers, rice or french fries, and a small salad. The meat is cooked over coals and heavily inspired by Turkish kebab.
Buffets: These are largely confined to the city centre and cater predominantly to tourists. Quality varies widely, but in general they’re not likely to kill you and typically range in cost from 50-90 kroner for an all you can eat buffet.  The easiest way to find them is to walk Strøget (the main shopping street) while looking for people holding up signs or to visit one of the three I’ll mention in my follow-up post.
Sandwich and Bagel Shops: With the bulk of their prices falling between 40-60 kroner, sandwich and bagel shops can be found all over the city and usually offer filling, albeit light, options.  Produce in Denmark tends to be very high quality and extremely fresh, so these are often a very popular option among Danes and tourists alike.
Smørrebrød shops: Small, local, smørrebrød shops are something that you typically have to seek out or research in advance. They can be found scattered throughout the city, and sell Denmark’s most common lunch food. Prices for smørrebrød can fluctuate wildly but budget variations can be found for between 12-15 kroner a piece. Expect to eat three to five for a full meal. These shops also often close by 2 or 3pm and are lunch/brunch only.
Salad Bars: I’ve only recently discovered these.  As a big guy with a big appetite I spent a lot of time scoffing at the city’s plethora of salad bars. In reality, however, these offer surprisingly tasty and filling options. Particularly because most include a piece of heavy danish rugbrød with your order. The typical format includes a few pre-set menus that let you order three, four, or five different 'salads' which range from spinach to chicken and noodles.  A filling three item menu usually runs about 50 kroner and is sufficient for a meal.
Supermarkets: If you’re like me, cooking lunch or making your own sandwiches is all well and good…but sometimes just not something you’re up for. Luckily, Danish markets often have a few good options available. While you won’t find much of an offering in the budget supermarkets like Netto, Fakta, or Rema 1000, you will find them in some of the larger markets such as Super Brugsen, Føtex, and Kvicky.  Food quality can vary widely, but you’ll also find cheap access to traditional Danish foods such as cooked pork, fish fillets, and some variations of smørrebrød. These are also a great alternative to the fancy Danish bakeries when you go seeking that tasty Danish or dessert.
Ethnic Takeout: Unfortunately, take-out in Copenhagen is still quite expensive. Dominated by Asian and Indian cuisine, meals often start at around 70 kroner. These qualify as a tasty option for less than 100 kroner, but aren’t anywhere near the cheapest option you’ll have in Copenhagen.  Still, if you’re looking for take-out or a sit down meal, the small ethnic dives that can be found throughout the city and are most common in Nørrebro and Vesterbro are a great option. They’ll also usually provide you with fairly hearty portions.
American Style Fast Food: McDonalds and Burger King are the default for many travelers when on a budget crunch. However, neither are particularly budget friendly options in Denmark.  With a medium Big Mac Menu going for around 55-60 kroner and the Whopper Menu starting between 60-70 kroner, you can get a much better meal for the same money. Both do have budget menus, but even a basic cheeseburger typical runs around 10 kroner, or $2. Considering KFC? Good luck.
Alex BergerAlex Berger is an American travel writer, photographer, and digital communications professional currently based in Copenhagen. He authors the popular travel and culture blog VirtualWayfarer while documenting daily life in Denmark on Instagram as @VirtualWayfarer and on flickr.

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