Fancy Toast Isn’t a New Trend. The Danes Invented It 200 Years Ago.

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Faith Durand)

It certainly feels as though we’ve reached peak toast mania. Avocado toast was the center of about a thousand think pieces on millennials this year, and you can’t open a trendy brunch menu without spying a jam- and ricotta-topped toast. While we might be newly hooked on toast, its roots stretch back much further than our Instagram feeds suggest. Toast has been a staple of Scandinavian cuisine for 200 years.

“A Smørrebrød is in many people’s eyes just a piece of rye bread with Scandinavian toppings, but it is so much more than this!” says Peter Lawrance, head chef and manager of meal planning for SAS, Scandinavian Airlines System. “The history goes a long way back to when pretty much all Danish people were farmers, and smørrebrød was something typical to eat on the field, but how the smørrebrød started ‘how we know it’ today started back in 1888 by a Danish man named Oskar Davidsen.” Davidsen and his wife, Petra, owned a wine bar that was famous for its open-faced sandwiches, 178 different kinds of them to be exact. “For nearly 90 years the smørrebrød had a good reputation and even was served as a meal during festivities,” Lawrence says. “To train to be a smørrebrød maiden took more than three years of training.”

Like all trends, enthusiasm waned in smørrebrød after time. “During the 1980s the smørrebrød got classified as a low-status meal and the interest was thereby gone,” Lawrence says. While its prestige in restaurants was gone, it remained a staple at home. “Eating smørrebrød in Scandinavia is as common as eating PB&J in America; it’s basically how most households make sandwiches,” says Ben-David Sorum, the Swedish mastermind behind Bangkok’s chic Scandinavian cafes, Rocket Coffeebar.

Smørrebrød returned to fashion in recent years, thanks to the rise of Nordic cuisine around the world, ushering in a Scandinavian food renaissance. “The most popular toppings are still the classics with north Atlantic shrimp, pickled herring, liver pate, and salted beef. But they now come with a modern Nordic style of plating and presentation with everything based on local produce and seasonal ingredients.” Avocados might not be a local, seasonal ingredient in Scandinavia, but its allure has crept into the smørrebrød scene. Whether or not your smørrebrød is topped with traditional ingredients, make sure you’re digging into the dish properly. “Most importantly is that you eat a Smørrebrød with a knife and a fork; otherwise it will not be classified as a smørrebrød,” says Lawrance.

Where to Enjoy Danish Toast