With 5 USD currently cashing in at DKK 30, finding a lunch under this figure in Copenhagen – long known as one of the world’s most expensive cities – was not going to prove easy. The average city center cafe charges three times that figure for a sandwich, though, to be fair, these are rather more substantial than you might be expecting. It is possible to ask for an ‘Ostemad’ at some places – a slice of bread and cheese – if you like your sandwiches without all the bells and whistles on.
Even popular budget spots like Riz Raz, who offer one of the city’s cheapest buffet lunches, charge a not unreasonable DKK 79 ($12). Still, ever resourceful and unable to turn down a challenge, we checked out the city’s street vendors and grill bars.
A popular cheap alternative is a shawarma (kebab) or a falafel: downtown Copenhagen can offer the Shawarma Grill House and Bibi’s Diner (The former is the city’s first shawarma place, having opened in 1980, and is proud to list among its customers Arnold Schwarzenegger – during the ‘80s – and former Danish PM Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Here, a simple lamb or beef shawarma in pita will cost DKK 33 – making it by no means the city’s cheapest, but according to many the city’s tastiest).
The falafels from Bibi’s Diner rate among the city’s best, according to Nordic cuisine connoisseur Claus Meyer, who describes Bibi’s Diner as, “a little oasis with great ambitions.” They cost DKK 54 (around $8) and – surprisingly for a kebab house – can be washed down with a draught beer.
There is also the ubiquitous mobile hot dog stands or pølsevogn: the healthiest being Den Økologiske Pølsemand found outside the Round Tower, where a hot dog will cost you DKK 34 – or DKK 39 with a topping of mashed root vegetables.
Ever heard of Langos? The national dish of Hungary, this filling potato-bread can be topped with anything from cheese and ham and Mexican salsa to cinnamon and sugar, and Toni’s Langos, a mobile van situated just outside Nørreport Station, sells them daily – a lango will cost you between DKK 25 and 40 depending on the topping.
Being in the mood for Chinese food, I opted for a China Box. These street buffet stands can be found at three different locations along the walking street of Strøget, with the most central one being outside karaoke spot Sams Bar. They can also be found in other towns outside Copenhagen: the one I visited was actually situated in the doorway of Restaurant Shanghai on the walking street (Skomagergade) in Roskilde. All China Boxes operate according to the same principle: Choose between three different hot dishes and a choice of sauce, all thrown into one cardboard carton for 30kr ($5 exactly).
I chose noodles and vegetables, shrimps in batter and mini egg rolls, with a sweet-and-sour sauce: I could also have chosen between rice and vegetables, chicken pieces in batter, beef in curry sauce and a chili sauce.
It might not be the healthiest of lunch options, (or the most attractively-presented, as all three dishes are thrown one on top of another and merge into one mass) – but it hit the spot and proved surprisingly filling. The choice of dishes also provides both veggie and meat options.
The China Boxes located on Strøget are also open long into the early hours, and are certainly convenient should you feel in need of an instant snack.
(Photos of China Box Roskilde taken by Jane Graham).