King of the Dogs
You haven’t eaten a hot dog until you tried one in Denmark.
It’s all about point of reference and mine is a New York City hot dog. My childhood memories are filled with afternoons in the Museum of Natural History, double headers at Shea Stadium and capping off a day in Central Park with a hot dog. Today, with gourmet food trucks touting niche bites and halal trucks outnumbering the competition nearly three to one, most New Yorkers wouldn’t think twice about spending their midday meal on a street dog. So it shouldn’t be surprising that when presented with the opportunity to grab lunch at a pølsevogn (sausage cart) during my first trip to Copenhagen, I instantly declined. My husband, taken aback by the swift rejection of his childhood favorite, paused. “You haven’t eaten a hot dog until you tried one in Denmark.” Point of reference challenged.
What starts out as a traditional ’dog quickly takes a turn.
“What’s that?” Remoulade.
“And that?” Roasted onions.
“Are those more onions?” Yep.
The response is firm. “Just try it.”
To my surprise, the first bite is an explosion of contradiction – sweet and savory, crunchy and soft, warm and cold, roasted and raw. My counter argument, formulated long before I’ve taken even a taste, has no leg to stand on. The hot dog is incredible.
The idea to introduce streetside sausage carts in Denmark came about in the early 1900s. After seeing its success in other Scandinavian countries, a Danish kapelmester by the name of Charles Svendsen Stevns sought permission to sell sausages in Copenhagen, outside restaurant opening hours. The proposal was met with immediate resistance. After multiple rejections, Stevns tried to introduce the informal dining option in Denmark’s second largest city, where it was also declined. The idea of sausage carts was so disliked that in 1917 a municipal authority in Aarhus wrote, “[it] would be a sad sight to see people standing on the streets eating sausages.” It wasn’t until 1921, nearly a decade after Stevns filed his initial petition, that the first white and red sausage carts were seen on the streets of Copenhagen. The sausages, costing around 25 Danish øre (cents) was, at the time, a luxury meal.
Although hot dogs are eaten less and less frequently, a local pølsevogn still holds a place of affection for most Danes. Vegetarian or carnivore, it would be shame to pass through Copenhagen without trying a traditional Danish hot dog. Here’s some help with what to order and how to enjoy.
See no difference between the “hotdog” and “ristet hotdog?” Look a bit closer. A “hotdog” is constructed with a boiled red sausage (rød wienerpølse) that was traditionally a day-old pork sausage painted red to indicate older meat. Though red sausages were meant to cater to lower income families, they became so popular that at one point all hot dog sausages in Denmark were dyed red regardless of meat quality.
Today, the choice between the two is entirely based on preference. Both are prepared with pork sausages in a warmed bun, lined with sennap (mustard) and ketchup, and topped with remoulade (a mayonnaise-based sauce of French origin), fried and raw onions and tangy agurker (cucumber). For those looking for the full Danish experience, order a Cocio (Danish chocolate milk drink) to wash it all down. The Danish news site Munchies has a video on the art of making Danish hot dogs.
Not enough meat? Then order a hotdog with a roasted sausage wrapped in bacon, known as a ristet hotdog i svøb.
The deconstructed ’dog
Tired of fried onions tumbling down your shirt? Then the deconstructed ’dog is definitely for you. Choose the type of sausage and the rest – i.e., bread, mustard, ketchup and fried onions, is served separately. The standard sausage options are rød or ristet wienerpølser (the hotdog sausages), rød knækpølse, frankfurter, medister and pølse i svøb (a ristet wienerpølse wrapped in bacon).
A rød knækpølse is a thick Bavarian pork sausage, similar to a German knackwurst, dyed red and boiled. A frankfurter is slightly different to its North American cousin, being slightly thicker and not used to make hot dogs. A medisterpølse is a Scandinavian sausage made of minced pork, lard and spices.
There’s no standard way to eat a deconstructed ’dog, per se, but the typical approach is to dip the sausage in the condiments, take a bite, do the same with the bread, and repeat.
The meatless option
You won’t find it on many pølsevogne boards, but a kradser (pronounced “kras-suh”) is a hot dog with all the toppings and no sausage. The pølsevogn classic will put you back only a few Danish kroners and is available from any pølsevogn upon request. Munchies has more on a nostalgia journey eating kradser in Copenghagen (in Danish).
The French surprise
Introduced in Denmark in the 1970s, a fransk hotdog is a hollowed baguette, filled with a mayo-based French dressing and stuffed with a ristet wienerpølse. The secret to making the perfect fransk hotdog is in the centrifugal force needed to line the inside of the baguette evenly with sauce. Seasoned eaters also know a trick or two on to how prevent the sauce from pooling at the bottom.
Locating a pølsevogn in Copenhagen
There are a number of sausage carts placed strategically around town with locations at Copenhagen’s Rådhuspladsen (City Hall), Nørrebro Runddel, København H (Central Station), Tivoli, Vesterport and Nørreport stations, Kongens Nytorv, Nyhavn and Strøget. Hanegal’s pølsevogn on Strøget (in front Helligaands Kirke) has non-pork and vegan hot dog options, while John’s Hotdog Deli in Kødbyen has gourmet and build your own ‘dogs.
Surprisingly, an exhaustive map or pølsevogn app has yet to be created; however, a quick search for “pølsevogn” in any online map will provide some locations. The Danish food and news site Munchie’s also has a photographic list of popular pølsevogne around Copenhagen (with text in Danish), while Visit Copenhagen has a few suggestions in their hot dog guide. Should you find yourself about to depart with a bit of hot dog remorse, there are a number of Steff’s Place hot dog kiosks throughout the Copenhagen airport.