How to feed yourself cheaply in Copenhagen

Sep 30, 2006 • Karen

Rule number one of not bankrupting yourself in Copenhagen is going out to restaurants as little as possible. To that end, here are some of my tips on getting groceries in Denmark:

Grocery chains:

Netto: They're messy as heck, they don't have many choices, but it's the cheapest food in Copenhagen. Netto's good for the essentials--apples, milk, pasta, cereal, cheap chocolate--but you wouldn't want to do all your grocery shopping there.

Irma: I visited Irma as part of my Survival Danish course during orientation. We were given lists of Danish food words and asked to identify them and write down the prices. Now knowing the prices, I've never actually shopped at Irma; it's quite expensive. But the store is a welcoming environment and they have a lot of organic ("økologiske") food.

SuperBrugsen: This is the grocery store I shop at the most, mostly because there is one within walking distance of the højskole. Reasonable prices and a very good selection--here I found parmesan reggiano, premade crepes, canned beans, and brownie mix, among other items. Look for the X-stra brand here (or anywhere else, for that matter) for the cheapest prices on things; I gather that that's the generic brand in Scandinavia.

Kvickly: I've mentioned Kvickly before, so I'll be brief: think Danish Wal-Mart, only ridiculously expensive instead of ridiculously cheap. I don't like the vibe of the place, personally, but they do have a good organic selection and allow you to make all your grocery and non-grocery purchases in one trip.

There's one other major grocery chain, Fakta. There's one in Hillerød but I haven't had the opportunity to shop there yet. I hear they are inexpensive, though, and they have funny adverts involving Danish generals doing price checks.

Produce markets:

Produce vendors are quite common in Copenhagen. They typically sell fruit, a few vegetables, and flowers. Buying from them is generally a fun excursion and you tend to get a good deal as compared with the grocery stores. However, if you want the best stuff it is important to know where to go.

As a rule, vendors tend to be more expensive in central Copenhagen or near train stations. The most expensive fruit vendor I've ever been to is in Gammel Torv on Stroget--lots of tourists go through that area. There is a small, cheap vendor on the walking street behind Slotsarkaderne (the mall in Hillerød). There I got eight clementines for 20 DKK (I got six for the same amount in Copenhagen). However, she doesn't have that much variety, and unless you're already in Hillerød it's not a convenient place to shop.

So what's the best place to buy produce in Copenhagen? Israels Plads, about a block north from Nørreport station. Cheap, much more variety than most grocery stores, and perhaps most importantly you choose and bag your own fruit instead of having the vendor do it for you. (I find they sometimes stick you with older fruit if they know you're not a local.) There's also an impressive flower stand next door, if you want to brighten up a room or impress a girl. :)

General notes:

  • In Denmark, they charge you for grocery bags. Bring your own. Or stuff the bread and milk and fruit in your backpack. Whatever.
  • "Stenfri" means seedless in Danish. If you're like me, and think grape seeds taste like ass, this is an important thing to know.
  • In Denmark, yogurt is typically sold in bottles. They also sell yogurt "drikker," which is a beverage similar to Yo-J. (Remember Yo-J?) The packaging of regular yogurt and yogurt drink is very similar, so you have to be careful of which you're getting. I mean, I like Yo-J, but it was a bit of a surprise to see pink stuff splashing all over my bowl instead of the comfortable glop I expected. Also on the topic of yogurt: "aktiv kultur" means live culture in Danish. It's only useful knowledge if you happen to be on antibiotics but, well, you never know. :)
  • "Udsalg" and "tilbud" mean "sale" and "deal" in Danish, respectively. They may or may not actually denote that a product is cheap.