Smørrebrød: A Brief History of the Topless Scandinavian

Introducing the Smørrebrød

We received a mixed reception when we first began serving Smørrebrød in the Café.

“Excuse me waiter, someone ate half my sandwich”

“Are you trying to tell me I need to cut down on carbs?”

“My meatballs are on show”

However, slowly but surely, customers came to love these topless beauties.

Breaking the Mould

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We understood our customers initial hesitation. In Britain, from the day we are born we are taught that lunch is something served between two slices of bread. Nowadays, we are so set in our ways that we find it difficult to accept anything that doesn’t follow protocol.

Nevertheless, we at Baltzersen’s felt that the people of Harrogate were a special breed. They are curious and creative, eager to broaden their horizons. They don’t settle for anything average. They are new-age culinary explorers, willing to branch out into the world of the unconventional. They were ready for the Scandi.

What is Smørrebrød?

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For those of you that don’t know, Smørrebrød (pronounced shmur-brugh) is a traditional Nordic open sandwich consisting of rye bread topped with various ‘fillings’, generally complemented with herbs, vegetables or salad.

The bread, or Rugbrød, is sourdough rye and is usually buttered to stop the toppings seeping through. Not only is it delicious, rye bread is also healthy. High in wholegrain, fibre, protein and magnesium as well as low in fat, I suppose you could call it the overachiever of the bread world. We use 100% sourdough rye from Bondgate Bakery in Otley.

In terms of toppings, there are endless combinations. From meatballs to caviar, they usually consist of cold cuts, meats or cheeses, along with various spreads, pastes and condiments such as mayonnaise. They can cram whole a lot of flavour onto that humble slice of rye.

The toppings reflect the Scandinavian attitude towards food: simple, local ingredients sourced sensibly and presented in a beautiful manner with little waste.


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Smørrebrød dates back to the 19th century when lunch was the main meal of the day for most agricultural workers in Scandinavia. They would pack various combinations of these open-faced sandwiches, often made with the previous nights leftovers, to keep them fuelled up throughout the long working hours.

It is said that the idea came from the Middle Ages when food was served on stale bread called ‘trencher’ that was thrown away after the meal was finished. This trencher absorbed the juices and flavours of the food. Over time, the bread became incorporated into the meal as this food soaked ‘plate’ was often seen as the tastiest part.


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Whatever its origins, this tradition has stuck and Smørrebrød are now an integral part of Scandinavian culture. Open-faced sandwiches are eaten for breakfast, lunch, dinner and supper, and can be served as a starter, main course or even desert. They are also a fundamental part of the spread at holiday celebrations such as Christmas and Easter, often passed around in separate dishes of sliced bread and toppings so that everyone can help themselves.

We are happy to have been able to bring this wonderful tradition to Harrogate and take pride in each and every Smørrebrød we make. If you’re looking to try them for the first time, then why not take a look at our menu to give you some inspiration. We hope they give you as much joy as they give us!

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2 Responses to Smørrebrød: A Brief History of the Topless Scandinavian

  1. jan says:

    they all look amazing. we used to have similar in staff canteen at Sainsburys in 1970, they were very popular x x

  2. Pingback: Vafler: The Way to a Scandinavians Heart - Baltzersens

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