There are few traditions that sound more lovely, and that in reality are more jarring, than the Danish julefrokost. Julefrokost means “Christmas lunch,” but that’s a misnomer because it’s actually “Christmas meal that lasts an entire day.” It’s a wonderful way to spend time with family, friends or colleagues, but for the uninitiated it can be a bit of a shock. Yes, there is really this much food. Yes, you are meant to drink that aquavit in one shot. But don’t worry about it. Go with the flow (of beer), take what you want and leave the rest. The best part of traditions, aside from the food, is making them your own.
Here’s what you need to have a real julefrokost. Click through on the links for recipes in English. Skål!
Sure, you’re about to spend the next 12 hours eating, but that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be some bowls of chips or nuts out on the table. Danes do it up right.
You may want to start off with a beer or soft drink. Or even – perish the thought – water. Just pace yourself; you’re in for a long one.
First Course: Fish
We’re talking serious herring (sild) here. Pickled, in curry sauce, whatever way you like it (but let’s be honest; probably pickled). Often you’ll also have gravadlax and breaded fish filet like plaice.
The fish will be served with remoulade (which, if homemade, is extra delicious) and slices of rye bread, along with both butter and lard for spreading.
Second Course: Meat & Side Dishes
This can be anything from curried meatballs (boller i karry) to duck breast (andbryst) to pork tenderloin (svinekød), but there will be meat. Sides usually include red cabbage, boiled potatoes and brun sovs (“brown sauce,” also known as gravy).
Dessert: Ris a l’amande
After all those mountains of traditional Danish food, you definitely need a rice pudding. But it’s not regular rice pudding; it’s cool rice pudding! Literally; it is cold rice pudding. Add in whipped cream, almonds and vanilla, plus a topping of hot cherry sauce and you’ve got yourself an ultra-delicious and traditional dessert. Other than eating it, the best part of Ris a l’amande is the game you get to play. One or two whole blanched almonds are hidden in the serving bowl and whoever gets them receives prizes, usually chocolate. The bowl continues to be passed around for seconds and yes, even thirds, until the almonds are found.
Though Ris a l’amande is the most traditional of julefrokost desserts, occasionally it gets skipped for other offerings like cake or aebleskiver.
Whatever you have for dessert, it will generally be followed by a selection of cookies like pebernødder and vaniljekranser as well as coffee.
- Port wine
- Coffee or tea
‘Skrub Af Suppe’ – Get Lost Soup
The genius of this is something that all cultures need to know about. This is a soup served at the very end of a long day of eating and merriment that indicates it’s time for people to go home. Gentle, loving, and a bottom line; I love it. The soup can be anything – meatball & dumpling or butternut are both excellent options. Serve with warm, crusty bread and enjoy the last moments of your epic meal.
Whatever you want! Open another beer, throw back that last aquavit (as long as you’re not driving). You’ve reached the end of the line: treat yourself.
A Word on Snaps
Snaps, also called aquavit, is a flavoured spirit typically made with caraway seeds or dill. It’s strong, as well as delicious if you like hard liquor.
Danes tend to drink one small aquavit with each course, usually raising a “skål” at the beginning or end the course and downing it in one go. If that’s not your style, feel free to sip – many people do that as well.
There are lots of good brands, but it’s also possible to make yourself fairly easily.
If you like your presents with a side of dice-rolling, Pakkeleg is the game for you. Everyone brings one or more small gifts, which are put in the middle of the table. During the first round, people take turns rolling a die; if you roll a 6, you choose a gift until all have been taken. During the second round, players continue doing the same but now take gifts from the other players upon rolling a 6. The second round is time-limited, set by an alarm – so move quick! When the alarm goes off, everybody then gets to open their gifts. Most families have their own rules such as having multiple dice going at the same time. Some families give nice gifts for the game, others give “joke” or very simple gifts such as a packet of napkins; ask ahead to be sure!
All the components listed above are traditional parts of the Julefrokost, but remember: if it’s not for you, throw it out and try something new. It’s really about spending time with loved ones and having a day of uninterrupted quality-time. So put that cell phone away, close your laptop (unless you’re settling a bet about Kevin Bacon’s last movie. It was Black Mass, by the way) and have a wonderful holiday!
Did we miss your favorite part of a traditional Julefrokost? Is there something new you like to add to your own meal? Tell us about it in the comments!
Images are from Restaurant Kronborg, who serve a great julefrokost until 22nd December. If you don’t feel like making all this yourself, book a table, sit back and enjoy!
Restaurant Kronborg photos by Chris Tonnesen