Grocery Shopping in Copenhagen | How to Sort Through Your Confusion

TIA HERE with a word of warning: don't walk into a Danish grocery store without a plan. You think, like any common fool may think, that things will be similar to the way they are in America, and to some extent they are. But more likely, you will find yourself wandering the halls of Netto with a dazed look on your face as the foreign words pop out at you with mocking faces. Not to worry! For all of you Americans new to Copenhagen, I have some advice that will make you look like a real Dane in your nearest Netto, Fotex, etc. etc.
  • Bring your own bag. If you go to Netto without a bag, for example, you can buy one there, but why spend money on a plastic bag when you can bring your own canvas bag? (Was this a test to see how many times I could fit "bag" in the same sentence? No, but I did a good job regardless.) DIS will give you a free canvas bag to use—although if you're like me, you'll need to get yourself a second bag anyway because you need so much food to survive.
  • Do not be deceived by "yoghurt." The Danes are big fans of paper cartons. You know those little milk cartons you used to drink out of in elementary school? The ones where you have to pop open the mouth of it, almost like reshaping an origami box? Well, in grocery stores you will see many of these—taller versions of the ones from elementary school, and some with simple plastic screw-tops. These cartons house everything from juice to milk to yoghurt. How do you know which one you're getting when everything is in Danish? The pictures on the box are pretty indicative, but in case you're unsure, pay special mind to whether the thing you thought was milk has some variation of the word "yoghurt" at the end of a much longer Danish word. Also, orange juice looks like it may be apple juice by the name on the box (appelsinjuice), but don't worry, the picture of oranges on the front are not a trick as "apple" in Danish is "æble" not "appelsin" (which is "orange"). To put it simply: investigate a carton before you purchase. Otherwise, it may hold unwanted surprises.
  • If you're looking for Asian or Latin American foods, look for the one shelf with all of them. There's something hilarious to me about seeing a single shelf that contains the only source of soy sauce and taco meat in the whole store, shoved side by side. Apparently the "ethnic" food can be summarized into one tiny area, so if you're looking for better Asian food selection (I can't speak for Latin American cuisine), then look out for an Asian grocery (which is something you already do in the States, I'm sure). There's a tiny Asian grocery by Nørreport Station that you might enjoy.
  • If you want good veggie selection, go for the bigger stores. Denmark is not famous for its vegetables, as far as I know, and it's quickly noticeable when you head out to a store. You can get the basics of the western world—potatoes, bell peppers, onions, etc.—but if you want something interesting, like Thyme, it comes in the form of a tiny potted plant. Maybe this helps preserve it, I'm not sure, but it's a little more unsettling than the pre-cut veggies you may be used to. If you're looking for watercress or kale, as I often am—good luck. I've yet to find anything. I'm sure they're hiding somewhere, waiting to be discovered, and I will keep searching desperately until I find either one of them. I'll let you know when that happens. In the same vein as veggies, fruits come in either smaller packages or in smaller sizes. If you wanted to see how obvious it is that steroids are injected into American fruit, it would from looking at Danish fruit. Fortunately, the selection for fruit seems to be better, even if the sizes are itty bitty. At least you know it's probably closer to all-natural than what you were eating before.
  • Cheese is full of danger. That may be a little dramatic, but picking out the "wrong" cheese can be actually mortifying. Several people in my LLC, including myself, discovered the horror of Danish cheese after buying what looked like a non-stinky, normal cheese, and finding out it was instead some kind of alien monster cheese sent up from the depths of hell. Maybe Europeans would argue this is "real" cheese, but I would argue it's like trying to force-feed yourself the stench of feet, congealed into a monstrosity that calls itself "real cheese." Without getting a good whiff, It's hard to tell which cheese won't be so horrifying that you immediately toss it, but if you're afraid of risks, stick to names you recognize (Brie, for example) or buy the pre-shredded pizza cheese that I've been going for. That one I trust, even if it's pathetic even by my standards.
  • Things don't last as long as you think they're going to. Here's another nod to the disturbingly preservative-filled foods of America. In Denmark, where foods like bread are not injected with a thousand chemicals, things go bad really quickly. Or at least, a few days earlier than you probably will expect. Just be sure to pay attention to "best by" dates (look on twist ties if you don't see them printed on the plastic) and try to eat efficiently. No point in wasting that limited stipend (assuming you're a DIS student)!
  • Keep looking and don't give up hope! Kale and watercress aside, this advice applies. Give yourself time to explore the store—things won't be in the same order you're used to, so you'll need some time to adjust to the format and, slowly, you'll start to find your way to some of the foods you hadn't noticed before. Don't get frustrated and be prepared to google names if necessary, but most importantly: don't assume that the food you're looking for doesn't exist in Denmark because it probably does and you just need to be a little more patient. It's around there somewhere! Wander aisles ten times if you have to, but don't give up on the food you really want.
  • Don't bother getting friendly with the cashier. Danes are not mean people, but they are also not as blatantly friendly as Americans. The cashier probably won't speak to you at all, and that's fine—that's probably for the best, actually. Just get in and get out. They just want to do their job as efficiently as possible with minimal interaction. Humor them!
  • Learn the bagging process. If you don't know the system or figure it out quickly, the people around you may get a little annoyed. Here's how it goes down: 1) Put your basket on the ledge behind the conveyor belt, 2) put your stuff onto the conveyor belt, 3) put a separator down behind your items for the next person, or they will get annoyed with you, 4) put your empty basket in the stack of empty baskets behind the ledge, 5) put your card/money on the little tray across from the cashier, 6) wait for them to scan it/cash it and give you change/a receipt to sign (some people start bagging their groceries in this time, but it really takes the cashier maybe a second to scan it, so I wouldn't bother unless you have a ton of stuff), 7) give them the signed receipt back if necessary by leaving it on the tray (no touching involved), 8) go to the end where all of your food is and put it in your bag as fast as you can—there is a bar that separates items for two different people, so as long as you're quick enough to pick stuff up before the person behind the person behind you gets in line, then you're good (hope that wasn't too confusing), 9) leave the store! You did it! You're probably thinking that this was pretty obvious and straightforward, but now that I've typed it out, there's no going back. Whether you wanted to or not, you have now just read instructions on how to buy stuff at a grocery. Hopefully it helps you out more than you think it might!

Keeping this advice in mind, you'll now look like a local at the grocery and be totally prepared to buy everything on your list.

For more, check out Tia's new blog!

    Much love,

    T.