basic sandwich


SmørrebrødSmørbrød, or Smörgås

Simply meaning “buttered bread” – in Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish, respectively – open-faced sandwiches are a fixture of the Scandinavian diet.

Though my ancestors are mostly of Danish and Norwegian extraction, I didn’t grow up with a Scandinavian diet. When I emigrated to Denmark from Canada three years ago, it took some time to come around to all the rye bread and pickled fish. 

Over that time, I’ve come to think of the open-faced sandwich as basically “the perfect meal.” It fulfills many of the nutritional and energy requirements for doing outdoor labour.

Anatomy of an Open-Faced Sandwich

Layer 1: FIBRE

Danish rye (rugbrød) is a whole grain sourdough bread, often containing whole seeds. If contains little or no sugar, and it is very high in dietary fibre.

Layer 2: FAT

The “smør” part of “smørrebrød” refers directly to butter, and expressions like “tandsmør” (“teeth butter”) refer to a layer of butter so thick that imprints of individual teeth are visible after taking a bite.

However, butter isn’t the only acceptable fat layer: fat from cooking, or ingredients like mayonnaise also fulfill this nutritional niche. These are saturated fats, which ideally should make up less than 10% of daily caloric intake; in combination with adequate fibre intake, they won’t drive up cholesterol.

Of course, fat doesn’t sound like part of a “healthy” meal, but “low-fat” often means “high sugar” or “high sweetener.” Fat has been branded as a dietary bogeyman, when it is in fact a great source of energy.

Layer 3: PROTEIN

Arguably, a healthy smørrebrød meal contains a lean protein, like eggs, shrimp, smoked/pickled fish, liver paté, or lean cuts of red meat. More decadent incarnations of this element feature fried fish, salted cold cuts, meatballs, cheese, or substitute another carbohydrate (like boiled potatoes).

If you’re eating an open-faced sandwich for health, stick to the high-protein and vitamin-rich selections like eggs, smoked salmon, liver paté, and beef tartar.


“Pynt,” meaning “decoration,” is the element that pulls everything together, flavour-wise. Potent botanical elements like onions, cress sprouts, culinary herbs, capers, pickled beets, and citrus are used in accordance with certain combinations: dill for fish, onions with eggs, and beets with liver paté are common.

Admittedly, many of these ingredients are hard to track down outside of Scandinavia. Growing up in the Canadian prairies, fresh fish wasn’t even a part of our vocabulary.

The basic elements of this meal, however, are based on some simple nutritional principles: food is fuel, and the closer to raw that food is, the longer is will last in keeping you satiated, nourished, and energetic.