Food + Recipes

Smørrebrød + Sushi = Smushi, the newest Danish Delight to come from Copenhagen

By Terry Baynes

As you sit down in the famous Arne Jacobsen ant chair, with a plate from iconic china maker Royal Copenhagen and silverware from luxury Danish brand Georg Jensen, you realize that you’re about to have the most Danish dining experience of your life.

Tucked away off the main shopping street, Strøget, in the heart of Copenhagen, the Royal Smushi Café is famous for its new take on an old Danish staple: smørrebrød, or “butter bread.”

Dating back centuries, smørrebrød traditionally consisted of a slice of dark dense rye bread loaded with toppings such as herring, roast beef or sliced potatoes, and a range of garnishes from horseradish to orange slices. But by the 80s, as a tsunami of Italian pizza shops and Middle Eastern shawarma joints hit Denmark, the old-fashioned smørrebrød fell out of favor.

Without a cuisine to call their own, the Danes turned inward. They reinvented old recipes, used local produce in new ways and around 2005 the Nordic cuisine movement took off, led by the restaurant Noma (crowned world’s best restaurant four times). The soul searching also resulted in Danes rediscovering their long lost love for smørrebrød. It’s all over Copenhagen now – only this time in an updated, gourmet-ified version.


The Royal Smushi Café is one of the most popular, drawing the crowds and even famous visitors such as Oprah. It has even invented a new word for its bite-size variety, calling them “smushi,” a cross between smørrebrød and Japanese sushi.

Smushi is stacked in layers like sushi. That brings out flavors from the meat, fishes and dressings, said the café’s founder, Lo Østergaard, who drew inspiration for smushi from her travels through Japan.

Other restaurants have begun serving the daintier versions of traditional smørrebrød. And while they are just as tasty, they are not called smushi. The Royal Smushi Café holds the trademark for the name.

The café’s philosophy is that food is not only about flavor. The mini versions are practical because you can try more than one without getting full. (An order typically comes with three.) And they are beautifully crafted.

“You eat with your eyes as well,” Østergaard said.

—Terry Baynes is an American journalist who recently moved to Copenhagen with her Danish husband. She previously covered legal news at Reuters and now finds herself eating an unhealthy amount of herring.

2015 begins with Copenhagen-based restaurant, Noma, taking up a six-week residency at Tokyo’s Mandarin Oriental Hotel. We’re celebrating this coming together of cultures by looking at the Danish/Japanese connection from all angles.

Like this Story? You Might Also Like: