Madeline studied abroad at DIS Copenhagen and then returned to Scandinavia after graduation to work with DIS as an intern. Read Madeline’s advice below for living like a local during your time abroad:
Food is easily one of the best windows into a new culture, and Copenhagen has no shortage of fantastic restaurants, cafes, and bars. But eating out is also one of the easiest ways to burn through your budget – especially in a city like Copenhagen, where your average ’cheap’ dinner is 20-30 USD. Because of this, most locals, students, and families do not eat out on a regular basis, opting instead to cook at home – and I encourage you to do the same. That means you will become very familiar with your kitchen, and therefore, your local grocery store.
A trip to the grocery store can be quite the adventure! You never know what you’ll discover, whether it’s a whole section of tiny shrimp, yogurt in milk cartons, or pickled herring in clear jars. With that in mind, here is some information to help you make the most out of your first few grocery shopping excursions in Copenhagen!
How to Prepare
Prepare and translate your grocery list
Walking into a grocery store in a new country can feel daunting. Translating your grocery list beforehand will make all the difference. That way, instead of constantly looking up individual grocery items on-site, you can focus on familiarizing yourself with the general layout of the store and where to find your staple items. Download the Google Translate app in case you need immediate translation of a food item in store.
Coupons and Sales
All grocery stores in Denmark have weekly sales. You can check them out on your computer or phone at eTilbudsavis, a website that shares weekly supermarket deals. If you decide what you will cook that week based on these, you can save money. While the information is in Danish, they show images of the products, making it easy for you to decipher what is what.
Note: The abbreviation ‘stk.’ means stykke, which translates to ‘pieces.’ It’s common to see deals that indicate you can get several of an item for a specific price.
Bring your own bags
When first arriving at DIS, if you are living in Shared Housing, you’ll find a blue bag filled with bedding sitting on your mattress. That blue bag is about to become your best friend. Not only is it great for dragging your laundry down to the washing machine, but it is also ideal for grocery shopping. In Denmark, you pay for every plastic bag you use at the grocery store. In order to avoid such charges, and help save the planet, it is always best to bring your own bags.
Don’t shop on an empty stomach
The hungrier I am, the more I think I can eat – and I think it’s safe to say I’m not the only one who experiences this. If I shop on an empty stomach, it leads to buying an unnecessary amount of groceries, which is both bad for my wallet and for food waste. Avoid my mistake and head out to the store after a meal!
Where to Go
The Supermarket Hierarchy
Denmark’s neighborhoods are teeming with grocery stores. There are 5 different brands of grocery stores within walking distance of my apartment, and that’s not uncommon. Denmark is one of the countries with the most supermarkets per capita – which makes them less profitable than in other countries, but more accessible to everyone. However, there are still some major price differences between the various supermarkets.
At the top of the hierarchy you have your ‘posh’ grocery stores – Irma, Meny, and Torvehallerne. These stores have some specialty items you can’t find at normal grocery stores, but they are generally more expensive.
Next, you have your bigger grocery stores: Fakta, Føtex, and Bilka, which are still on the more expensive side, but you can find some great deals and coupons.
And lastly, and most importantly, there are the discount supermarkets, such as Rema 1000 and Netto. These stores are not to be ignored! They have everything you need.
DIS Food Stipend Cards
If you live in Shared Housing, you will receive a DIS food stipend card. During my time as a student, I saved quite a bit of money on groceries by only shopping at stores that accepted my stipend card – Føtex, Netto, and Bilka.
Pro Tip: set a weekly budget for your groceries, toiletries, and drinks. Your stipend can definitely extend over the whole semester, but you need to be smart about it.
Understanding Danish Food
In Denmark, there are a lot of different labels and stickers on food to indicate various farming and ecological practices. Some highlights include:
The European Union’s Organic Label ~ EUs økologimærke
The Ø-Label ~ Ø-mærket ø (the Danish organic label)
Fun Fact: Denmark was the first country in the world to implement a government oversight for organic foods in 1987.
Important dietary restrictions
Copenhagen is a relatively easy city to navigate with dietary restrictions. There are more and more vegetarian and vegan restaurants opening, most grocery stores offer a gluten free section and dairy free milk alternatives, and almost everyone speaks English if you need to clarify ingredients. That being said, it’s important to become familiar with the translations of allergens or other important food groups for when you go grocery shopping. Find dietary resources, including a glossary of common Danish words, on the DIS website.
Sustainable Food Tips and Tricks
Sales on expiring foods
Many grocery stores like Netto, Føtex, and Bilka offer a reduced price on products close to expiring. These products are labeled with bright yellow stickers and include the expiration date (reminder: the day comes before the month in Denmark, so January 5 is written as 05/01). By buying foods close to their expiration date you will help prevent food waste and save money. Also, lots of grocery stores offer 50% off baked goods during the last hour before closing!
No Buying in Bulk
This might be a total shift from the way most of us shop in the U.S., but I suggest not buying in bulk in Denmark. The majority of food is organic, and even if it’s not it still has fewer pesticides/chemicals than food in the U.S., which means it spoils quicker. I recommend you only buy food for the following three days. It is common for people to stop by the grocery store to pick up food on their way home from school or work.
Every time you buy a bottle of water, a can of beer, or a container of juice you will be charged a fee per bottle. This fee, referred to as ’pant,’ is a refundable charge used as a recycling incentive. When you have finished the bottle, can, or container, instead of throwing it away, you can return the product to a recycling station where you will receive your pant money back. Most grocery stores have a section in the back with a small recycling machine.
Learn more about pant here.
Sustainable Food Stores & Companies
Wefood is a surplus food supermarket located in Nørrebro that carries food items that regular supermarkets can no longer sell (overdue ‘best before’ dates, incorrect labels, or damaged packaging). The food is sold at reduced prices and the money is donated to sustainable development projects. You can find more information about Wefood here.
Too Good to Go
This is an app that supports less food waste; you can order food from cooperating shops that sell food that’s “too good to go” at reduced prices through the app. Links to download the app are available from the Too Good to Go website.
Madeline was a Shared Housing Assistant at DIS and former fall 2017 DIS student. She is a lover of all things water, and consistently has a swimsuit in her work bag throughout the summer – just in case! With a major sweet tooth and a knack for finding all things free and affordable, she can often be found wandering around new areas of Copenhagen with a bag of candy in hand.