Anyone with allergies or coeliac disease planning to visit Copenhagen or anywhere in Denmark should find it pleasantly surprising. There are quite a high number of people with allergies in Denmark and restaurants seemed very used to being asked to cater for allergies. Everywhere we went all the food was local, fresh and in-season so it was easier for meals to be prepared specially. Most importantly, everyone I spoke to had almost perfect English so communication is not a problem.
I wrote another entry in Ruth’s Allergy diary for Foods Matter this week. If you want to read more about my experience facing the fear of eating out in a strange country with little planning go and read the lastest entry.
All the restaurants I tried on three separate nights catered easily and with little fuss. There were definitely no nuts in sight and dairy didn’t seem to be very hard to avoid at all; the Danes didn’t farm cattle like we did so fewer have developed the mutated gene that allows consumption of cow’s milk. They don’t use much gluten or wheat in meals so coeliac’s or gluten sensitive people shouldn’t have any trouble eating out.
Hay fever – a word of warning
There are a lot of birch trees in Copenhagen and while we were there they had very unusual warm weather and high pollen counts. Many of the EAACI delegates were struggling with itchy, red sore eyes and hay fever. I seemed impervious to the local pollen and didn’t get hardly any hay fever at all, except a bit of itchy nose one evening when I went out strolling around the city for hours. If you do have hay fever, don’t forget the antihistamines and remember the pollen can be different and more agressive in the rest of Europe.
The Danes don’t go in for lots of curtains and carpets so generally I think most hotels will be fairly dust free. I didn’t choose the hotel I stayed in last week but there are lots of allergy friendly hotels in Copenhagen which all have low dust due to hard floors etc.
If I went again I might explore self catering options which would give me more freedom to cook something for myself.
I would suggest going prepared with your breakfast. I took KoKo coconut milk small cartons and stored these in the little fridge in my room. I also took some safe muesli (Nairns) as I wasn’t sure about trusting a buffet style breakfast situation. There were no nuts out but plenty of seeds in open bowls, fruit, cheese, cold meats and pastries. I was able to get lots of fruit each morning and enjoyed lovely local honey on my oat cakes. The coffee in our hotel was alright but explore the cafes if you have time – they do very nice coffee in Denmark.
Denmark are the experts at delicious open sandwichs. If you’re only avoiding nuts you will enjoy these very much. The bread is often very dense rye bread. I didn’t try these since I react to wheat and was worried about possible wheat traces. I didn’t have the time anyway, but it’s made from rye flour so would not be gluten free. I took dried fruit, oat cakes, apples, some gluten free wraps and chocolate and found this was sufficient if I stuffed my face at breakfast. One day I managed to get some plain cooked salmon and boiled carrots – doesn’t sound very inspiring but it was very tasty and a welcome change the oat cakes and apple combo.
- Ravage restaurant – I visited this place earlier in the evening and the waiter assured me that half the guests they serve ask for some kind of allergen-friendly meal and that they were very used to it which put my mind at rest.
We discussed the menu and he stressed all ingredients were fresh and prepared to order.
When we arrived later I handed over my ‘war and peace’ A4 list of foods that I am allergic to and they didn’t bat an eyelid. This was taken to the chef who then aked me what I would prefer to eat as he could do steak or fish for me. I chose the steak which was pretty impressive; a really thick slice of meat and cooked perfectly, medium rare. This came with chips (which I didn’t eat as I forgot to check they were gluten free and suspect I am reacting to potatoes at the moment) and some green beans with fried onions done in olive oil.
Ask for green tea and you’ll be served a variation made with rose petals which is just delicious. I really delicate taste but a great end to a meal. ravage.dk/en
- Cofoco – This was a small bistro style restaurant hidden a bit off the beaten track.
We had chosen the five course tasting menu, I say we… I didn’t have much say in this and I have to admit I was slightly uneasy. I went to the kitchen and spoke to the staff, with my ‘war and peace’ list of allergens again. I was adamant I would prefer just one course of simple food, but they were equally as sure that most things were fine anyway and other dishes they would prepare first for me and then finish the remaining dishes once my dish had been safely delivered to the table.
It was certainly an experience for me to enjoy such diverse flavours. I have to admit I refused to touch half of the first course as it just ‘looked like dairy’ but was in fact a chiffon of cucumber! What is a chiffon of anything if not a ladies scarf? It looked like a blob of dairyness and after a while sitting ignored on my plate it turned into a sloppy mess that looked like spit! I wasn’t missing much there then! It probably took ages to create the effect and was lost on my suspicious mind. There were scallops, crab meat, a pea broth and two sublime sorbet desserts. I will post all the photos of the meal with descriptions in a later post. cofoco.dk/
- Gronbech & Churchill This was by far the most impressive restaurant we ate at. Again it was a small hidden away place with huge windows letting the light flood in. The food was excellently presented and they made huge efforts to cater for me. I was out of my comfort zone again here as I would prefer a simpler meal I can dissect with my eyes and I think something in this meal may have caused a skin reacction the day after, however they did not serve me anything containing my main allergens. I’m certain of that.
The dish pictured here was crab meat with onions lots of ways. At least I think it was crab. There were so many different tastes they all blur into one.
I didn’t manage to speak to the chef here. He was kind of unattainable and aloof. Out the back in his immaculate kitchen, turning out exquisite food. However the waiter was very helpful and I was so impressed with the food and attention to detail. My food again came out first and was almost the same as everyone elses with a different broth or just missing one element like the dairy or other allergenic ingredients.
Special Gourmet provide a list of bakeries, supermarkets and cafe’s which offer gluten free and allergy friendly options.
I did have quite bad skin when I got back, a mild reaction which has cleared up now, but since it happens here and sometimes even when I cook at home on the odd occasion I’m on detective food diary analysis to see if I can find out what’s causing it. I cannot blame any of the restaurants here as I know they managed to avoid my main allergens.
The most helpful thing for me was taking the A4 large print sheet with the list of ‘foods I cannot eat’ with translated words (thank you google translate). It explained that I carry adrenaline and have a severe allergy which can cause anaphylaxis.
Seemed to do the trick and the second tip is to take loads of copies of this. They tended to want to keep it and I saw in one place they had made notes on it. A good idea for any restaurant to record what allergies are communicated and which dish was served.
I was braver than usual here because the event I was attending was crammed full of nearly 8,000 allergy experts. They were everywhere you looked in the city and I was dining with the cream of the crop. This gave me some peace of mind, I knew they all knew how to use an adrenaline auto-injector and how to spot a change in my behaviour and the first signs or an allergic reaction. I was confident that if the worst happened they would leap to my rescue. Luckily for all of us Copenhagen did us proud.
I loved it so much I want to go back and I didn’t want to come home, despite being so far out of my comfort zone I almost couldn’t find my way back. I am usually quite keen to get home when I stay away so this was a very encouraging experience for me.
I’ve already found some beautiful self-catering appartments and am scoping out the best time to visit again with my husband, even more freefrom food and hopefully, my brave ‘girl who eats out confidently with allergies’ hat on.
I tried to get in contact with Danes or residents of Copenhagen with allergies through the local Anaphylaxis Campaign but I never heard back. This is a service I would love to explore for the UK. Could it work? I would have paid to have some time going round the city, perhaps even being given a map and a guide of places I might like to visit, where to buy freefrom goods. I failed in that respect but there must be people living in the city who have allergies who would have been happy to spare a few hours with me when I arrived.
Has anyone else been to Denmark or Copenhagen? How did you find it? Did you manage to eat out? Any tips for travellers with allergies?